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.
Continue reading “The relationship between blasphemy laws and religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa”
On Easter Sunday 2019 a small relatively unknown Sri Lankan Islamist group, National Thowheed Jamath, conducted a series of bombings targeting churches and hotels across Sri Lanka and killing more than 250 people, predominantly Christians. The BBC reports that on 21 April, the anniversary of the attacks was marked by the ringing of church bells but no public events, the result of a government curfew imposed to address the spread of COVID-19, which has claimed seven lives on the island.
Amid a nationwide two-minute silence in honour of the dead and wounded, the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, said in his anniversary message that while the church had “spiritually forgiven” its attackers, it continued to call for justice.
Justice remains elusive, with investigations ongoing in a country in which the need to confront past crimes and pursue forgiveness, healing and national reconciliation is more complex as a result of the legacy of a 30-year civil war characterised by serious internal political strife.
There is also the challenge of populist leaders seeking to mobilise religion for their own ends, nurturing an exclusive vision of Sri Lanka as a homogenous Buddhist state.
Continue reading “Sri Lanka: One year on from the 2019 Easter Sunday Bombings”
Almost eight months since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected for a second term on promises of economic development, the BJP and its ideological ally the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have instead focused their attentions on a familiar theme – fuelling communal tensions.
This time the alliance has made an unprecedented attack on the nation’s foundational tenets: the Indian Constitution. India is currently being ruled by a regime of executive orders and polarising policies, which are being used to manoeuvre around issues of race, religion and identity.
Violent integration: Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)
On 5 August 2019, possibly one of the darkest days in India’s history, Home Minister Amit Shah tabled a motion in Parliament to abrogate Article 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. The move essentially stripped Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) of the degree of autonomy the region had enjoyed since its secession to India on 26 October 1947.
Continue reading “The face of Hindu Rashtra in India – Towards a majoritarian state”
On 18 November 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defence secretary and brother of two-term president Mahinda Rajapaksa, was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s eighth president. Representing the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) the Sinhalese-Buddhist Nationalist Party, Gotabaya received just over 52% of the vote.
Despite his apparent popularity, he is nevertheless a divisive figure in Sri Lankan politics. During his time as defence secretary from 2005 to 2015 he was accused of committing grave human rights violations and war crimes, including the establishment of military death squads, whilst simultaneously being praised by others for his part in overseeing the end of the long running civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government.
Support for Gotabaya came almost exclusively from Sinhalese-Buddhist areas in the south of Sri Lanka. He struggled to win votes in the north and east of the country where the majority of Sri Lanka’s Tamils and Muslims are based.
Continue reading “The Rajapaksas’ return to power means an uncertain future for Sri Lankan minorities”
“It is all of our worst fears realised … Sri Lanka is totally polarised by this result” –Hilmy Ahmed, vice-president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council.
Sri Lanka and India are facing pivotal moments, both for their future, and the future of South Asia as a whole. Both countries’ drives towards religious hegemony have left little place for Christians and Muslims, a factor which will certainly lead to more instability and intolerance in the region.
Sri Lanka: Buddhist
Sri Lanka was the site of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, in
which over 250 people were killed when terrorists targeted a number of churches
and hotels across the country. In the aftermath of the bombings, there were
reports of violent attacks against Muslims and an increase in anti-Muslim
prejudice. Some reprisals against the Muslim population have been carried out
by Christians, in contrast to the previous relative harmony between the two
communities as they both battled intolerance from sections of the Sinhalese
Furthermore, Buddhist nationalist groups such as the Bodu
Bala Sena (BBS), who have been portraying Islam as a threat to both Buddhism
and Sri Lanka for years, consider their stance vindicated by the bombings.
Continue reading “A Fork in the Road: What lies ahead for religious minorities in Sri Lanka, India and South Asia?”