At Large

Blue Helmet Bigotry

The United Nations attacks the religious freedom of non-Muslims.

By 1.10.08

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As predictable as the sun rising in the east, the United Nations has voted to assault religious liberty. Islam, however, is to be protected from criticism since Muslims are said to be under vicious attack in the West.

The offending resolution, which denounces the "defamation of religions," had its genesis in the UN Human Rights Council, created in 2006 to replace the long-discredited Commission on Human Rights. The inmates again have taken over the asylum as human rights violators joined the panel to insulate themselves from criticism. The only country certain to be denounced is Israel.

Unfortunately, the Council is now busy distorting the concept of religious liberty. Religious persecution is distressingly common around the globe. The perpetrators are obvious: while persecuting states vary greatly in their practices, most are either Communist or Islamic.

There are a few outliers -- Hindu India and Buddhist Burma, for instance. But most Communist states -- think China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam -- oppress believers. Similarly, most Muslim states, from Saudi Arabia to Iran to Pakistan to Indonesia, persecute or allow private persecution.

The Communist states generally use artful diplomacy to deflect criticism. For instance, in 2007 the Council voted to drop its special Rapporteur for Cuba, as if Fidel Castro had suddenly converted to the cause of liberal democracy. (Not to worry, though: the Council remained on the case regarding Israel, approving numerous condemnatory resolutions and making that nation a permanent agenda item.)

THE MUSLIM STATES have taken a more aggressive position, reflecting the maxim that the best defense is a good offense. So Pakistan, where religious minorities face legal discrimination and private violence, led the battle against the "defamation" of religion.

The underlying philosophy is simple: people do not have a right to practice their chosen faith. Only Islam is valid. Thus Christians, Baha'i, Jews, Hindus, and others deserve whatever treatment they receive in Islamic societies. For apostates the penalty usually is death. Blasphemers risk lengthy prison terms. Evangelism often is a criminal offense.

Even if the state extends minimal toleration, minority believers should expect no protection from beatings, bombings, and murders meted out by devout Muslims.

Not every Islamic nation is inhospitable. Several of the Gulf sheikdoms, such as Kuwait, are generally tolerant. So is Turkey, despite occasional violent attacks. The situation in Indonesia is mixed, but not as bad as in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, while many "Christian" states in the West avoid acknowledging their religious heritage, most Muslim societies violently suppress other faiths.

The Islamic states which lobbied so vigorously on behalf of the resolution obviously did not mean to criticize persecution of Christians, especially by their own governments. Rather, the measure indulged in guilt-mongering over nonexistent Western crimes against Islam.

There have been isolated assaults on Muslims in the West as well as larger-scale reciprocal violence on occasion in Nigeria and Indonesia, but even in the latter cases Muslims played the dominant role. There has been no significant discrimination, and especially persecution, against Muslims in a Western state for decades if not centuries.

Thus, the real purpose of the UN defamation resolution (as well as the introduction of religious intolerance in UN discussions and forums involving xenophobia and racism) is to insulate Islam from criticism.

Most nations already have laws against violence, fraud, and defamation, but they apply to individuals, not religions. Muslim activists want more.

The resolution technically covers all faiths and is filled with the usual boilerplate about "mutual respect and understanding." The measure also criticizes "instances of intolerance, discrimination and acts of violence based on religion or belief" as well as "physical attacks and assaults on businesses, cultural centres and places of worship of all religions as well as targeting of religious symbols."

In fact, the UN measure mentioned only Islam by name: "Alarmed at the continuing negative impact of the events of 11 September 2001 on Muslim minorities and communities in some non-Muslim countries, the negative projection of Islam in the media and the introduction and enforcement of laws that specifically discriminate against and target Muslims."

Moreover, resolution supporters proclaimed themselves not just alarmed, but "Deeply alarmed at the rising trends towards discrimination based on religion and faith, including in some national policies and laws that stigmatize groups of people belonging to certain religions and faiths under a variety of pretexts relating to security and illegal immigration, and noting that the increased intellectual and media discourse is among the factors exacerbating such discrimination."

Finally, the resolution expresses "deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism" and over "the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001."

Undoubtedly, some Muslims in some nations have been treated unfairly. However, the idea that Islam is under siege and Muslims are being victimized is nonsense.

PERSECUTION RUNS almost entirely in the other direction. Congressional staffer Tina Ramirez pointed out when the resolution was before the Council that In Egypt, "Muslim bloggers are sentenced to prison for criticizing the actions of adherents of their own faith and Baha'i have been declared by the Supreme Court as non-Muslims and as such are discriminated against."

She had more:

*"In Saudi Arabia and Palestine, textbooks teach religious intolerance towards the Jews and Christians."

*"In Iraq, the ancient Mandaean and Chaldo-Assyrian communities have fled due to specifically being targeted for their religious beliefs."

*"In India, several states have passed anti-conversion laws that threaten religious freedom and allowed violence to be carried out against the Muslim and Dalit communities."

*"In Sudan, individuals practicing indigenous beliefs were enslaved and forced to convert to Islam."

Indeed, the offenses against Muslims pale compared to the role that Islamists have played in committing terrorism against the U.S., Israel, and other states. Mistreatment of Muslims is infinitesimal compared to the abuse of Christians before, during, and after September 11 across the Islamic world.

Irrespective of the resolution's claims, Islam is intimately associated with "human rights violations and terrorism," even though there are other factors at play as well.

The real target of the resolution is anyone, especially journalists, who criticizes a certain religion. In practice, the resolution means: "Thou shalt not speak ill of Islam."

Pakistan led the campaign on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC], which routinely denounces "Islamophobia." Indeed, Pakistan first introduced the issue in 1999 in a resolution entitled "Defamation of Islam."

In 2006 the OIC sought to enlist the Human Rights Council in suppressing "actions against religions, prophets and beliefs" and declaring that "defamation of religions and prophets is inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression."

Pakistani UN Ambassador Masood Khan complained that Islamophobia "is an alarming and growing phenomenon in several countries, threatening social harmony and integration in their societies."

Supporters of the resolution cited negative depictions of Islam and Muslims. For instance, Egypt, which jails moderate Muslims and tolerates violence against Coptic Christians, cited "offensive publication of portraits of the Prophet Mohamed" which "highlighted the damage that freedom of speech if left unchecked may lead to, not only hurting the religious feelings of more than a billion people, but also their freedom of religion and their right for respect of their religion."

Thus, the resolution deplores "the use of the print, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet, and any other means to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination against Islam or any other religion, as well as targeting of religious symbols."

The measure stresses "the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions, Islam and Muslims in particular."

THE RESOLUTION allows that "everyone has the right to freedom of expression," but warns that that freedom "should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore" -- you knew this was coming -- "be subject to limitations as provided by law and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs."

Of course, Muslim nations, which generally range from authoritarian to totalitarian, have a lot of experience in limiting freedom of expression on any number of pretexts.

The resolution goes on to urge states to "prohibit the dissemination of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence."

Who could be in favor of such materials? Alas, as President Bill Clinton taught us, everything depends on what is is. To fundamentalist Muslims, factual criticism of their faith and the prophet is incitement to violence -- just ask those Christians beaten and murdered by Muslim mobs after publication of the Danish anti-Mohamed cartoons.

The UN also instructed governments to provide adequate legal and constitutional "protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions, to take all possible measure to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and their value systems."

This from governments which persecute and tolerate persecution of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Baha'is, and others within their own nations. Indeed, what Islamic state does not, by definition, defame other faiths -- claiming that Jesus is not the son of God, for instance, could be construed as grievous insult against all Christians.

That the UN is controlled by irresponsible, despotic Third World states comes as no surprise. Newly worrisome is the growing influence of Muslim nations, which have come to dominate the Asian and African regional groups.

To listen to the OIC, one would think the West is rife with religious discrimination and persecution, as raging Christian mobs bomb mosques, loot Muslim businesses, and assault faithful Muslims. Thus, only the UN can protect Muslims at risk in Western lands.

In reality, of course, Muslims are largely protected in Christian and secular lands. Discrimination, though unfortunate, is limited; Islamic pressure groups lobby and litigate in response to the barest threat.

In contrast, in most Muslim countries religious minorities are not just defamed, but brutalized, as persecution ranges from modest to severe.

But reality does not matter to the United Nations, which has affirmed the OIC's alternative universe. The Islamic nations sacrifice individual liberties to enforce the supremacy of Islam. They expect Western nations to follow suit.

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About the Author
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction).