Islamic States Push to Criminalize 'Defamation of Islam'

A powerful bloc of 57 Islamic states is again pushing for the UN to make it a criminal offense to criticise or ‘defame' Islam.  In a new resolution circulated at a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 11, a paper entitled "Combating Defamation of Religions" was circulated ahead of the Council's next meeting on March 26-27, when the resolution will be voted on.

Though the 57 nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a bloc which also dominates the UN's Human Rights Council, have been lobbying for the move since 1999, the signs this time are that the resolution could well be made binding. While the resolution calls for protection against "defamation" of all religions, it only mentions Islam by name.

The resolution deems offending Islamic sensitivities a "serious affront to human dignity" which could lead to "social disharmony", "violations of human rights" and "incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam in particular".  If passed, the resulting binding resolution would find its way into various UN documents all of which would require that UN member states at "local, national and international levels" start restricting the free speech of citizens to prevent public criticism of religious beliefs, particularly Islamic belief.    

Such is the domination of the UN HRC by Islamic states, backed by non-democratic members including Russia and Cuba, that the human rights agency UN Watch believes the "adoption of the regressive resolution is a foregone conclusion". Last December, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch told Radio Free Europe that Islamic states were pursuing "the diplomatic battle with a vengeance" because of the post 9/11 war on terror and the issue of the Danish depictions of the prophet Mohammed. As Neuer pointed out, "The resolutions pose a major threat to the premises and principles of international human rights laws and harm Muslims as much as non-Muslims." Neuer went on to cite the failure of the Islamic states to address human rights violations in Muslim countries. He also pointed out that the latest resolution is "not really trying to protect individuals from harm" but is attempting "to shield a set of beliefs from question or debate." 

The resolution's use of the phrase ‘defamation of religion' is also misleading. Under the terms of human rights law there is no such legal concept. Laws on defamation, in most Western countries, exist to protect the reputation of individuals, not belief systems or religions.

UN Watch's Neuer describes the resolution's text as "Orwellian" and warns that it distorts the meaning of human rights, free speech and religious freedom. He also points out that a binding resolution would first target "moderate Muslims" and that: "Next to suffer from the UN-sanctioned McCarthyism will be writers and journalists in the democratic West." The text singles out the freedom of the Western media which allows for ‘deliberate stereotyping of religions, their adherents and sacred persons.'

The vote, at the end of March, comes ahead of the UN's World Conference Against Racism in Geneva, April 20-24. This conference is due to be a follow-up ‘review' of the UN's infamous Durban conference in 2001 which Islamists deteriorated into a attack on Israel which many participants viewed as antisemitic in tone. Fears are rife that April's ‘Durban 2' will simply provide the same Arab states with yet another global platform from which to launch a similar attack on Israel. Canada has already withdrawn because of the antisemitic tone of key documents. Australia is threatening to withdraw for the same reason. Italy, France, Germany and others have all notified their misgivings to the UNCHR. The United States, which walked out with the Israelis at Durban in 2001 when a resolution compared Zionism with racism, is also threatening to withdraw. The Israelis, not surprisingly, will not be attending.

Perversely, the very forum being sponsored by the UN's Human Rights Council to work for improved human rights and against racism, has and is providing Islamic nations, many of whom have some of the worst records of human rights abuses in the world, with a global platform which openly espouses perjorative and racist anti-Semitic language against Israel's Jewish population.   If the UN Human Rights Council does go ahead and endorse the resolution, aimed at criminalizing ‘defamation of Islam', at the end of March and the April conference it will amount to a major blow against free speech and as a further appeasement to Islamist bigotry.

Just as good in terms of ‘promoting better global relations', how about taking up US TV commentator Lou Dobbs suggestion that we, "bulldoze the large piece of real estate on the east side of Manhattan (UN Plaza) - and build something useful".  Or would that too deny Islamists their most effective weapon in the Jihad against Western free speech?

Peter C Glover is the British author of The Politics of Faith and writer on international affairs. For more go to
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