Muslim plan to stifle free speech moves up a gear

The International Humanist and Ethical Union – of which the NSS is an affiliate – has warned that Islamic governments are trying to use the United Nations to shut down free speech. The warning comes as a bloc of Islamic states held a summit to discuss how supposed widespread “Islamophobia” can be legally challenged in Western countries.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) began the meeting in Senegal last week by raising the spectre of the Danish cartoons and the forthcoming film criticising the Koran from Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

The 57-member bloc is considering a report by a new body set up to monitor instances of what many Muslims view as growing prejudice against them and their religion. Warning that Islamophobia poses a threat to global peace and security, the 58-page report by the “Islamophobia Observatory” examines the reasons for the supposed trend — exemplified by stereotyping, hostility, discriminatory treatment and the denigration of “the most sacred symbols of Islam” — and suggests ways to combat it.

The recommendations include monitoring meetings and conferences where criticism of Islam might take place and showing a more positive image of Islam as a peaceful and tolerant religion. But the report reveals its true purpose – the legal suppression of criticism of Islam. “There is a need for a binding legal instrument to fight the menace of Islamophobia in the context of freedom of religion and elimination of religious intolerance, ” it says. “The Islamophobes remain free to carry on their assaults due to absence of legal measures necessary for misusing or abusing the right to freedom of expression.”

Islamic states must therefore keep “the pressure on the international community at the multilateral forums and bilateral agendas,” the OIC report recommends. This has resulted in a rash of stories in the Islamic press trying to reactivate the Danish cartoons row and panic-mongering about the Dutch film, Fitna, which is due to be released on the internet this month.

Last year, the OIC succeeded in getting the U.N. General Assembly to pass for the first time ever a resolution on the “defamation of religions.” Islam was the only religion mentioned by name in the text. The OIC has 56 votes at the 192-member General Assembly, but it managed to win sufficient support from non-Muslim nations, mostly in the developing world, to see the resolution pass by 108 votes to 51, with 25 abstentions.

As the U.N. prepares later this year to mark the 60th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights, some observers worry about the growing clout of the Islamic bloc, and its agenda. In a statement delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva two weeks ago, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), voiced concerns about the OIC push.

“The implications of this [defamation of religions] resolution for freedom to criticize religious laws and practices are obvious,” the IHEU said. “Armed with U.N. approval for their actions, states may now legislate against any show of disrespect for religion however they may choose to define ‘disrespect’. The Islamic states see human rights exclusively in Islamic terms, and by sheer weight of numbers this view is becoming dominant within the U.N. system,” the organisation added. “The implications for the universality of human rights are ominous.”

The IHEU and others are uneasy about an OIC plan, first raised at a 2005 summit in Mecca, to draft an Islamic Charter of Human Rights. In a statement last December, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu indicated that there were areas of concern to Muslims that weren’t sufficiently covered by existing international instruments.

“The rising phenomena of Islamophobia and other forms of religious intolerance, defamation, and demonisation of religious references and symbols, should be fully and firmly addressed to preserve peace, stability, and common understanding in our world,” he said.

Against that background, the OIC was looking into setting up an independent permanent body “to elaborate an OIC Charter on Human Rights,” Ihsanoglu said.

The charter would be in accordance with the provisions of the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam — the last major OIC human rights document — which says that all human rights and freedom must be subject to sharia law. One article reads: “Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the sharia.”

While information is necessary for society, the declaration says, “it may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate sanctities and the dignity of prophets, undermine moral and ethical values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm society or weaken its faith.”

At the last meeting of the Human Rights Council, it considered a report by a U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, Kenyan lawyer Ambeyi Ligabo.

Ligabo said he was concerned about attempts to expand the scope of defamation laws beyond the protection of individuals, to include the protection of “abstract values or institutions” such as religions. Where international human rights documents placed limitations on freedom of expression, he told the council, they were designed to protect individuals — not religions — from criticism. Ligabo also said he “strongly rejected” the view that the use of freedom of expression has undermined people’s ability to enjoy other rights, such as the freedom of religion.

His stance drew criticism from some Islamic states in the council. Iranian representative Asadollah Eshragh Jahromi said Ligabo should address the issue of freedom of expression and religion “in a more balanced and comprehensive manner.”

“Insulting religions is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression and cannot be justified or interpreted under such a pretext,” he said. “When someone defames a religion or religious personalities or symbols, he hurts the believers of that faith and impinges on his exercise of right to religion and belief,” said the representative of Bangladesh, Mustafizur Rahman.

The OIC and its allies effectively dominate the Human Rights Council, where 26 of the 47 seats are earmarked for African and Asian countries.

Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union attempted to make a statement about this at a recent meeting of the UNHRC in Geneva, but was prevented from doing so in full because of repeated interruptions by Islamic representatives. The statement was a follow-up to IHEU’s written statement describing Islamic efforts to undermine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You can see how IHEU’s attempt to raise the issue was ambushed by Muslim states on this Youtube video of the event.

Roy Brown said: “No doubt forewarned by our written statement, they decided to stop us. But IHEU will continue to campaign at the UN and elsewhere for the human rights of all people, and against any attempt to weaken or undermine them.”

Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society will be telling of his own experiences in the UNHRC and the OIC at the 160th Anniversary of the French secularist organisation Libre Pensée, which will be held at the French Senate in Paris on Saturday.
Read his speech here

In the meantime, the Islamic press is stoking up the resentment with endless stories of re-publication of the Danish cartoons and the imminent release of an “anti-Islamic” film in the Netherlands. See some of them here:
Muslim world launches new cartoon war
Non-Muslims show solidarity over cartoons
Fitna-Threatening to ignite a religious war
Unanimous stand of Muslim world urged on blasphemy issue

See also: Dutch anti-Islam film maker refuses to be silenced

20 March 2008