The New Threat to Freedom of Expression

Paula Schriefer, Christian Science Monitor, March 30, 2009

{snip}

{snip} On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution that calls on states to limit criticism of religions–specifically Islam. This is the tenth time such a resolution has passed at the UN’s primary human rights body. Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, began introducing similar resolutions in 1999 arguing that Islam–the only religion specifically cited in the text–must be shielded from unfair associations with terrorism and human rights abuses.

These so-called “defamation of religions” resolutions also have a perfect record at the UN General Assembly, where the latest version passed in December. The resolutions contain some very appealing language, steeped in standard human rights values such as dialogue, harmony, and tolerance–all good things.

But don’t be fooled; the resolutions only give clever lip service to these values. In reality they are calling for laws and actions that prohibit dialogue by declaring certain topics off limits for discussion, leading to intolerance of any view that some Muslims may find offensive. For instance, criticizing the practice of polygamy or the greater weight given to the testimony of men over women in sharia law would be forbidden. Such laws that prohibit blasphemy, defamation, or the defiling of Islam already exist in many of the countries that support the defamation of religions resolutions.

Who decides what views defame religion? Governments, of course. And the governments of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have some of the worst records of respecting freedom of expression and belief in the world. Some of Freedom Houses’s lowest-ranking countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran, are frequent sponsors. {snip}

Of course, the very idea that you can defame a religion at all flies in the face of both fundamental rights of expression and belief. A religion, like all ideas and beliefs, must be open to debate, discussion, and even criticism. For this reason, religions themselves do not have rights. Rights belong exclusively to people.

Nonetheless, these resolutions present a win-win scenario for OIC countries. They serve to legitimize the repression of minority voices at home, while scoring points with religious leaders and Islamic fundamentalists by fueling views of an antagonistic and “Islamophobic” Western world. Extremists are thus tacitly encouraged to take action against any who dare to defame their religious sensibilities.

Salmon Rushdie, Flemming Rose, and Theo Van Gogh are just some of the better known individuals who have been attacked–and, in the case of Mr. Van Gogh, killed–for expressing views deemed defamatory. Thousands of lesser-known human rights activists, bloggers, academics, and journalists have been threatened, imprisoned, beaten, or killed for expressing their beliefs. Countless Muslims have been persecuted for voicing a brand of faith deemed unorthodox and therefore blasphemous or defamatory. It is impossible to know how many have not dared to raise their voices out of fear of retribution.

Moreover, the OIC is not satisfied with the legitimacy it gains from the passage of nonbinding UN resolutions. Supporters of the “defamation of religions” concept have insidiously begun using language from existing international human rights law, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to pervert international human rights norms.

{snip}

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.

Comments are closed.