Four Anglican bishops in the Middle East and Africa have called for international moves to declare as unlawful all actions defaming people or objects that are considered sacred by people of faith.
Their call was made in response to the film Innocence of Muslims, or Innocence of Islam, produced in the United States, which contains scenes portraying the Prophet Muhammad in ways that are offensive and provocative to Muslims.
The existence of the film, apparently made by an Egyptian-born Copt in the US, has provoked a violent reaction across the Middle East and in other Islamic countries. In an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, the US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and three members of his staff were killed (News, 14 September).
The appeal for legislation to ban the publication of material that causes religious offence was contained in a letter sent last weekend to the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, by the President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis. The other signatories were: the Bishop in Cyprus & the Gulf, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis; the Area Bishop for North Africa, Dr Bill Musk; and the Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa, Dr Grant Le-Marquand.
The Bishops proposed that an "international declaration be negotiated that outlaws the intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts, and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith".
They hoped, however, that such legislation would not stifle freedom of expression. Instead, all people, should be "responsible and self-restraining in expressing or promoting offensive or malicious opinions with regard to the religions of the world."
The Bishops said that there were suggestions that "some of the violent responses experienced in the past few years are out of proportion. . . However, it is a fact that people in different parts of the world react differently, especially when it comes to matters of faith"
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