.- A new book on blasphemy and apostasy laws shows the dangers that intolerant policies pose to freedom of speech in both Muslim countries and the Western world.
âThe freedom to discuss religion, the freedom to discuss faith, even to disagree, to argue, to criticizeâthis is at the heart of a free democratic politics,â Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Instituteâs Center for Religious Freedom, told CNA.
Marshall said that free speech is particularly important in countries such as Iran where politics and religion are intertwined.
His new book âSilenced: How Apostasy Laws and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwideâ (Oxford University Press, $35.00), examines laws punishing blasphemy and apostasy in the Muslim world and how those laws are affecting the Western world, including America.
Marshall co-authored the book with Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom.
In a Nov. 2 talk at the Heritage Foundation, he spoke about the Iranian regime, which he described as âone of the worldâs worst religious persecutors.â
He explained that Christians and members of other faiths âcannot enter government service or hold commissions in the armed forcesâ because a non-Muslim cannot be in a position of authority over a Muslim. If they are ever accused of blasphemy or apostasy, they face death.
Marshall said that the persecution of religious minorities is âpervasive in the Muslim world,â not only through legal punishments, but also through private violence including vigilante killings to punish apostasy and blasphemy.
Ultimately, without religious freedom, âyou cannot have political freedom,â he underscored, âbecause political discussions are expressed in religious terms and religious categories.â
In a Nov. 4 interview with CNA, he outlined the consequences that this intolerant mindset has had on the United States.
âIn America, we have very strong protections in the First Amendment for free speech,â he said. However, he added, America is also influenced by a strong presence of âprivate intimidation and fear.â
âPeople are scared of what might happen to them,â he said. âTheyâre scared of getting attacked.â
He recalled the threats received by Yale University Press several years ago after deciding to publish a book about Danish cartoons, including some of Muhammad.
In covering the story, many newspapers did not show even a distant photograph of what those cartoons were, he said. Yale University Press ultimately refused to show the cartoons about Muhammad in the book.
Marshall also gave the example of the irreverent show South Park, which âinsults anybody and everybody.â He noted that Comedy Central would not allow the show to depict a parody of Muhammad, although it permitted other religious figures to be ridiculed.
Such double standards show that âweâve become hypersensitive to this,â he said.
He noted that although such censorship is often masked by claims of âbeing sensitive,â other religions are not treated with the same courtesy.
Marshall predicted that if such a mindset continues to grow, an increasing number of people âwill self-censor out of fear.â Such censorship is threatening to freedom of speech, an element that exists âat the core of democracy.â
He argued that in order to solve the problem, people need to understand what is happening and realize the importance of the freedoms at stake.
Americans must insist upon the idea that in a free society, âyou will be insulted, and you need to argue back. Thatâs how you deal with issues.â
âWe need to insist that people learn to do these things,â Marshall said. âWe need to push an agenda of the importance of freedom.â