In June of 2012, Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, was arrested on charges of insulting Islam. Badawi was also charged with apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. These charges were leveled against Badawi for founding a website dedicated to honest and open discourse about religion and politics. On his website he advocated for freedom of conscience and expression as well as women’s rights.
Examples such as this illustrate the importance of the right to blaspheme and to offend, and we believe UNIFI has a responsibility to defend this right.
As many of you know, today is International Blasphemy Rights Day. Five years ago, we planned the first Blasphemy Rights Day on UNI’s campus. The right to blaspheme was under attack then, too. The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy was still fresh on everyone’s minds, the UN was again considering passing a resolution opposing the defamation of religion, and Ireland had recently banned blasphemy. In our own state, an atheist bus campaign prompted our governor to say our existence personally disturbed him. We decided to take a stand for ourselves. While our event wasn’t perfect, we are proud of what it embodied. At the heart of Blasphemy Rights Day is the idea that while people deserve respect, ideas do not.
UNIFI must be there to protect the right to blaspheme; it must be one of the central goals of the group. In the words of Rushdie, “the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.” Religious believers continue to tell us that their ideas are off-limits. They say we cannot depict Muhammad because Islam tells us not to, and that we can’t recognize Muhammad’s marriage to a six year old child as an act of pedophilia because it’s offensive to Islam. They say we can’t suggest it is more plausible that Mary lied than that divine impregnation occurred, or ponder publicly the absurd idea of a god who sends himself to be sacrificed so he can forgive the flawed beings that he created. We refuse to be bound by what we don’t believe.
We realize that blasphemy is offensive to many people, but this doesn’t exempt certain ideas from criticism; ideas have consequences. Because religious ideas are so central to the lives of adherents, and can inform their actions so strongly, these ideas are the ones which deserve the most scrutiny and criticism. These ideas have led people to kill or imprison others or burn down buildings in response to books and simple cartoons. This is why we need to take a principled stance. If this issue isn’t within the scope of UNIFI’s mission, we don’t know what is. We think that it is more offensive to follow a pedophile prophet or a holy book that prescribes contempt for women and gay people than it is to criticize such dogmas.
We feel that declaring any belief to be immune from criticism is an insult to humanity and progress. We are truly offended by such belief systems, and this is our stand. We will mock, criticize, and shed light on the negative aspects of any and all religious faiths in the name of reason, liberty, and the desire to make this world better for humanity.
We hope you will chalk depictions of Muhammad when the ability to do so — either through laws or violence — is threatened. We hope you will criticize and attack foolish religious ideas the same as foolish political ones. We hope you realize the value and importance of blasphemy. We hope you will work to protect it.
Cody Hashman, President 2007-2009
Trevor Boeckmann, President 2009-2011
Cory Derringer, President 2011-2012
Michael Dippold, President 2012-2013
Stef McGraw, President 2013-2014
Aaron Friel, President 2014