UN-Acceptable Censorship: The United Nations Tries to Outlaw Criticism of Islam

Floyd Abrams, New York Daily News, January 14, 2009

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It is difficult to believe that in the 21st century anyone would seriously propose that conduct such as Luther’s should be deemed illegal. But a few weeks ago, the General Assembly of the United Nations took a giant step in that direction. It adopted–for the fourth straight year–a resolution prepared by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference calling upon all UN nations to adopt legislation banning the “defamation” of religion. Spurred by the Danish cartoons of 2005, some of which portrayed the Prophet Muhammed in a manner deemed offensive by the OIC, the resolution was opposed by the United States, most European nations, Japan, India and a number of other nations.

Nonetheless, it has now been adopted.

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While relevant, the American experience is hardly the most relevant one. Far more telling is the distressing experience of nations that supported the OIC resolution. There was the student in one Islamic nation who was sentenced to death in January 2008 for distributing supposedly blasphemous material regarding the role of women in Islamic society. There was the teacher in another Islamic nation who was sentenced to jail for “insulting religion” after naming a class teddy bear “Mohammad” at the request of a 7-year-old with the same name. And there was the tragic case of the 22-year-old Hindu who, as reported by the European Centre for Law and Justice, was beaten to death by three of his fellow workers at a factory for allegedly committing blasphemy (a crime punishable by death); the workers were arrested and charged not with murder but with failing to inform the police that blasphemy was underway.

From the very first OIC resolution to the current one there has never been any ambiguity about its purpose: to intimidate those who might criticize Islam. As phrased in the original OIC resolution introduced by Pakistan in 1999, Islam was “frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.” But it is a fact that however one may debate about whether “Islam” bears any responsibility for acts of terrorism ranging from the murderous 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington to the more recent massacre in Mumbai, terrible acts of violence have been committed in the name of Islam. It is also the case that repeated human rights violations, including female genital mutilation, also have occurred in the name of Islam.

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