US State Department to coordinate measures against “religious defamation”
posted at 5:56 pm on August 5, 2011 by J.E. Dyer
According to the International Islamic News Agency, in the next few months, the US will host a meeting with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to coordinate implementing UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on “combating defamation of religions.” (H/t: JihadWatch, Next 2 Cents) The report indicates the meeting will look at the following:
…how to prevent stereotypes depicting religions and their followers; as well as disseminating religious tolerance, which has been endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council last March, in agreement with Western countries. The resolution was adopted after lengthy discussions held between the OIC and countries in which the phenomenon of Islamophobia is in the rise.
The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had announced the intention of the U.S. State Department to organize a coordination meeting during her participation in the meeting which she co-chaired with the OIC Secretary General, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu in Istanbul on 15 July 2011. The meeting issued a joint statement emphasizing the dire need for the implementation of resolution 16/18. … the two sides, in addition to other European parties, will hold a number of specialized meetings of experts in law and religion in order to finalize the legal aspect on how to better implement the UN resolution.
The sources said that the upcoming meetings aim at developing a legal basis for the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution which help in enacting domestic laws for the countries involved in the issue, as well as formulating international laws preventing inciting hatred resulting from the continued defamation of religions.
It is natural to mentally connect the timing of this with the Anders Breivik attack in Norway, and there may be something to that. I suspect it may be related as well to the prospect of the execrable “Durban III” conference at the UN headquarters in New York in September. The Durban conference series — started in Durban, South Africa and nominally about racism and discrimination – has been dedicated to the crassest anti-Semitism and the propagation of lies about Israel. But it has also had a persistent side interest in “defamation of religion.” The US will not have a delegation at the Durban III conference because of its anti-Semitic, anti-Israel character, but Hillary Clinton may well be attempting to generate momentum for a separate, US-led effort to address “religious defamation.”
A number of commentators have warned that Resolution 16/18 is a pretext for shutting down critical, independent examination of Islam and Islamism – and with good reason, considering the case of Austrian Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff. This case provides a peep into how national laws against defaming religion would work in the West. Ned May had a good summary of the outcome of her case at Big Peace earlier this year (emphasis added):
On February 15, 2011, the Austrian anti-jihad activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was convicted of hate speech in a Vienna courtroom. The original charge against her was “incitement to hatred”. On the second day of her trial, the judge decided to add a second charge, “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion.” The latter count is the one on which Elisabeth was convicted.
That means what it sounds like. Sabaditsch-Wolff was convicted by an Austrian court for “denigrating the religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion.” If you do any research at all about her, you discover that the background of her work is a lot of seminars and writings in which she simply adduces facts and discusses them. There are no drawings of Mohammed or burned Qurans or provocative videos lampooning Islam lurking in her closet.
Even if there were, most Americans would agree that there are no circumstances under which these should be punishable offenses. Christianity is relentlessly denigrated, after all, frequently in the most offensive terms, in the nominally “Christian” nations – including Austria – and no one is prosecuted for it. Intellectual freedom means, precisely, that people can criticize religions, and the form of such criticism is subject – and properly so – to very few limitations of law (e.g., libel laws that apply to any forms of “speech,” enforced on general principles and not on guidelines specific to commentary on religion).
The Sabaditsch-Wolff case illustrates perfectly why special limitations on criticism of religion are unacceptable. They are impossible to enforce reasonably. What “some people may be offended by” is not a sound basis of law and punishment: some people are offended by provocative depictions of Mohammed, and consider it reasonable to be so, whereas others are offended to the point of homicidal rage by the assertion that Mohammed was not God’s prophet and the doctrinal tenets of Islam are invalid. Yet one cannot be a believing Christian or Orthodox Jew without agreeing with the latter assertions.
Does holding one religious belief inherently constitute denigrating another religious belief? Pakistani jihadists who murder and torture Christian converts would say so. Do we agree? And what about atheists, who use their intellectual freedom to assert that the context of who is or isn’t God’s prophet doesn’t even exist? They would seem to be engaged in denigrating religion 24/7 – are they to be punished under law?
This is not merely a matter of people agreeing to remain silent about religion and each other’s beliefs – although that would be unacceptable enough. Colleges would have to close religious studies departments under a regime of such intellectual repression. Media outlets would find it virtually impossible to cover religious topics. Why could they not be punished for “denigrating” the Branch Davidians by implying that they were child abusers? Indeed, the New York Times, the UK Guardian, and Norway’s Dagbladet could all be prosecuted for implying that Christianity is what caused Anders Breivik to blow up a government building and shoot dozens of people on Utoya Island. In the entertainment realm, the Law & Order franchise would quickly find itself in court for its frequent insinuations against Christianity and its sometimes condescending depiction of Judaism.
But the problem will become worse than the impossibility of observing a rule of silence. A case is already in court in the United States in which a police officer was demoted by the Tulsa police department after he declined to attend a Muslim-sponsored event. It’s not enough to keep your opinions to yourself: to retain your civil-employment rank, you must make active demonstrations on command.
In a brief filed in response to the police officer’s subsequent lawsuit, the city of Tulsa alleges that he has an “anti-Islamic agenda” – which it deduces not from his professional actions but from his choice of legal counsel. “Brandi” at zTruth points out that Officer Fields and his legal counsel are concerned with political Islamism and not the religion of Islam, and thinks Tulsa should know better; but the significant point is that the city’s brief reverts so reflexively to the religious-bias argument in defending a lawsuit over an employment action. Fields, the subordinate in this situation, is not alleged to have mistreated any of his fellow officers or members of the public; he simply declined to attend an event.
(*Update*: a reader at my home blog points out that besides declining himself to attend the event sponsored by an Islamic organization, Officer Fields declined to order officers under his command to do so. That is correct, and for
completeness in relating the story, I should have added that. It does not change the issue, however. If anything, it makes Fields’ position more solid. Imagine a police department ordering an officer to attend a Christian-sponsored event, and ordering him to require his subordinate officers to. Can’t imagine that holding up in court as a department policy? Exactly.)
Imagine a police officer being ordered to attend an event sponsored by a Christian organization, and being punished afterward for declining to do so. Imagine a police department being honored by a Jewish organization, and a Muslim police officer declining to attend the ceremony. Would the Muslim officer be punished for his choice? Of course not. In either case, the officer(s) declining to attend might very well have an anti-Christian or anti-Jewish agenda. Some people do. But their choices to not attend events would not be considered punishable, or indeed actionable in any way.
The outcome of the Paul Fields case in Tulsa is still unknown, but it will be informative. If you have never given much thought to what might constitute “denigration of a religion,” you will want to do so soon. Hillary Clinton will be hosting a gathering of people who already know what their ideas are regarding that question, and are prepared to forge ahead with laws against it. In that regard, there are two more interesting points to make.
One is that the head of the OIC, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, is an unapologetic Islamist and Ottomanist. However Hillary Clinton may see the role of the OIC, he sees it this way. Ihsanoglu became secretary-general of the OIC in 2004, and it is on his watch that the OIC has launched its campaign to end “Islamophobia” by imposing laws against denigrating and defaming religion. Ihsanoglu’s effort and motives have been reported one way in the West, and another way in the Islamic world.
But what constitutes “Islamophobia,” or constitutes denigration of Islam, remains sketchy. In the case of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff – a Westerner-on-Westerner situation – the facts in evidence were that someone other than Sabaditsch-Wolff used the word “pedophile” in relation to Mohammed, and Sabaditsch-Wolff then engaged in a discussion of whether that word was appropriate or not, given that Mohammed had married a 6-year-old and consummated the marriage when his bride was nine. That combination of facts got her convicted of denigrating religion in Austrian court.
What other information do we have that can nail down what constitutes Islamophobia or denigration of Islam? Anjem Choudary and the UK’s Muslims Against Crusades have an answer. This is quite a long video – over an hour – but the first 15 minutes suffice to clarify what they consider Islamophobia and denigration of Islam: that is, resistance to the imposition of sharia. They recorded this “news conference” on 29 July 2011, just as their henchmen began to post notices around several areas of Britain proclaiming that the neighborhoods were now being administered under sharia law. Resistance may not be futile – but in the view of Choudary and his faction, it is Islamophobic, and it is what constitutes denigrating Islam.