Religious Persecution Wolf in Anti-Defamation Sheep’s Clothing
The Inquisition is back, and this time it has set up shop at the United Nations. Consider the resolution “Combating the Defamation of Religions” passed by a comfortable margin last week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (and passed by the General Assembly every year since 2005).
The resolution decries a “campaign of defamation of religions,” intensifying since 2001, in which “the media” and “extremist organizations” are “perpetuating stereotypes about certain religions” (read: Islam) and “sacred persons” (read: Muhammad). It urges UN member states to provide redress “within their respective legal and constitutional systems.” Capitalizing on cartoon riots and Western anxieties over the excesses of the war on terror, the language conflates peaceful criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim bigotry and seeks to stifle speech in the name of “respect for religions and beliefs.”
In my capacity as UN representative for the secularist think tank Center for Inquiry, I spent a surreal two weeks at the Council participating in the negotiations over the language of this resolution, sponsored by a 57-member intergovernmental body called the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC.
After one of these sessions, I found my way into a private conversation with the chair of the negotiations, a delegate for the government of Pakistan. We were soon joined by the representatives of the United States, Canada, and the European Union. There we were, “the West,” standing at the front of an empty conference room, gingerly trying to reason with this feisty, yet solicitous, Pakistani diplomat.
The American delegate noted that, “History shows that criminalizing speech doesn’t work,” when the chair interrupted her to propose a case he hoped would hit home. Suppose someone were to say that the Virgin Mary was not a virgin but a promiscuous woman? What could be the purpose of this statement, he asked, except mockery?