The United Nations wants to criminalize religious heresy, provided that those making the claim are Islamists.
Later this month, the United Nations General Assembly will vote on the nonbinding Defamation of Religions Resolution, which would give international sanction to the type of religious persecution commonplace in Muslim-majority countries. Superficially, the resolution contains feel-good human rights language routinely churned out by the U.N. The intent of this resolution, however, is to give sanction to repressive mechanisms that primarily Muslim countries use to stifle critiques of their state-sanctioned sects. This lends international legitimacy to criminal penalties against people who exercise their freedom of worship.
The resolution has been pushed in various forms for over a decade, largely by the 57 states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. These countries have Shariah-based legal systems that boast the most stringent requirements for public worship and the harshest penalties for not adhering to the official religious orthodoxy. Islam is the only religion expressly mentioned in the resolution.
The proposed language discusses the Sept. 11, 2001 jihadist attacks on America, not to condemn them but to call attention to “the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities” that allegedly took place afterwards, which was part of a purported “intensification of the overall campaign of defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general.” It claims, “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism and, in this regard, regrets the laws or administrative measures specifically designed to control and monitor Muslim minorities.”
The U.N. resolution makes no mention of laws prevalent in Muslim countries that impose the death penalty on those who convert to Christianity. It calls on the U.N. to “report on all manifestations of defamation of religions, and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia,” but its sponsors are silent about virulent anti-Semitism their countries promote in schools and mass media.
The resolution acknowledges “everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression.” But it immediately waters down these rights by maintaining that exercising them “carries with it special duties and responsibilities” and thus may be “subject to limitations” to preserve “respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals and general welfare.” This elastic clause gives theocracies virtually unlimited means to restrict religious and other liberties in the name of the very public they are oppressing.
The Defamation of Religions Resolution is toxic to Western principles. The resolution seeks to defend the rights of certain religions rather than those of the often oppressed people. That doesn’t make sense. What an imam might charge is defamation worthy of criminal prosecution, another might call a legitimate critique of a repressive religious doctrine.
Officials from Muslim countries go to a lot of trouble to stifle any criticism or reasoned discussion of their religion. There’s one policy they usually shun but might want to try: more openness.