Egypt, You Are No Friend of the Rule of Law

Everyone within reach of a keyboard or a tv remote control has likely heard about the recent mob attacks on US embassies in Libya and Egypt—including the murder of Chris Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya and three others at the Benghazi consulate– following incendiary protests against the anti-Islamic video, “Innocence of Muslims” on Youtube.  I commend readers to the following posts regarding the film producer and convicted fraud artist, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula:

Egypt Independent reports today that an Egyptian court on Tuesday sentenced a Christian Copt teacher to six years imprisonment following convictions for blasphemy against the prophet Mohamed and defamation of President Mohamed Morsy and a plaintiff lawyer: 

The Sohag Misdemeanor Court found Bishoy Kamil Kamel guilty of insulting Prophet Mohamed, sentencing him to three years. He was also sentenced to two years for insulting the country’s president, and another year for insulting a plaintiff lawyer.

Independent daily Al-Watan newspaper said on its website that security has been heightened outside churches in Sohag to preempt any violence in response to the verdict.

Sohag’s prosecutor referred Kamel to trial in August after receiving a complaint from Mohamed Safwat Tammam, 32, accusing Kamel of posting insulting caricatures of Prophet Mohamed on his Facebook page, as well as abusing the country’s president in his comments.

Kamel denied the charges during interrogations, claiming that his account had been hacked. Investigators say they had managed to detect his address through the account and arrested him.

Here’s the math:

1. Blaspheme a religious figure = 3 years in prison

2. Defame an elected official      = 2 years in prison

3. Defame a lawyer                        = 1 year in prison

4.  Free speech                                = BIG FAT O

Blasphemy laws and criminal libel laws are antithetical to freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

They are merely clumsy and brutish cudgels of state control and truncheons of religious oppression.

If there were a god—admittedly, as an atheist I need not disprove this hypothetical, either metaphysically, scientifically or logically— any such god, or his/her proxy, must necessarily be omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent enough to grow a thick skin, sufficiently calloused to withstand insults by non-believers.

The more I read about how much the rest of the world hates America, the more I love America; the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

Sure, the “good ole’ US of A” has its faults—trillions upon trillions upon trillions of debt, a vanishing middle-class, a culture of gun violence, social, racial and economic injustice, to name a few, but, Canadians are in no position to cast stones whilst living in glass houses leaving their doors unlocked.

 The fundamental distinguishing characteristic of any liberal democracy— irrespective of political dogma — is the cherished protection of free speech. This is much more than paying lip service to minority dissent or turning the other cheek to offensive comments on Twitter or Youtube. The crowning achievement of American exceptionalism is the First Amendment and a historical revulsion towards blasphemy laws exemplified by fundamental separation of Church and State. While both President Obama and GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, each pander occasionally to right-wing Christian fundamentalist voters, at least they don’t preach to the converted while the choir is singing Ministry’s “Jesus Built My Hotrod”.

I remain sceptical that any so-called Islamic state is anything but irreligious, autocratic and hypocritical and uses the masquerade of religiosity as a means to achieve its political ends. You need look no further than the Islamic Republic of Iran, designated as a state-sponsor of terrorism  by Canada, which has threatened to sue Obama using a new UN blasphemy law he signed.

But wait, some may say: “Canada is no different. We don’t have blasphemy laws either.”

Wrong.

As Alan Shanoff in an Ottawa Citizen op-ed rightly points out, Section 296 of the Canadian Criminal Code  “makes it an indictable offence for anyone to publish a blasphemous libel. The maximum sentence is ostensibly a term of imprisonment not to exceed two years.” As Shanoff concludes,

Aside from being a victimless crime, blasphemy laws punish people for insulting a concept or an idea.

Since when is it a goal of our criminal law to protect concepts or ideologies, as opposed to people?

Worse, blasphemy laws are usually used to punish minorities and thereby constitute not only a violation of free speech rights but also freedom of religion.

Blasphemy laws are therefore used as a tool to violate human rights, not to enforce them.

So why hasn’t Canada repealed its odious blasphemy laws?

We’ve repealed section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. That section on hate speech was a de facto blasphemy law, so why not go a step further and support free expression and minority rights by repealing section 296 of the Criminal Code? Indeed, why not repeal the remaining hate speech sections in provincial human rights codes?

True, such actions would be largely symbolic, but they would send a message to Canadians about our core values, that we value free speech over archaic principles protecting ideologies.

Finally, how can we justify our criticism of blasphemy laws in Pakistan and other countries, while our own blasphemy laws remain part of our Criminal Code?

The rule of law is predicated on freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press, protected by an independent judiciary and legal profession.

I know the rule of law. The rule of law is a friend of mine. Egypt, you are no friend of the rule of law. 

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