What’s in a name?

September 28, 2009

This coming Wednesday, September 30th will be the first occurrence of International Blasphemy Day. This is an event that has been organised to show the importance and altogether relevance of free speech in society. The name obviously invokes the feeling that this is an event designed to ridicule religion and the choice of date will do nothing to relieve these feelings. September 30th was chosen because it is the anniversary of the publication of a cartoon in Denmark depicting the prophet Mohammed that outraged the Muslim world.

Muslim protests in Britain

Muslim protests in Britain

But was this date chosen merely to anger the religious world and appear to give licence to the abuse of religions and the faithful? I think not. It was in fact that nearly any anniversary of an event that was shown to stifle free speech would involve religion. It seems that the religious are at the same time the most easily offended and the first to try to dampen free speech.

What makes up the basic concept of free speech is to have the ability to say anything that isn’t a threat to violence without the fear of arrest or reprisals. There obviously has to be some restrictions on this in any society but as a whole society censors what is said itself. The people will shout down what is unacceptable and nowadays this will result in a trial by media. This system isn’t fail proof but that is one of the key factors of why it works and also one of the proofs.

The idea of having a day to celebrate free speech is a good one but it is open to the possibility of been soiled by personal arguments. The famed evolutionary biologist and atheist PZ Myers has not helped matters by stating on his blog Pharyngula that “the purpose of the day is to jeer at religion”. But at the same time I can also make the prediction that any action taken on the 30th of September will be seen by each of the three major Abrahamic religions as a personal attack on them. Some of these actions will be attacks on one or more religion and a lot of these will in fact be justified.

Any people who do attack the religions for their violation of the freedom of speech will however have to be very careful. It could be all too easy for them to begin blocking the very freedom of speech that we must allow for everyone, including but not especially the religious.

On the whole I think that the choice of name was a good one for one simple reason. It will bring the event to the fore by stirring very personal feelings. It showed mastery in marketing by causing inevitable debates even before the event. I hold as proof of this the very article that you are reading. If it wasn’t for International Blasphemy Day then this article would never have been written.