The right to criticize beliefs

salman-rushdie-2Last week, the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution that calls on nation states to limit criticism of religions in general and Islam in particular. Proposed by Pakistan on behalf of other Islamic countries, the resolution passed with the votes of 23 countries on the 47-member council. According to Freedom House, many of the sponsors and supporters of the measure have some of the poorest records of respecting freedom of speech and religion in the world.

Critics of the resolution, mostly from Western countries or liberal activists in Muslim countries, say that the resolution is dangerous because it calls for laws that declare topics off limit for discussion, leading to intolerance of any view that some Muslims may find offensive. Some UN members pointed out that the idea that a given religion has rights against defamation is an idea at odds with freedom. They say that all beliefs must be open to debate, discussion and criticism and that rights against defamation belong solely to individuals.

It is probably no surprise to readers of this blog that the lead up to the passage of this resolution garnered only modest mainstream media notice. But the foreign press and attendant pundits have been all over it. While the Associated Press and Agence France Presse didn’t really do the story justice, I thought Reuters had some good coverage.

Reporter Robert Evans had some helpful reportage and analysis with his story about groups opposed to the resolution:

Some 200 secular, religious and media groups from around the world on Wednesday urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to reject a call from Islamic countries for a global fight against “defamation of religion.”

The groups, including some Muslim bodies, issued their appeal in a statement on the eve of a vote in the Council in Geneva on a resolution proposed by the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Such a resolution, the statement said, “may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters and other independent voices,” and to restrict freedom of religion and of speech.

He explains the history of the anti-defamation movement and more about the concerns of groups opposed to the resolution.

After the resolution passed, Reuters ran another story with context about the Human Rights Council:

The 47-member Human Rights Council has drawn criticism for reflecting mainly the interests of Islamic and African countries, which when voting together can control its agenda. . . .

India and Canada also took to the floor of the Geneva-based Council to raise objections to the OIC text. Both said the text looked too narrowly at the discrimination issue.

“It is individuals who have rights, not religions,” Ottawa’s representative told the body. “Canada believes that to extend (the notion of) defamation beyond its proper scope would jeopardise the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of expression on religious subjects.”

I wish that we’d hear much more from the Muslim countries that backed the resolution. I also wish there would be more discussion — both from friendly and critical sources — about what’s driving these resolutions and what the Muslim countries hope to accomplish with them. You can get that from blogs and pundits, but it would be nice to see more mainstream discussion.

Image of novelist Salman Rushdie, whose death the Supreme Leader of Iran called for, via Wikipedia Commons.

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  • Jerry

    I can’t believe how often I’ve agreed with the blog poster’s comments recently but I do here again. The reaction in the US is no doubt motivated by a “who cares, it does not apply to us” sense, but it does matter in other countries and thus should be covered.

    I went looking for the actual resolution because I wanted to read it for myself and could not find the actual text. Pet peeve #3 are web sites that don’t link to document texts.

    But from what I did read, Jews could complain that Christians defame Judaism by calling Jesus the Messiah, Christians could claim the Muslims defame Christianity by denying the divinity of Jesus and so forth.

    It’s for situations like this that “The cure is worse than the disease” came into existence.

  • MJBubba

    I listen to about three hours each week of Christian talk radio, catching as many different programs as I can during drive times. This issue has been covered thoroughly on several programs, with vote counting as long ago as last year that anticipated that it would pass. It is a concern to them because they believe Christians will be persecuted to an even greater degree in Muslim countries, and several missionary organizations are considering pulling out of some of their missions, including health services and economic development activities. I have not seen this issue covered at all in the MSM.

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  • Brigitte

    Have you followed Ezra Levant’s cases with the Canadian Human Right’s Commission? His current book “Shakedown” deals with the numerous law suits he suffered for publishing the Mohammed cartoons. He calls the legal suits brought against him: soft jihad. Though a Jew, he also speaks up vigorously for Christians, who seem to be singled out for rough treatment for speaking their opinion. Very timely.