Yesterday, in response to the violence and protests around the Muslim world, a coalition of the world’s regional international organizations released a joint statement (PDF) that they called a message of “peace and tolerance.” The statement, released by the European Union, the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, and the African Union expressed “anguish” for Muslims offended by the infamous “Innocence of Muslims” video and unsurprisingly straddled the line between respecting free expression and a wish to curtail some kinds of speech:
We are united in our belief in the fundamental importance of religious freedom and tolerance. We condemn any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility and violence.
Well, isn’t that nice? That and $200 and a two-year contract will get you a new iPhone — it doesn’t amount to much, and nowhere in this sentimental document does the coalition call for any specific action to address this situation. And that’s a good thing, considering the rise in support for international anti-blasphemy laws, particularly coming from the OIC.
The closest it does come is in a promise to pursue “further measures” in accordance with UN Human Rights Council resolution 16/18, which is a mushy resolution that does a lot of “deploring” and “noting with deep concern” over forms of expression meant specifically to inflame religious hatred. What are those further measures? Who knows?
The part of this statement that troubled me the most, however, had less to do with law and restrictions than with a professed mindset of automatic, blanket acceptance of any supernatural inclination. Dig this:
We share a profound respect for all religions… While fully recognizing freedom of expression, we believe in the importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to.
Wait, what? All religions, you say? All prophets? A profound respect, you say? For one thing, I doubt very much that, say, the more hardline members of the OIC feel any measure of “respect” for, say, Mormonism, nor do I think the literalist Catholics in the African or European Unions think that there’s a lot to be said for Buddhism. You get my point.
But more importantly, this is a statement from a huge portion of the organized global community saying that any magical thinking a person might engage in is worthy of “profound respect.”
I know that we, as nonbelievers, are actively trying to take the air out of the idea that the the mainstream religions are worthy of the forcefield around them that forbids criticism or mockery of them, but I always kind of thought there was at least an unspoken understanding even among mainstream believers that there are some religious ideas that were just too wackadoodle or dangerous to be taken seriously or granted “respect.” What about the child-torturing believers in witchcraft and sorcery? The cult leader “prophets” who insist that they are the next messiah, abusing and enslaving followers? And come on, Scientology? You expect me to believe these guys have profound respect for Scientology?
Is this really where they want to go?
Diplomacy is hard, I get it. This is a tinderbox situation and people are getting killed. These groups want to be as ingratiating as possible to quell the rage. But it’s too far. We really can’t afford to have the international community embracing the worst and most damaging strains of even mainstream religion, let alone “all” religions and all the weirdness and insanity that goes along with them. This statement is a step backwards in the kind of work our movement is trying to do.