Blasphemy has joined terrorism as a catchall phrase to intimidate, incarcerate and kill critics and political opponents as well as stifle unfettered debate and settle scores.There is, however, one difference: terrorism is a justification for curbing freedom of expression often used by governments irrespective of how democratic or undemocratic they may be. Blasphemy serves not only as a tool for governments, but has also empowered religious ultra-conservatives, frenzied mobs, and extremist groups and individuals.A four-decade long, massively funded Saudi public diplomacy campaign has created an enabling environment in Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, where alleged blasphemers and atheists have been kidnapped, abused and sometimes killed in recent months and years.The Saudi campaign was designed to implant Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism in Muslim communities across the globe as an antidote to the faded zeal of revolutionary Iran, and to position the kingdom rather than the Islamic republic as the dominant power in the Middle East and the Muslim world beyond. It has fostered a world of ultra-conservatism that lives its own life, often independent of the kingdom.A Saudi court last month sentenced a man to death on charges of blasphemy and atheism. The sentence sparked debate on Twitter with many applauding the sentence. Another Saudi was last year sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments on social media.Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations have been lobbying in recent years for the criminalisation of blasphemy in international law, in a move that would legitimise curbs on free speech and growing Muslim intolerance towards any open discussion of their faith. The kingdom’s ability to further its efforts was enhanced last November when it was elected as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Blasphemy and terrorism: Catchall phrases to repress dissent