Tag Archives: blasphemy

On Free Speech, Silence, And Backward Messages

Blasphemy

Sometime over the holidays, I dreamed that I started blogging here regularly again, but focusing only on music. In a way, it makes a kind of sense; I’m not a gamer or an occultist, but I do love, listen to and write about music in a dedicated way. When I woke up, I remembered that of all the topics this blog has covered, music has been among the least controversial, at least here in North America.

In the wake of the horrific attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about places in the world where blasphemy — or “offending religious sentiment” — trumps freedom of speech. I’ve written about such places in the past for Backward Messages, particularly Poland, where Behemoth singer Nergal was put on trial for tearing up a Bible onstage, and maybe also a teensy weensy bit for being an outspoken Satanist celebrity. In the end, free speech won out in Nergal’s case, as it did in 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that barring minors from purchasing violent video games was a violation of the First Amendment rights of the video-game makers. Free speech often wins in the west, which is, I think, part of the reason that moral panics over art and entertainment eventually blow over.

In the fall of 2012, when I was at the end of a long and difficult road shopping The Columbine Effect to agents and publishers, I met with an editor in New York who loved the book, but felt like she would be more likely to be able to convince her colleagues to publish it if there were some current event that it could be tied to. There had been a kind of lull in school shootings. Two months later, after she turned me down, Sandy Hook happened, and the press exploded with coverage arguing that media influences largely don’t influence such killings. In the years that followed, it’s become clear that Adam Lanza was a deeply troubled and disturbed young man whose mother protected him from getting the help he needed (and also taught him to use firearms). As the reporting turned away from gaming and other supposed influences, it turned toward mental-health issues in the most dedicated way I’ve seen regarding any of these incidents.

That’s not to say we’ve solved the problem of school shootings. We haven’t by any means. But we are less inclined to scapegoat important and necessary sources of media. And while haven’t eradicated poor reporting on gaming, the occult, heavy metal or other pastimes — that reporting still ranges from the goofball to the dangerous — there have been bright spots. Satanists managed to demonstrate the actual meaning of religious tolerance last year, and the press covered the situation deftly; that was heartening to see.

While the tenor of the writing has shifted, that’s not to say there isn’t still plenty I could write about here. Personally, though, I’ve run out of things to say — at least for now. That’s why this blog has been quiet for more than six months and it’s why it will remain quiet, at least until the next moral panic comes along and I have something new to write about. It’s happened at regular intervals since at least the 1950s, and it’s likely to happen again. Until then, I feel like my message has mostly gotten through.

Polish metaller faces jail over Bible-tearing


Behemoth frontman Nergal, AKA Adam Darski, has been found guilty in Poland’s Supreme Court of “offending religious sentiment” over a Bible-tearing performance. He could go to jail for 2 years.

In 2007, Polish blackened death-metal band Behemoth took the stage in Gdynia, Poland, and did the exact same stage show they’d done everywhere else on tour. But that show included a moment in which frontman Nergal, also known as Adam Darski, tore up a Bible and called the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet.” As he tore up the Bible, he said, “they call it the Holy Book. I call this the book of lies. Fuck the shit, fuck the hypocrisy.”

Ryszard Nowak, head of the All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects, took him to court. The crime? “Offending religious sentiment,” a law that remains on the books in Poland although some legislators would like to see it repealed. Darski prevailed when the judge found that his Bible-destruction was a form of artistic expression consistent with Behemoth’s style. But it didn’t end there; Catholics saw him booted from his role as a judge on The Voice of Poland, due to his “provocative behaviour, showing a lack of respect not only for religious beliefs, but also for illnesses and the disabled” in another performance in which he pretended to heal someone in a wheelchair.

The case against Darski went all the way to Poland’s Supreme Court where, late last month, a judge found him guilty of “offending religious sentiment,” a crime that can carry up to two years in jail:

The Supreme Court was asked to rule on legal arguments
thrown up by the musician’s trial in a lower court on charges of
offending religious feelings.

It said a crime was committed even if the accused, who uses
the stage name Nergal, did not act with the “direct intention”
of offending those feelings, a court spokeswoman said.

That interpretation closed off an argument used by lawyers
for Darski, who said he had not committed a crime because he did
not intend to offend anyone.

Both sides held their ground: “(The decision) is negative and restricts the freedom of speech,” Jacek Potulski, a lawyer for Darski, told Reuters. He said he was not giving up. “We are still arguing that we were dealing with art, which allows more critical and radical statements,” the lawyer said.

“The Supreme Court said clearly that there are limits for artists which cannot be crossed,” Nowak told Polish television.

Here’s Darski’s own take:

After emerging from court, Darski himself said that on the one hand “one should respect the court’s verdict.” However, he also claimed that his country’s mentality “is immature, trying to gag people,” and that he was in court for “the good cause”, namely the right to “freedom of speech.”

What do you think? In a country where laws against blasphemy rub shoulders with freedom of speech, which should prevail? Should people go to jail for these kinds of performances? Or should religious groups just look the other way?

A new Satanic Panic comes alive in Lebanon


Bassem Deaibess, singer for the Lebanese metal band Blaakyum, has been arrested twice for his appearance and musical taste amid nationwide accusations of blasphemy and Satanism.

In Lebanon, a headhunt is on. In recent weeks, at least eight Lebanese residents have been arrested on charges of blasphemy. This is the third time since 1996 that so-called “Satanists” have been rounded up by Lebanese authorities. Most of the accused were heavy metal fans, known for their long hair, black clothing, and, occasionally, their menacing demeanor.

Technically speaking, Satanism itself is not illegal in Lebanon. Practicing Satanism in private won’t land you in jail. According to Nizar Saghieh, a Lebanese lawyer and human rights activist, blasphemy, insulting of religious symbols and rites in public is punishable by up to three years in prison. How many heavy metal bands use such imagery in their songs, stage performances, album art, and t-shirts? Bassem Deaibess, singer for the Lebanese metal band Blaakyum (pictured above), says he has been arrested twice by the authorities, though he escaped this time. Elia Mssawir, a Beirut-based rock concert organizer and agent for several Lebanese heavy metal bands, was nearly arrested earlier this month, but charges against him were dropped before he was taken into custody.

The moral panic began 15 years ago, as all good moral panics do, with a young person’s suicide. The son of a high-ranking military officer shot himself, leading officials to blame heavy metal and “Satanism.” According to Deaibess:

[Hard rock and metal music] were depicted as an epidemic, as the new pest. ‘If this music gets to your child’s ears, he/she will commit suicide.’ This was the message…The government benefited at the time, because Lebanon was under Syrian occupation, and by creating this ‘Satanism’ scare they diverted people’s attention from the real, important problems.

A second wave followed in 2002/2003, when some 50 people were arrested. Most were eventually let go.

There is some debate over whether young people actually practice Satanism in Lebanon. While Deaibess and Mssawir both cast doubt on the idea, the Lebanese Daily Star spoke with a former “devil worshipper,” who told them:

“Around 40 people used to gather in the underground church that I attended,” he said, adding that it was in the Kesrouan town of Bouar. “There were inverted pentagrams and other satanic signs,” he added, referring to the five- pointed star encircling the face of a goat, which is said to represent carnality…

“Sometimes [we listened to] gothic and classic music and at other times it was heavy metal or death metal,” the former worshipper said. “People also took drugs as they tried to boost their moods during the mass.” …

“It is a temporary phase someone passes through … many of today’s teenagers are wearing emo clothes, which has become the new phenomenon in the country,” he said, referring to a popular style of music and dress.

Whether it’s legitimate religious practice or the kind of symbolism that goes along with heavy-metal culture, these pursuits have come under attack in nations around the globe, from Catholics taking Polish metal singers to court to misfit teens in Arkansas blamed for crimes they didn’t commit. The Satanic Panic is always alive somewhere, it seems.

And the result, for those who love this music and who need to explore their spirituality freely, can be frightening and devastating. Acrassicauda, the Iraqi thrash-metal band, eventually fled their home country because their devotion to music attracted too many death threats — again, over their alleged “Satanism.” Likewise, an Afghani band, D.U., must hide their identities because of the numerous death threats they’ve received.

Prohibiting such music, or the “Satanism” and “blasphemy” that goes with it, doesn’t make it any less necessary to those who live in embattled nations. Many in the Middle East risk their lives to listen to heavy metal. And for them, as for any listener, metal is a lifeline. Take Hazem Abu Zeid, a 29-year-old rebel fighter in Libya, who recently told Al Jazeera about his love of Metallica and heavy metal:

“I mix war with music. Death metal gives the real part of humanity; most music talks about love, beaches, cars, but this talks about real things, brutality, poverty, the soul.” His Iron Maiden T-shirt denoting the slogan ‘matters of life and death’ made for the perfect war gear.

“I have to stay on the front line, I can’t go back to my home and wait for Gaddafi to come and kill my family. We win or we die.”