Blasphemy and necessity of interfaith dialogue

Burning the Quran and attacking manifestations of religions cannot be justified in any way. This action is considered a criminal act, not only in the case of the Quran and Islam, but also in the case of other religions. It is possible that some people commit it knowing that this action is heinous, and their intention is to provoke controversy between different religions’ followers and incite the them to violent encounters. These actions create a frightening, unsafe and unruly atmosphere for Muslims and non-Muslims in a society. An action with this purpose is considered terrorism.
9 August 2023
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Mohsen Baharvand

Burning the Quran and attacking manifestations of religions cannot be justified in any way. This action is considered a criminal act, not only in the case of the Quran and Islam, but also in the case of other religions. It is possible that some people commit it knowing that this action is heinous, and their intention is to provoke controversy between different religions’ followers and incite the them to violent encounters. These actions create a frightening, unsafe and unruly atmosphere for Muslims and non-Muslims in a society. An action with this purpose is considered terrorism.

Terrorism is doing terrifying actions with political and ideological goals. This is an ideological terrorism and it must be stopped. However, the world's public opinion, especially people who grew up in secular societies, may be indifferent to these issues and do not understand its significance. They need to listen to the words and logic of religious people, especially Muslims. Muslim, Christian and Jewish intellectuals and philosophers must be ready to play a role in today's modern society and have a voice that can be heard and presented to the world’s public opinion. Before any controversy or debate in this matter, this issue should be examined with scientific impartiality and even looked at from the perspective of a western secular so that a common understanding can be achieved.

The provisions of human rights as we see today in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Covenants are concepts arising from the philosophy and experience of the West. Although basically, many of these concepts are the product of human thought and experience, the West was the pioneer in their formulation. Europe, in particular, did not achieve this experience easily and overnight.

The West, from Ancient Greece until now, has made a continuous intellectual struggle for more than 2,500 years in this regard to create a kind of symbiosis between individual freedoms, humanism and beliefs, including mythology and then religion. In the Middle Ages, thousands of people lost their lives in the most heinous way because of their beliefs. The cruelties and super-imaginary assaults called religion and the preservation of religion were permitted by Christian priests on European societies. Afterward, religious people considered it permissible to kill each other and during the thirty-year wars of Europe from 1618 to 1648, cities and villages were fully ruined.

Children and the elderly were cut to pieces, people were burned in the fire, and the Protestants and Catholics, who each considered themselves to be true followers of the prophet of peace and friendship, Jesus Christ, they committed terrible crimes in the name of religion to make people avoid and fear religion. These crimes have never occurred in other religions and other regions of the world with this extent and with this violence, and this unprecedented experience was experienced only by the western man.

The human rights seen in international documents today are the sum of those experiencers, Western philosophy and thought, and then the crimes committed by Nazi Germany against Jews and other minorities in World War II. The Jews and the Western world did a diplomatic masterpiece in designing the concepts of human rights and codifying their thoughts, so that after about 70 years, it is still one of the pillars of the cultural and moral influence of the West in other parts of the world. Today, no one in any diplomatic circle opposes human rights, which, of course, has a strong logic that has shaped the dominant paradigm of the international system.

However, in my opinion, there are two problems with this idea. First, the West did not pay due attention to the experience of other people in other parts of the world in compiling its experience. Second, human rights documents and concepts have provided us with general and interpretable principles. Therefore, the possibility of agreeing on the details and how to implement these concepts is very little and sometimes impossible. The discussion of burning the Quran or generally insulting and hating a religion and its followers is one of those details that requires a serious and continuous discussion.

Technically and legally, there is a conflict between freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs and its manifestations in the Quran burning debate. A Western thinker might distinguish between freedom and belief. In his opinion, freedom of expression is a type of freedom and religion is a type of belief. The difference between the two is in their occurrence and social dynamism. Western thought has a maximum definition of freedom and a minimum definition of belief. He believes that freedom, especially freedom of expression, is a social issue and religion is an individual issue. A person can express his opinion in any situation. There is no difference between a religious person and an irreligious person, they can express their opinion and nothing can prevent it. However, belief does not have this maneuvering power because a person is free to have any opinion and belief, but the belief of people cannot prevent the implementation of a social freedom.

This can be exactly the point of difference and controversy. A Western thinker values freedom more than belief. The first argument that we will face when facing a Western thinker is that no matter how heinous a person's action is; It does not prevent the freedom of belief and faith of a Muslim, Christian or Jew. Individuals are free to maintain their belief and faith and even to propagate it. An offending person is also free to express his belief. The Western thinker tries to look at these issues through the lens of freedom and can recognize the conflict when it is proven to him that the exercise of freedom of expression is an obstacle or conflict with the exercise of another freedom. Such an approach is supported by the western experience (which I mentioned), culture, intellectual space and most importantly, the law of these societies. The difficult task of the religious intellectual lies in the fact that he can show the conflict between freedom of expression and another freedom or clarify the issue in conflict with a restrictive law.

From this point of view, the position of the western authorities can be understood first and then a counterargument can be raised. From Western authorities’ perspective, the act of burning the Quran is not condemned by itself, or at least it cannot be the basis for deterrence. To condemn this, they examine it from the perspective of the security of society or the national interests of their country. If the Swedish police was of the opinion in the first stage that if this work is done, it may not be able to ensure the safety of the demonstrators or the person who attacked. Or the ministers of foreign affairs argue that if this action provokes the reaction of Islamic governments and, for example, they somehow want to punish their country with sanctions or some other methods, then Sweden's national interests will be in danger. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid this action. It is even possible that the issue of freedom of expression is somehow important for a European judge who, while being completely against the act of burning the Quran, thinks that if freedom of expression is prevented with this excuse, similar excuses may be given in the future and individuals or communities, for more or less similar reasons, want to prevent the freedom of expression of another person or some people.

However, in my opinion, preventing it by the Swedish government or any other government on other pretexts other than the reason that freedom of speech should not be abused and used as a tool to insult their religions, will not be a radical and permanent solution. Because until the belief in respecting the sacred of religions is not recognized along with freedom of expression, there will always be the possibility of doing this act under other pretexts.

Intellectuals, universities and religious scholars from Iran, Iraq, Egypt to Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and India can come together and together with the followers of other religions, via the resolution of the General Assembly on interfaith dialogue, ask the Secretary General of the United Nations to hold inter-civilization meetings or they should demand dialogue in any possible format. Interfaith dialogue, not just governments, is an undeniable necessity.

Therefore, in addition to partial and local measures to prevent these actions, intellectuals, universities, scientific institutes and scholars of all religions should be able to communicate with their counterparts and the public opinion of the West and express their strong logic in respecting the sacredness of religions. It is in a public atmosphere and continuous effort that we can hope that the result will be reflected in the laws of the countries.

Mohsen Baharvand, International Law Advisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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