05 October 2008

Combating the Defamation of Religion

The UN General Assembly will soon vote on a non-binding resolution that restricts speech that offends religion and in particular offends Islam. Originally, the resolution was introduced by Pakistan and the Organization of the Islamic Conference via the Human Rights Council in 1999. The resolution only referred to Islam but was amended to include other religions in order that it pass and it has passed the Human Rights Council every year since 1999.

Having successfully negotiated the Human Rights Council, Yemen was sufficiently emboldened to introduce it to the General Assembly in 2005. The General Assembly will now have to vote on Resolution 62/145. Interestingly, the reason for the resolution is that there has been a campaign of defamation of religions and to address the issues of religious and ethnic profiling in the post September 11 world.

The resolution, if passed, will significantly impact upon free speech everywhere. This is in spite of the resolution being non-binding. The threat is significant enough that the US felt the need to make a submission to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The US statement simply noted that defamation related laws have been regularly abused by governments in order to restrict the freedom of speech and other human rights.

The resolution is being colloquially referred to as the blasphemy resolution. A quick survey of the recent news on this paints a picture of the likely effect that the passage of this resolution might have of it were to be applied uniformly throughout member states.

Although it is more likely a boon for those governments that head up non-democratic states as a blasphemy resolution could certainly be used to stifle debate. In nations with a much longer, albeit not perfect democratic tradition, there are generally protections for the freedom of speech in place. In some countries like the US this protection is enshrined in the Constitution.

For example:

* Random House's decision not to publish a book, The Jewel of Medina, that used as a plot base the marriage of Aisha and Muhammad because it was deemed to be offensive to Muslims;
* A British teacher working in Sudan was sentenced to 15 days in jail because she allowed her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad;
* An Egyptian blogger that was sentenced to four years jail for a critique of Islam; and
* The murder of Theo van Gogh who released a film on the abuse of Muslim women.

It needs to be pointed out that this is an issue that has its roots in a much more distant past. In times prior to the thought that the UN might pass a resolution on this, Islamic countries took care of business themselves and issued fatwas such as the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie for the Satanic Verses.

In many ways this is a resolution about creating a world full of fear and intimidation where people cannot speak their minds without fear of running afoul of a resolution such as this one. If anything it is going to increase the tension and stress on the pursuit of religious harmony, perhaps so much so that minority religions in majority Muslim countries will be victimized based on perceived slights.

What I wonder about is how you defame a religion. A religion is an idea or a set of ideas. Is it possible for an idea to have rights?

I am an advocate of free speech and the open and frank discussion and exchange of ideas. This resolution bothers me because it seems designed to provide the framework for the establishment for religious intolerance. Peace and tolerance go hand-in-hand but peace and intolerance do not.

Here's hoping that the resolution does not get the numbers to pass.

18 comments:

maxi said...

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Rob Baiton said...

Maxi...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I will drop by and comment on your blog soon.

Brett said...

I agree in principle. I find it really sad that we have ended up in this "nanny state" where we need UN resolutions to make sure people aren just decent to each other. That sucks.

To play devil's advocate, some of the example you gave: I don't think we have the full picture. For example, with the teddy bear example, you and I know there is nothing wrong with using the name "Mohammad". In fact, its a common name. There must be something going on. As for Random House? Has anyone considered the possibility that they rejected the book because it's crap? They must reject thousands of books a week, but the one we hear about - the ONLY one we hear about - is this one. I am also extremely suspicious because the ONLY person I have heard talk about this is the author herself. It's great PR for her. Has anyone picked her book up yet?

Rob Baiton said...

Brett...

Up and at 'em bright and early after the Lebaran break :D

It is always nice to go sparring with a Devil's Advocate first thing on a Monday morning.

It is sad that it has come to this. Decency and free speech are an interesting combination. Is all free speech decent and should it be in order to be protected?

I generally feel that most defamation laws can force free speech to stay within the bounds of decency. I am a little more concerned with vilification laws and now the blasphemy resolution at the UN.

Yep, agreed. Perhaps we only have part of the story on the bear being named Muhammad. But the part of the story we do have suggests that the reason for the 15 days was naming the bear.

I would have thought that if there was an alternative version of events that this would have been made in the press already (I will do a little more research on this today and see what I can find).

On the book front, I agree too. This is great publicity for the author. The book may well be crap and that might be the reason that it was dropped by Random House.

Yet, if that is the case why didn't Random House just come out and say that? They did suggest the reason was that it was reviewed by someone who then went out and marshalled the forces to protest the book as being an afront to Muhammad and to Islam.

Apparently it has been published and is available on line. One of my commentors provided a link in an earlier post on the book (I think I have made two and it was the second post).

Enjoy your day!

Polar Bear said...

Hmmmmmmm

How do I get a "religion" onto the list?

Can I get my blog listed as a religion?

Will it stop people insulting it?

Very dangerous grounds......

Rob Baiton said...

PB...

Does seem to be a bit of a slippery slope, a real pandora's box.

My concern is once you let the genie out of the bottle it is always much harder to get it back in.

therry said...

I wonder what will happen if the same thing is applied to Christians.

South American dudes who're named 'Jesus' must change their names immediately.

Anyway, since when does the UN creates restrictions for something like this? Is it REALLY that important?

Rob Baiton said...

Therry...

Glad that I wrote something that inspired you to comment :D

I don't know that it would require people named Jesus to change their names. Jesus is a recognized prophet in Islam as well.

The resolution has been part of the UN Human Rights Council fraework since 1999. It is now coming to the General Assembly for a vote.

The belief is that if it passes the GA the resolution has greater legitimacy than it would have as just a resolution in the HRC.

Is it important and does it make a difference? Yes, particularly in countries where there are not adequate protections for the freedom of speech. For countries like the US where there is a constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech, probably not so important.

GJ said...

Hey

I was served Pizza in Austin Texas once by Jesus.

No Shit.

And if you were looking at opening Pandora's box, I would have thought that you were on a slippery thigh, hehe!!

Rob Baiton said...

GJ...

Now that's what I miss about Australia. A wicked sense of humor.

The idea of opening Pandora's box and being on a slippery thigh. Put a smile on my dial.

As for being served pizza by Jesus, I believe you!

therry said...

@Rob:

You post so often I can hardly keep up! It's a good day when I can comment on at least 3 out of all your total daily postings in a day :P

@GJ:

Was it Jesus or "Hayzoos" who served the pizza? LOL

Rob Baiton said...

Therry...

Maybe "Hey Zeus"?

Today there has not been too many as I am too busy at work :D

Polar Bear said...

I dated a girl called Pandora long ago.

Her thighs were silky smooth, and her box was a thing to behold.

I defamed her on the bonnet of a sports car one warm summers night….

She was religious. OOHHHH GOD!!! she cried....

Rob Baiton said...

PB...

I am guessing the post about Pandora and her box is one you will be making on your own blog.

I family oriented blog probably could not stand the nitty gritty details of you deflowering Pandora on the bonnet of a sports car.

It seems all the girls you meet are religious!

Polar Bear said...

Defamed, not deflowered....

Very different thing...

:)

Rob Baiton said...

PB...

Indeed they are. But, deflowering and religious experiences would seem to go better together.

I guess if it was defamed, then defamed it should be. My apologies on the deflowering.

Polar Bear said...

I deflamed a girl from the fire service one night.

I asked her to wear that big yellow coat and wellies.

I guess that doesnt count does it?

Rob Baiton said...

PB...

I guess it depends on what "deflamed" comprises of as to whether it counts?