The effort by some, mainly Islamic, nations to use the United Nations in an attempt to muzzle what they refer to as “defamation” of religion on the pretense that it constitutes some sort of infringement of the rights of the faithful of all religions is as absurd as it is sinister. Beyond the preposterously unconvincing rhetoric, this is not about tolerance, mutual respect or, even, the sensitivities of all faiths. It is, at its root, clearly about one thing, and one thing only: stamping out criticism of Islam.
The Economist had some of the details on what has being going on in a good article it published on the topic a week or so ago. Here is an extract.
On March 25th the Human Rights Council (HRC), a Geneva-based UN agency which often exasperates its Western members, voted by 20 votes to 17, with eight abstentions, for a text that lists the “defamation of religion” as an infringement of liberty. Nothing amazing there: the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which groups 56 mainly Muslim states (plus Palestine), has been working to push resolutions of that kind through the General Assembly and other UN bodies since 2005. But the margin was the smallest ever, and opponents think there could be a good chance of defeating a “defamation” motion next time one comes around.
The OIC’s idea is to establish the principle that faiths need protection, just as individuals do. It denies any sinister intention (see article). And to some ears, the OIC’s effort sounds like harmless UN-speak, but nothing more. (The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a congressionally mandated body, has noted a logical flaw: defamation means harming the reputation of a living person or entity: that implies that one can’t defame an idea or a religious founder who is no longer, at least physically, alive on earth.)
But critics of the OIC campaign, who include atheists, Christians and indeed some Muslims, say the “defamation” idea is worse than hot air: far from protecting human rights, it emboldens countries that use blasphemy laws to criminalise dissent. What encourages these critics is that more countries seem to be coming around to their view. Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Zambia and South Korea voted against the latest resolution. Brazil criticised the text but abstained.
In a related story, the magazine also interviewed the OIC’s secretary-general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu. The interview doesn’t reveal very much of interest, and contains, of course, the usual complaints about the “demonizing” of Islam in the west. One aspect, however, struck me as worth noting. The OIC turns out to be headquartered in Saudi Arabia. If it wants anyone to believe its (unbelievable) claim that its demands are no more than a call for mutual respect, doing so from the heart of a theocracy with little or no room for dissent within Islam, let alone the practice of other faiths, is not really the way to go