Sheikh HasinaBy Safia Yallaoui

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister refuses to introduce a new blasphemy law which would legally allow those who insult Islam to be killed.

Sheikh Hasina has been leading a secular government since 2009 and stated that it is not necessary to introduce a new death penalty for those who are deemed to insult the religion.

Leading Islamic group in the country, Hefajat-e-Islam, recently staged a protest by forcing the closure of schools and businesses and by blocking inter-city motorways as well as railways.

The group have been protesting for stronger blasphemy laws for several years now but the debate reached its highest point when a blogger was killed in February for being anti-Islam in his comments online.

Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death outside of his home on February 15th after comments he posted online about religious fundamentalism in the country were deemed offensive, although police are yet to officially give a motive for the killing.

On April 6th hundreds of thousands of people formed a demonstration in the capital Dhaka which included the members of Hefajat-e-Islam, to demand that the government introduce a new blasphemy law; they chanted “God is great – hang the atheist bloggers”, according to Aljazeera.

Despite all this pressure the Prime Minister has said that the current blasphemy law is enough and there is no need for a stricter law. The current law states that an anti-Islamic blogger can be imprisoned for up to ten years, however this is too strict as it is. Sheikh Hasina told the BBC: “They should know that existing laws are enough,” and that “this country is a secular democracy”.

It is hard to understand how it is justifiable to put those accused of blasphemy to death just for expressing their opinion, although of course there is a line that can be crossed. There is a line between free speech and hate speech. If a blogger is intelligently expressing their opinion and that includes not being in favour of certain religious codes of conduct and so on, then that is perfectly fine; not everyone appreciates religion and nobody has to.

However there are those who cross the line and spout hateful words towards Muslims and could be accused of hate crimes, because although no-one has to be religious there is no need to disrespect others who rely on it for hope in life; but their words do not justify the death penalty.

There are other issues involved here though, seeing Muslims react to violent words with physical violence merely shows them to be just as bad as the people they want to put to death. If these protesting Muslims in Bangladesh were peacefully doing so and were calling for those who have published hateful comments towards their religion to be investigated, then that is acceptable and that is human.

However what is inhumane is to call for bloggers to be killed, whether they are being deliberately hateful or not, it should not bother Muslims if someone is offending Islam because it is their business that they believe in it; no one is forcing them not to do so and they should keep to themselves.

By reacting with such violence it also justifies to some extent the anti-Islamic comments that some bloggers publish. They are showing themselves to be hateful and violent which is exactly what some bloggers were commenting on in the first place.

It is good that the Prime Minister refuses to intensify the law but if anything she should relax it because to put someone in prison for ten years for their opinion is disgusting. Muslims should not read the comments in the first place and they should focus more on their own love for Islam rather than what other people think.

For Muslims to be focussing on other people’s opinions shows that they are insecure within their religion and this is the main problem; the Muslims calling for this new law in Bangladesh are the biggest problem in the world, not the bloggers.

I respect religion but some Muslims need to re-think what the true message of Islam is if they want to be respected by the world; the message of love, compassion and hope.