UN: Beliefs have rights that trump free speech
posted at 12:55 pm on March 3, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Christopher Hitchens rips the UN in his inimitable fashion today for surrendering the right to free speech — and criticism — through the veil of multiculturalism. For centuries, the West has defined freedom and liberty in individual terms, so as to keep the abuses of the state and other orthodoxies at bay. Now the UN has given away the legacy of individual freedom and endorsed the idea that criticism of Islam should somehow be actionable:
In the same weeks that this resolution comes up for its annual renewal at the United Nations, its chief sponsor-government (Pakistan) makes an agreement with the local Taliban to close girls’ schools in the Swat Valley region (a mere 100 miles or so from the capital in Islamabad) and subject the inhabitants to Sharia law. This capitulation comes in direct response to a campaign of horrific violence and intimidation, including public beheadings. Yet the religion of those who carry out this campaign is not to be mentioned, lest it “associate” the faith with human rights violations or terrorism. In Paragraph 6, an obvious attempt is being made to confuse ethnicity with confessional allegiance. Indeed this insinuation (incidentally dismissing the faith-based criminality of 9/11 as merely “tragic”) is in fact essential to the entire scheme. If religion and race can be run together, then the condemnations that racism axiomatically attracts can be surreptitiously extended to religion, too. This is clumsy, but it works: The useless and meaningless term Islamophobia, now widely used as a bludgeon of moral blackmail, is testimony to its success.
Just to be clear, a phobia is an irrational and unconquerable fear or dislike. However, some of us can explain with relative calm and lucidity why we think “faith” is the most overrated of the virtues. (Don’t be calling us “phobic” unless you want us to start whining that we have been “offended.”) And this whole picture would be very much less muddied and confused if the state of Pakistan, say, did not make the absurd and many-times discredited assertion that religion can be the basis of a nationality. It is such crude amalgamations—is a Saudi or Pakistani being “profiled” because of his religion or his ethnicity?—that are responsible for any overlap between religion and race. It might also help if the Muslim hadith did not prescribe the death penalty for anyone trying to abandon Islam—one could then be surer who was a sincere believer and who was not, or (as with the veil or the chador in the case of female adherents) who was a volunteer and who was being coerced by her family.
Rather than attempt to put its own house in order or to confront such other grave questions as the mass murder of Shiite Muslims by Sunni Muslims (and vice versa), or the desecration of Muslim holy sites by Muslim gangsters, or the discrimination against Ahmadi Muslims by other Muslims, the U.N. resolution seeks to extend the whole area of denial from its existing homeland in the Islamic world into the heartland of post-Enlightenment democracy where it is still individuals who have rights, not religions. See where the language of Paragraph 10 of the resolution is taking us. Having briefly offered lip service to the rights of free expression, it goes on to say that “the exercise of these rights carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations as are provided for by law and are 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.” The thought buried in this awful, wooden prose is as ugly as the language in which it is expressed: Watch what you say, because our declared intention is to criminalize opinions that differ with the one true faith. Let nobody say that they have not been warned.
Where does this stop? Will the UN next declare monarchy as a protected class of beliefs, about which criticism should be treated as a hate crime? Fascism? White supremacy? How about American exceptionalism? What about Hinduism, a polytheistic belief system that Islam frequently and bitterly criticizes?
Perhaps Muslims will get hoist by their own petard, but don’t count on it. The UN isn’t looking for intellectual honesty or consistency in this declaration. They are looking for ways to surrender to the radical Muslims who threaten the world through terrorism, or in the case of Iran, through nuclear weaponry. Ironically, this clause could also keep moderate Muslims in the West from criticizing radical extremists within their own faith — which is desperately needed and happens mainly in the US.
The notion that ideas and belief systems have “rights” goes against every step towards liberty that mankind has taken. Individuals have rights; ideas and belief systems have values and policies that should remain open for debate, criticism, satire, and ridicule. Without that essential freedom, people will fall under the thrall of whatever belief system or ideology can exert the most force over them — a strategy practically designed by and for the radical Islamist extremists to whom the UN panders in this declaration.