A recent Reasonable Doubts podcast had some commentary on a resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council on March 28 (2008). Specifically, the Human Rights Council (a 47-nation council) passed two resolutions. One urging nations to limit freedom of speech when it involves criticism of religion (criticism of Islam in particular), and a second one expanding the role of the “Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression” (which normally involves reporting on human rights violations around the world) to include issuing reports on “abuses” of free speech (read: criticism of Islam = an abuse of free speech).
The resolutions were part of a long-standing campaign to remove Islam from criticism, and were partially motivated by events of the last decade: the Danish-Mohammed cartoons controversy and increasing disrespect for Islam after attacks by Muslim terrorists. Specifically: 9/11, the 7/7 bombings in London, the 2004 bombings in Madrid, 2002 Bali bombing, 2005 Bali bombing, numerous bombings in Iraq, Pakistan, and India against civilians, human rights violations in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, “honor killings” in Muslim countries (where even the police congratulate killer), the killing of Theo VanGogh, and the publicized videotaped beheadings of “infidels” such as Daniel Pearl.
To begin with, the members of the “Human Rights Council” should give anyone pause. There are plenty of nations well-known for human rights violations on the council, including: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Cuba, Russia. In the past, it even included Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Trying to limit freedom of speech to shield Islam from criticism has been a desire of Islamic nations:
In February 2008, Yemen’s Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawr, “called for an international law that criminalizes religious insults and enforces mutual respect of religions, calling on all rationalists in the West to avoid such negative acts [as printing the Muhammad cartoons]. ‘This can only increase the instability in relations among Islamic and Western nations’.”
Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Council (Arabic: Majlis ash-Shura) considered a resolution calling on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “work in coordination with Arab and Islamic groups and others at the United Nations to draft an international pact for respecting religions, their symbols and leaders, and prohibit insulting them in any way.” (Link)
Algerian Deputy Permanent Representative Mohammed Bessedik drew thinly veiled comparisons of today’s treatment of Muslims to the Nazi atrocities against Jews. “The policy of targeting Muslims would actually aim at dehumanizing them by assaulting their identity to legitimize an attitude of racial discrimination similar to the one that targeted another Semitic people in the 20th century.” He described the threat of “reawakening the hydra of the anti-Semitic campaigns of the 20th century, which we now call Islamophobia.” (Link)
The comparison of Muslims to the Nazi holocaust against Jews is incredibly ridiculous. Complaints about Islam is nothing like the Nazi campaign against Jews. Bessedik is clearly out of touch. Second, his statement highlights the ridiculousness of Muslim attempts to cast themselves in the illusionary role of “the persecuted”.
Maybe part of this persecution belief comes from the fact that criticism of Islam is suppressed in their countries, so any minor complaint about Islam is blown out of proportion by a hypersensitivity that comes from never hearing anything bad.
March 27th Resolution: 7/19 “Combating defamation of religions” (passed 21-10 with 14 abstentions on March 27th). Admittedly, the parts of the resolution’s text has been approved in earlier resolutions (for example, this April 2001 resolution), so it’s not entirely new. Excerpts (bold is mine):
2. Also expresses deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations and emphasizes that equating any religion with terrorism should be rejected and combated by all at all levels;
I can’t imagine why Islam is identified with “terrorism, violence and human rights violations”. Sure, most Muslims aren’t doing those things, but when it comes to religiously inspired terrorism, violence, and human rights violations, Islam certainly stands out. Ironically, Saudi Arabia, who is on the “Human Rights Council” and voted for this resolution, is a terrible human-rights violator. They prohibit women from driving cars, make them wear burkas, punished a woman with 200 lashes after being raped, put people to death for converting from Islam, and made the display of non-Islamic symbols illegal, and gives harsher punishments for crimes against Muslims than non-Muslims. I can’t imagine why Islam gets associated with “terrorism, violence and human rights violations”.
And what does “equating any religion with terrorism should be rejected and combated by all at all levels” mean? We should throw anyone in jail if they equate any religion with terrorism?
6. Expresses concern at laws or administrative measures that have been specifically designed to control and monitor Muslim minorities, thereby stigmatizing them and legitimizing the discrimination that they experience;
Right, because governments shouldn’t monitor extremist Mosques in the heart of europe where Muslims learn to use AK-47s, preach hatred towards the “godless” Germans, or glorify Holy War against non-Muslims. They might as well come out and say, “attacking you will be so much easier if we all pretend there are no strains of extremism is Islam”.
I realize, of course, that this is essentially a form of religious profiling, but when polls of British Muslims reveal that 1 in 8 regard the 7/7 London bombers (who killed 52 civilians) as martyrs, 1 in 8 young Muslims said they admired groups such as al-Qa’eda that “are prepared to fight the West”, 40% between 16 and 24 years-old would prefer to live under Sharia law, and a significant minority feel no loyalty to England whatsoever, it’s not hard to see that Muslims are significantly more likely to cause problems than, say, Presbyterians.
8. Urges States to take actions to prohibit the dissemination, including through political institutions and organizations, of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to racial and religious hatred, hostility or violence;
Considering that Muslim nations are extremely bad about inciting religious hatred of the Jews, they should be considered the top offenders in this category. Does this mean Muslim nations will stop their citizens from using the word “Kafir” (infidel) about non-Muslims? Does this mean they will ban the Koran (“Seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and in any case take no friends or helpers from their ranks.” Koran 4:89). Will they stop their media from printing cartoons such as:
If that cartoon was redrawn with a Muslim holding the knife, rather than a Jew, they would certainly complain about “religious defamation”.
Further, the text says, “Urges States to take actions to prohibit the dissemination … [of] material aimed at any religion or its followers”. By singling out “any religion” from “its followers”, they make it clear that they are exempting the religion from criticism – they want to prevent criticism of an idea.
9. Also urges States to provide, within their respective legal and constitutional systems, adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from the defamation of any religion, to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and their value systems and to complement legal systems with intellectual and moral strategies to combat religious hatred and intolerance;
“take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and their value systems”? Why must all religions be respected and tolerated? Does this apply to cults, too? Are nations supposed to muzzle anyone criticizing Scientology? Apparently, there has never been a better time to start that pedophile/ arson/ blackmail/ satan-worship cult. (Charles Manson, are you reading this?) It’s a “religion” and therefore, it’s automatically worthy of respect. And Aum Shinrikyo, who set-off sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway – they are automatically worthy of respect and tolerance, and the Japanese government should intervene when someone says something bad about them? No idea should ever receive “tolerance” and “respect” simply because it exists. Why should “religion” get special status in the world of ideas?
10. Emphasizes that respect of religions and their protection from contempt is an essential element conducive for the exercise by all of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
This one is right out of 1984. “respect of religions and their protection from contempt” is somehow conducive for “freedom of thought”? When you prevent yourself from thinking bad things about religion, then your mind will truly be free? Freedom is slavery. Now I get it: the killing of Theo VanGogh, who promoted disrespect of Islam, was actually a contribution to “freedom of thought”. Now, if only they could improve the world a little more by tracking down Salman Rushdie.
12. Emphasizes that, as stipulated in international human rights law, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, and that the exercise of this right carries with it special duties and responsibilities, and may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but only those provided by law and necessary for the respect of the rights or reputations of others, or for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals;
Freedom of speech carried with it “special restrictions”? Such as “not criticizing us or our special ideas”? No doubt the Saudi Monarchy could legitimize their suppressing criticism of the government and Islam with that line. And they say “morals” are a sufficient reason to limit freedom of speech? Over and over, I hear religious people equate morals with religion and atheism with amorality. Thus, speaking out against religion can quickly be turned into “damages morals”. Similarly, the claim that freedom of speech should be limited to preserve “public order” can quickly be turned into suppressing freedom of speech against anyone who speaks against the existing government. Robert Mugabe would love that.
13. Reaffirms that general comment No. 15 of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in which the Committee stipulates that the prohibition of the dissemination of all ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred is compatible with the freedom of opinion and expression, is equally applicable to the question of incitement to religious hatred;
I’m a little puzzled by this. They seem to be saying that ideas based on racial superiority are to be prohibited, and that this is “equally applicable to the question of incitement to religious hatred”. Apparently, they are saying that ideas of religious superiority are incompatible with freedom of opinion. But, everyone knows that Muslims claim religious superiority over all other religions. Maybe they were only thinking about the claims of Christian and Jewish superiority over Islam.
14. Deplores the use of printed, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet, and of any other means to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination towards Islam or any religion;
First of all, there are vast numbers of jihadi videos inciting violence, xenophobia or related intolerance. But, maybe their loophole is that it isn’t inciting violence against a religion – it’s inciting violence against the “kafir”. Further, people should be willing to accept intolerance and discrimination against ideas. I am intolerant towards the ideas that slavery or female circumcision should be allowed.
15. Invites the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to continue to report on all manifestations of defamation of religions, and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia, on the enjoyment of all rights to the Council at its ninth session;
“Islamophobia” is a word they love to throw around. If you don’t like Islam, it’s not their fault – it’s your fault. And if you don’t like America and its foreign policy? That’s Americaphobia. See? It’s not America that’s at fault – it’s you and your irrational fear. Thus, the blame has been shifted.
Suppressing free speech against Islam has worked for over a thousand years, though, so maybe it’s just a case of “old habits are hard to break” meets “our world is increasingly interconnected”. The result being: “we need to shut-down criticism of Islam abroad, just as we’ve done in our own countries”.
March 28th Resolution: 7/36 “Mandate of the Special Rapporteur…” (passed 32-0 with 15 abstentions). Excerpts (bold is mine):
4. Requests the Special Rapporteur, within the framework of his/her mandate:
(d) To report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination, taking into account articles 19 (3) and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and general comment No. 15 of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which stipulates that the prohibition of the dissemination of all ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred is compatible with the freedom of opinion and expression;
The text legitimizes the concept of “abuse of the right of freedom of expression”. Not surprisingly, these resolutions have been roundly condemned. While the story hasn’t gotten much press, at least the US, EU, and human rights organizations are complaining about it. Not very often that you can get right-wing American nationalists, the EU, and human rights organizations around the world to all condemn the same thing.
The EU complains, and Saudi Arabia plays the victimization card:
EU countries, including France, Germany and Britain, voted against. Previously EU diplomats had said they wanted to stop the growing worldwide trend of using religious anti-defamation laws to limit free speech… The EU said, “International human rights law protects primarily individuals in their exercise of their freedom of religion or belief, not religions or beliefs as such.”
Saudi Arabia said, “Maybe Islam is one of the most obvious victims of aggressions under the pretext of freedom of expression.”
“It is regrettable that there are false translations and interpretations of the freedom of expression,” the Saudi delegation told the council, adding that no culture should incite to religious hatred by attacking sacred teachings. (Link)
Arab and Muslim countries defended Tuesday a resolution they pushed through at the United Nations to have the body’s expert on free speech police individuals and news media for negative comments on Islam.
The United States, Canada and some European countries criticized the role reversal for Kenyan legal expert Ambeyi Ligabo, who has reported to the global body on measures by dictatorships and repressive governments to restrict free speech.
“The resolution adopted attempts to legitimize the criminalization of expression,” said Warren W. Tichenor, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva. [It] seeks to impose “restrictions on individuals rather than to emphasize the duty and responsibility of governments to guarantee, uphold, promote and protect human rights.”
Terry Cormier, a member of the Canadian delegation, said, “The job of a special rapporteur is not to police the action of individuals.”
Pakistan’s ambassador, Masood Khan, speaking on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, denied the resolution would limit free speech. It only tries to make freedom of expression responsible, he said. (Link)
From a protest letter signed by 40 Human Rights Organizations:
We, the Undersigned, are deeply concerned that the proposed amendment undermines the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, at a time when it most needs protection and strengthening. (Link)
International Freedom of Expression Exchange Members Condemn UN Resolutions Supporting Limits on Free Speech:
The top UN rights body passed two resolutions last week that limit freedom of expression rather than protect it, say IFEX members, even further undermining its mandate.
Despite objections from 40 rights organisations from around the world led by ARTICLE 19 and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on 28 March that turns the Special Rapporteur on free expression into a “prosecutor”.
Critics say the amendment will help to justify censorship and the stifling of dissent. “The change to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on free expression is dramatic. It turns someone who is supposed to defend freedom of opinion into a prosecutor whose job is to go after those who abuse this freedom,” says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), one of the 40 organisations who appealed to the council not to amend the rapporteur’s mandate.
The argument against the resolutions is that religious believers have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their beliefs and are protected as such in international law. But they cannot expect their religion to be free from criticism. “The states chose to focus their efforts on protecting religion itself, not the believers and not freedom of religion,” says ARTICLE 19. (Link)
On the upside, the UN resolution has no “teeth” – it can’t enforce anything, although it does play a role as a kind of “conscience” and adds legitimacy to Islamic ideas of suppressing free speech when it comes their religion. The resolution also sends the Special Rapporteur off doing the completely unnecessary work of reporting on “abuses” of freedom of speech.