The relationship between blasphemy laws and religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa (Arabic)

العلاقة بين التطرف و بين قوانين ازدراء الأديان في منطقة الشرق الأوسط و شمال أفريقيا

تحتوي منطقة الشرق الأوسط و شمال أفريقيا على أكبر عدد من البلدان التي تحتوي قوانينها على شكل من أشكال قوانين التجديف أو ازدراء الأديان، حيث يقدر عدد البلدان التي مازالت تطبق هذه القوانين بشكل أو بآخر بتسع و ستين بلدا على مستوى العالم.

 و عموماً تعتبر العقوبات المطبقة في هذه الحالات من أكثر العقوبات شدة. ففي إيران مثلا يمكن أن يعاقب أي شخص يتم اتهامه بإهانة الرسول أو أي من أنبياء الإسلام بالإعدام وفقاً للمادة ٢٦٢ من قانون العقوبات. بينما في مصر فإن عقوبة “التحريض على الفرقة الدينية، إهانة أي ديانة سماوية أو أي مذهب تابع لأحدها، أو تهديد الوحدة الوطنية” قد تصل إلى خمس سنوات وفقاً للمادة الثامنة و التسعين من قانون العقوبات.

تعريف قوانين التجديف أو ازدراء الأديان:

قوانين التجديف هي مواد قانونية مهمتها تجريم أية أفعال أو أقوال أو كتابات أو أعمال فنية يتم اعتبارها مهينة لديانة أو معتقد ما أو لشخصيات مقدسة أو جارحة للمشاعر الدينية. تعاقب قوانين ازدراء الأديان أيضاً أية أفعال من شأنها تدنيس الأماكن الدينية و تعطيل العبادات و الطقوس الدينية.

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The relationship between blasphemy laws and religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa

While an estimated 69 countries across the globe possess blasphemy laws of some kind, no geographical region has as many countries with such laws as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Furthermore, in many of these countries the penalties for committing the ‘crime’ of blasphemy are among the most severe.

In Iran, for example, anyone who insults the ‘Great Prophet … or any of the Great Prophets’ of Islam can be sentenced to death under Article 262 of the Penal Code. In Egypt, the crime of “inciting strife, ridiculing or insulting a heavenly religion or a sect following it, or damaging national unity” is punishable by up to five years imprisonment under Article 98(f) of the Penal Code.

What are blasphemy laws?

Blasphemy laws criminalise actions, often emitted in speech, writing or art deemed defamatory to a certain religion, offensive against religious figures or harmful to religious feelings. They also criminalise actions such as the disruption of religious services and the desecration of religious sites.

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Turkey under Erdogan: Caught between secular and Islamic identities

Although Turkey’s constitution defines the country as a secular state, it is caught between its secular and Islamic identities. The current government has publicly endorsed a move towards a Sunni Muslim identity for the country, conflating religious and national identities, by combining the religious nationalism propagated by the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or AKP) with the secular Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, or MHP)’s ideology of ‘ultra-nationalism,’ which is defined as “extreme nationalism that promotes the interests of one state or people above all others.”  

The promotion of religious ultra-nationalism in Turkey has contributed to a rise in discrimination, and in hate speech that incites violence against those who do not adhere to Sunni Islam.

Such incitement is visible in a variety of areas ranging from education and employment, to religious practices and day-to-day administrative procedures. There has also been a surge in the expression of anti-Semitism and anti-Christian sentiments in pro-government media.

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Religious Identity and Conflict in the Middle East

The Arab Spring reignited a debate within the Middle East and in academic circles about the universality of human rights and their compatibility, or incompatibility, with culture and religion. Although the Arab Spring was marked by the rise of Political Islam movements, it also opened the door  to discussions on topics that had long been taboo, such as sectarianism, racism and gender equality in the Arab world.

Religion has dominated politics in the Middle East for centuries, and plays a significant role in the lives of individuals: their rights, opportunities and social status are all impacted by it.

Constitutions, laws, education systems and even art and sport are viewed through the lens of religion, and every effort is made to ensure that these elements of society comply with religious norms and symbolism.

Sectarianism remains a powerful political, social and cultural force, and the source of most conflicts in the Middle East. Many of the current conflicts in the region have deep historical roots – most notably the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and the Sunni-Shi’a division.

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Turkey: Growing Religious Intolerance is Undermining Constitutional Commitments

American Pastor Andrew Brunson and his wife have been living in Turkey for 23 years running a church in Izmir with the full knowledge of the Turkish authorities.

However, on the 7 October 2016, they were summoned by the local police and accused for being a “threat to the national security”, with no further details supplied. While his wife was eventually released, Pastor Brunson was held in an immigration detention facility, where he was denied family visits and access to a bible. After two months in solitary confinement he was transferred to a high security prison in Izmir, before being brought before a court on 9 December, where he was informed he would be imprisoned due to his alleged links to the Gulen movement, the organisation deemed responsible for the attempted military coup in July 2016. The court did not reveal the source of this accusation. An appeal against the pastor’s imprisonment was turned down on 29 December, and a fresh appeal is expected to be launched at a higher court.

Deterioration in Human Rights and Rise in Ultra-nationalism

Pastor Brunson’s case is illustrative of the significant deterioration in human rights situation that occurred in the aftermath of the foiled military coup. Thousands of journalists, academics, activists, writers, teachers, judges and thinkers have been arrested since July 2016, accused of being “traitors and collaborators against national interests”, while others have been forced to adopt lower profiles and live in anticipation of being arrested.

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