The new threat to freedom of expression
The UN passage of a resolution barring defamation of religion, especially Islam, should be a wake-up call.
"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world."Skip to next paragraph
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These are the first two freedoms of President Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech, which has special urgency today. The world economic crisis has naturally called attention to the last two freedoms he declared, freedom from want and from fear. But freedom of expression and religion got first billing for a reason. These two rights are absolutely fundamental to our humanity. And yet they've been under unceasing assault over the course of history.
These assaults continue today. On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution that calls on states to limit criticism of religions – specifically Islam. This is the tenth time such a resolution has passed at the UN's primary human rights body. Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, began introducing similar resolutions in 1999 arguing that Islam – the only religion specifically cited in the text – must be shielded from unfair associations with terrorism and human rights abuses.
These so-called "defamation of religions" resolutions also have a perfect record at the UN General Assembly, where the latest version passed in December. The resolutions contain some very appealing language, steeped in standard human rights values such as dialogue, harmony, and tolerance – all good things.
But don't be fooled; the resolutions only give clever lip service to these values. In reality they are calling for laws and actions that prohibit dialogue by declaring certain topics off limits for discussion, leading to intolerance of any view that some Muslims may find offensive. For instance, criticizing the practice of polygamy or the greater weight given to the testimony of men over women in sharia law would be forbidden. Such laws that prohibit blasphemy, defamation, or the defiling of Islam already exist in many of the countries that support the defamation of religions resolutions.