A proposed law is intended to combat "Islamophobia", but would instead criminalise free speech, an expert said.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 24/09/12
A girl wearing a headband that reads, "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet" holds a rose during a protest in Istanbul on Sunday (September 23rd). [Reuters]
In response to violent protests in in the Muslim world over the recent anti-Islamic film deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed, Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is urging nations to approve anti-blasphemy laws that would criminalise attacks on religion.
During a September 16th visit to Sarajevo, Erdogan said that Turkish lawmakers would immediately begin working on legislation and he encouraged other nations to do the same. He said that Turkey would be an example to other nations.
"Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others start," Erdogan said. "You can say anything about your thoughts and beliefs, but you will have to stop when you are at the border of others freedoms."
Erdogan's appeal comes after violence broke out in several nations after the trailer for an independent film, "Innocence of Muslims," appeared on the Internet. The US government had no connection with the video, which was produced privately by a real estate director.
At least 49 people have been killed worldwide, including US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed along with three others in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11th. The US has called the deaths the result of a terrorist attack.
An estimated 97 percent of Turkish citizens are Muslim. Erdogan said that anti-Semitism is considered a crime against humanity, but attacks against Islam are not.
Levent Sensever, co-ordinator of the Hate Crimes Legislation Platform, said Erdogan's proposal would wrongly make speech a crime.
"You can call the video hate speech, but Erdogan defines hate speech as a hate crime. That is risky business, because the freedom of speech can be endangered when you turn speech into a crime," Sensever told SETimes.
"What we need is not a limitation of the freedom of speech, but legislation against hate crimes," Sensever said. "You can define a hate crime as a real crime that is in the penal code, like murder, that is committed out of hate against a certain group, for example a homosexual who is killed just for being gay. In Turkey, hate crimes are committed against people because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion. We need legislation that includes all these groups."
In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where an estimated 45 percent of people are Muslim, some politicians agree the issue should be discussed, but said there is no political will in BiH to approve a blasphemy law.
"Let me remind you that there is an initiative to pass a law of banning denial of the genocide in Srebrenica, however, it has not met with the approval," Ramiz Salkic, a deputy in the parliament of the Republika Srpska, told SETimes. "Politicians often use other people's suffering and pain in order to get political points, which are not good. Such law that Erdogan proposed would have solved a lot of things."
Slobodan Popovic, vice president of the Social Democratic Party, said that this party had submitted a number of initiatives in the state parliament to ban fascist and Nazi excesses, characteristics and groups, but none passed.
"Three religions live in BiH and religious conflict happens all the time. At the end, the war happens because of that. We need such a law, because we need to alert people on evil intentions which someone want to achieve with such outbursts," Popovic told SETimes.
"It's better to solve it with the court rather than violence. But the politicians are comfortable this kind of religious and ethnic tensions in the state because they will longer remain in power," Popovic said.
Although BiH's Criminal Law prescribes penalties for inciting national and religious hatred, few have been convicted on this basis. According to this law, the punishment for inciting national and religious hatred is from three months to three years in prison.
Analysts believe that the normalisation of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations is a long-term process, and that such a process should be led through dialogue.
"Tolerance is a basic prerequisite for cohabitation. The law might not even be the happiest solution because each law is placed on the principle of state power. Therefore, it should be sought in inter-religious dialogue and education. It is a long-term process, but in the end we will have a positive effect," Miodrag Zivanovic, a professor of sociology at the University of Banja Luka, told SETimes.
Correspondent Frederike Geerdink in Diyarbakir also contributed to this report.