Will the United States follow the UN’s lead and go the way of Europe and Canada in appeasing politicized sensitivities?
Is freedom of speech in America threatened by the political mobilization of Islam? People who warn about threats to free speech usually like to shout about them—perhaps to show that they themselves won’t submit to threats. I don’t think America will face any shortage of people ready to shout about Islam or the Middle East or homeland security any time soon.
But there are certainly ominous trends stirring in the world. Not shadowy extremists but representatives of actual governments—nearly 60, in fact— have demanded that Western nations suppress speech that casts Islam in a bad light. UN human rights agencies have endorsed such demands. European nations have sought to accommodate them. The trend has not yet taken root in America. But our own courts have not always been firm protectors of free speech when restraints on speech are demanded to protect against “sexism” or “racism”—and official organs at the UN and the EU see “Islamophobia” as much the same thing. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court, cheered by a sizable contingent of American legal scholars, has held repeatedly in recent years that our own Constitution should be interpreted in the light of world trends in human rights. Anyone seen any hard-hitting Danish cartoons in the American press lately?
I. Defending Islam at the UN
The campaign against “Islamophobia” in the Western media first gained public notice when that campaign turned violent. In February 2006, mobs attacked Danish embassies in cities across the Muslim world. They claimed to be enraged by cartoons published in a single small-circulation Danish newspaper that associated the Prophet of Islam with terrorist bombings.
Setting fire to peaceful embassy buildings might seem an odd way to prove that Islam should not be associated with terrorism. So it was easy to dismiss the “cartoon intifada” as little more than random violence in unstable countries. But the protests actually seem to have been coordinated with an international campaign that was quite well organized.
In December 2005—only two months before these violent protests—the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) had convened an “extraordinary summit” with heads of state from its 57 member states. The summit endorsed a Ten-Year Program of Action to protect “the true image and noble values of Islam” by “combating Islamophobia.” Among other things, it called for the UN to “adopt an international resolution on Islamophobia” that would “call on all states to enact laws to counter [Islamophobia], including [through] deterrent punishment.”
None of this, in fact, was simply a response to the anxieties and resentments aroused in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. At the United Nations, member states of the OIC had started complaining about “defamation of Islam” in the late 1990s. An article in the September 1999 issue of Middle East Quarterly was already warning of the implications, under the heading “Islamism Grows Stronger at the United Nations.”
In 1999 OIC member states, under the agenda item on “racism,” urged the UN Human Rights Commission to condemn “defamation of Islam,” arguing that antagonism toward Muslims risked the sort of violence previously unleashed by European anti- Semitism. Western states balked, then agreed to a resolution of concern about “defamation of religion… particularly Islam.” The resolution passed without formal votes in 1999 and 2000 and then, when put to votes, passed by solid majorities in the ensuing years. A similar resolution was adopted by the General Assembly in 2005.
By 2005, the UN Human Rights Commission had become so discredited by its obsessive denunciations of Israel and indifference to human rights abuses elsewhere that even Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged its reform. The new, supposedly reformed Human Rights Council ended up with such human rights champions as Cuba, Russia, and China, along with 14 members of the OIC, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Algeria.
In its meeting of March 2007, the new council promptly adopted a new resolution warning that “defamation of religion…leads to violations of human rights” and again mentioning only “Islam and Muslims in particular.” The resolution specifically invoked the OIC’s 2005 “extraordinary summit” as if it were part of the UN’s official rationale—which, in effect, it was. The resolution specifically “emphasize[ d] that…freedom of expression…should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations…necessary for respect of the rights and reputations of others…and respect for religions and beliefs” and therefore “deplore[d] the use of the print, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet…to incite…xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination toward Islam E2.” For good measure, it also protested “the increasing trend in recent years of statements attacking… Islam and Muslims in particular in human rights forums.”
The implications of all these claims have been made more clear in the past year. In earlier resolutions, “Islamophobia” was linked with “racism and xenophobia” and referred to the council’s Special Rapporteur charged with monitoring “racism, xenophobia and related intolerance.” In its meeting of March 2008, the council voted to refer its concerns about “defamation of religion” to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. In effect, the resolution demanded that protection of free speech give way to protection against improper—Islamophobic— speech. As the Canadian delegate protested, “instead of promoting freedom of expression, the Special Rapporteur would be policing its exercise.” But of course, it made no difference. In its December meeting at the end of last year, the UN General Assembly simply went ahead and endorsed the OIC-sponsored resolution that condemned “discrimination against religions”—but, as usual, mentioned only “Islamophobia” rather than attacks on any other faith.
Last June, OIC members gave a startling demonstration of how they would protect against “attacks” on “Islam” in “human rights forums.” In the midst of a review of women’s rights, a representative of a Western NGO tried to present a report on the practice of female genital mutilation in Egypt and Sudan. The speaker tried to say that the practice would be stopped if religious authorities in Egypt clarified that it was not required by sharia law. Whereupon the Egyptian delegate immediately brought the proceedings to a halt, protesting that the statement was an attack on Islam. After futile efforts to calm tempers by the chair (a delegate from Romania), the Egyptian ambassador insisted that “Islam will not be crucified in this forum.” The chair closed the meeting with assurances that the Council would not in future presume to discuss “religious questions”—which, given the background, seemed to indicate that even oblique references to understandings of sharia, even if misunderstandings, could no longer be tolerated.
If that is the standard for public debate, quite a lot would not be open to comment. A number of Western NGOs, concerned with religious freedom, raised objections. The Becket Fund, a Washington-based advocacy group for religious liberty, warned that the concept of “defamation of religion” would “undermine the foundations of the human rights system” (as previously understood), shifting its emphasis from “the protection of individuals” to “the protection of ideas or of group identities.”
When courts are asked to decide claims of “defamation” against individuals, it noted, truth is always a defense: instituting legal actions against “defamation of religion” would “require the state to determine which ideas are acceptable, as opposed to which facts are true.” Enforcing measures against “defamation of religion” would thus “empower majorities against dissenters and the state against individuals.”
But the OIC does seem to think any discussion of Islam or even political opinion among Muslims should be taken as prima facie evidence of Islamophobia and properly curbed by governments. In May 2007, the OIC agreed to establish an “Observatory” for “monitoring all forms of Islamophobia.” The Observatory’s first report, released last summer, offers “a collation of incidents and developments that vindicate the Ummah’s concerns about the rising trend of Islamphobia.” But it offers only one paragraph on incidents of actual violence against Muslims in Western countries, only three of which are even specified as to location (two in Belgium and one in Poland) while the others—including “incidents” of “bombings and arson” against mosques and “lethal bludgeoning, stabbing and shooting” are not counted or even located, let alone described.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online