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UN Anti-Blasphemy Measures
03-05-2009, 01:38 PM,
#1
UN Anti-Blasphemy Measures
Whilst trawling the web in my morning tea-break I came across this article from late last year:

UNITED NATIONS - Islamic countries Monday won United Nations backing for an anti-blasphemy measure Canada and other Western critics say risks being used to limit freedom of speech.

"Combating Defamation of Religions passed 85–50 with 42 abstentions in a key UN General Assembly committee, and will enter into the international record after an expected rubber stamp by the plenary later in the year.

But while the draft’s sponsors say it and earlier similar measures are aimed at preventing violence against worshippers regardless of religion, religious tolerance advocates warn the resolutions are being accumulated for a more sinister goal.

“It provides international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws, and there are a number of people who are in prison today because they have been accused of committing blasphemy,” said Bennett Graham, international program director with the Becket Fund, a think tank aimed at promoting religious liberty.

“Those arrests are made legitimate by the UN body’s (effective) stamp of approval.”

Passage of the resolution is part of a 10-year action plan the 57-state Organization of Islamic Conference launched in 2005 to ensure “renaissance” of the “Muslim Ummah” or community.

While the current resolution is non-binding, Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan reminded the UN’s Human Rights Council this year that the OIC ultimately seeks a “new instrument or convention” on the issue. Such a measure would impose its terms on signatory states.

“Each time the resolution comes up, we get a measure of where the world is on this issue, and we see that the campaign has been ramped up,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch.

While this year’s draft is less Islam-centric that resolutions of earlier years, analysts note it is more emphatic in linking religion defamation and incitement to violence.

That “risks limiting a broad range of peaceful speech and expression,” Neuer argues.

The 2008 draft “underscores the need to combat defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general, by strategizing and harmonizing actions at the local, national regional and international levels.”

It also laments “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.”

But Western democracies argue that a religion can’t enjoy protection from criticism because that would require a judicial ruling that its teachings are the “truth.”

“Defamation carries a particular legal meaning and application in domestic systems that makes the term wholly unsuitable in the context of religions,” says the U.S. government in a response on the issue to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“A defamatory statement . . . is more than just an offensive one. It is also a statement that is false.”

The paper also points out the legal difficulty of even defining the term “defamation” since “one individual’s sincere belief that his or her creed alone is the truth conflicts with another’s sincerely held view of the truth.”

Yemen, on behalf of OIC, successfully introduced the measure to the UN General Assembly for the first time in 2005 after Pakistan first tabled it 1999 for annual consideration in the Human Rights Commission - the Council’s forerunner.

Canada and other Western countries emphasize the distinction between granting an “idea” rights - and defending the right of people not to be discriminated against.

“Canada rejects the basic premise that religions have rights; human rights belong to human beings,” said Catherine Loubier, spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

“The focus (here) should not be on protecting religions, but rather on protecting the rights of the adherents of religions, including of people belonging to religious minorities, or people who may choose to change their religion, or not to practice religion at all.”

Muslim countries say they are only trying to cut down of what they see as extensive bias against Islam in the West. In the lead-up to Monday’s vote, many referred, for example, to the 2005 publication of Danish cartoons that satirized Muhammad, and which touched off riots through the Muslim world.

“Everybody is aware that there is a campaign in certain media to fuel the fire of incitement to hatred and to disfigure certain persons or figures through caricature,” said one Sudanese diplomat.

But supporters of the Western position say the resolution and its predecessors contribute to increasing discrimination based on religion.

“From the human rights side of things, this is the opposite of what is supposed to be happening,” said Becket’s Graham. “Instead of protecting an individual, this resolution protects an idea, and relies on hurt feelings as a source of judgment. It can only lead to a jurisprudence of hurt feelings.”

Canada says governments have abused laws against defamation or contempt of religions to “prosecute and imprison journalists, bloggers, academics students and peaceful political dissidents.”

The Iranian parliament, for example, is currently weighing a draft amendment to its penal code that would impose capital punishment for apostasy.

But in an irony given Canada’s stance, an anti-blasphemy law remains in the Criminal Code. Experts point out it has not been used for a prosecution in more than 70 years.

There’s also consensus among opponents of the UN measure that people most likely to be targeted by anti-blasphemy laws are Muslims in Muslim countries.

“Pakistan has the (toughest) anti-blasphemy laws, and while they are certainly used against lots of minority religions, they are used mainly against Muslims,” said Graham.

“They have been used to intimidate business partners, suppress any reformist ideas, jail people who discuss women’s rights.”

But he also noted that anti-blasphemy themes have been cited in countries that are predominantly non-Muslim.

“There are cases in Russia dealing people suing TV stations for airing South Park and the Simpsons because they see them as defamatory to Christianity,” he explained.

“A lot of the violence in India dealing with Hindus and Christians is being spurred on by accusations that Hindu gods are being defamed, while there are also cases against artists in India for depicting Hindu gods in modernist way.”

Source: http://www.canada.com/topics/news/world/st...de-6ff6e78c78d5

Further reading turned up these two articles from a UK newspaper:

Johann Hari: Why should I respect these oppressive religions?

"Whenever a religious belief is criticised, its adherents say they're victims of 'prejudice'

The right to criticise religion is being slowly doused in acid. Across the world, the small, incremental gains made by secularism – giving us the space to doubt and question and make up our own minds – are being beaten back by belligerent demands that we "respect" religion. A historic marker has just been passed, showing how far we have been shoved. The UN rapporteur who is supposed to be the global guardian of free speech has had his job rewritten – to put him on the side of the religious censors.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated 60 years ago that "a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people". It was a Magna Carta for mankind – and loathed by every human rights abuser on earth. Today, the Chinese dictatorship calls it "Western", Robert Mugabe calls it "colonialist", and Dick Cheney calls it "outdated". The countries of the world have chronically failed to meet it – but the document has been held up by the United Nations as the ultimate standard against which to check ourselves. Until now.

Starting in 1999, a coalition of Islamist tyrants, led by Saudi Arabia, demanded the rules be rewritten. The demand for everyone to be able to think and speak freely failed to "respect" the "unique sensitivities" of the religious, they decided – so they issued an alternative Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. It insisted that you can only speak within "the limits set by the shariah [law]. It is not permitted to spread falsehood or disseminate that which involves encouraging abomination or forsaking the Islamic community".

In other words, you can say anything you like, as long as it precisely what the reactionary mullahs tell you to say. The declaration makes it clear there is no equality for women, gays, non-Muslims, or apostates. It has been backed by the Vatican and a bevy of Christian fundamentalists.

Incredibly, they are succeeding. The UN's Rapporteur on Human Rights has always been tasked with exposing and shaming those who prevent free speech – including the religious. But the Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn "abuses of free expression" including "defamation of religions and prophets". The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.

Anything which can be deemed "religious" is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah "will not happen" and "Islam will not be crucified in this council" – and Brown was ordered to be silent. Of course, the first victims of locking down free speech about Islam with the imprimatur of the UN are ordinary Muslims.

Here is a random smattering of events that have taken place in the past week in countries that demanded this change. In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest – but the Shariah police declared it was "un-Islamic" and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country's most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry 10-year-old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year-old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah.

To the people who demand respect for Muslim culture, I ask: which Muslim culture? Those women's, those children's, this blogger's – or their oppressors'?

As the secular campaigner Austin Darcy puts it: "The ultimate aim of this effort is not to protect the feelings of Muslims, but to protect illiberal Islamic states from charges of human rights abuse, and to silence the voices of internal dissidents calling for more secular government and freedom."

Those of us who passionately support the UN should be the most outraged by this.

Underpinning these "reforms" is a notion seeping even into democratic societies – that atheism and doubt are akin to racism. Today, whenever a religious belief is criticised, its adherents immediately claim they are the victims of "prejudice" – and their outrage is increasingly being backed by laws.

All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don't respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don't respect the idea that we should follow a "Prophet" who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn't follow him.

I don't respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don't respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of "prejudice" or "ignorance", but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.

When you demand "respect", you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.

But why are religious sensitivities so much more likely to provoke demands for censorship than, say, political sensitivities? The answer lies in the nature of faith. If my views are challenged I can, in the end, check them against reality. If you deregulate markets, will they collapse? If you increase carbon dioxide emissions, does the climate become destabilised? If my views are wrong, I can correct them; if they are right, I am soothed.

But when the religious are challenged, there is no evidence for them to consult. By definition, if you have faith, you are choosing to believe in the absence of evidence. Nobody has "faith" that fire hurts, or Australia exists; they know it, based on proof. But it is psychologically painful to be confronted with the fact that your core beliefs are based on thin air, or on the empty shells of revelation or contorted parodies of reason. It's easier to demand the source of the pesky doubt be silenced.

But a free society cannot be structured to soothe the hardcore faithful. It is based on a deal. You have an absolute right to voice your beliefs – but the price is that I too have a right to respond as I wish. Neither of us can set aside the rules and demand to be protected from offence.

Yet this idea – at the heart of the Universal Declaration – is being lost. To the right, it thwacks into apologists for religious censorship; to the left, it dissolves in multiculturalism. The hijacking of the UN Special Rapporteur by religious fanatics should jolt us into rescuing the simple, battered idea disintegrating in the middle: the equal, indivisible human right to speak freely."

Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/comme...ns-1517789.html

and the follow up to the previous article:

Johann Hari: Despite these riots, I stand by what I wrote

"The answer to the problems of free speech is always more free speech

Last week, I wrote an article defending free speech for everyone – and in response there have been riots, death threats, and the arrest of an editor who published the article.

Here's how it happened. My column reported on a startling development at the United Nations. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights has always had the job of investigating governments who forcibly take the fundamental human right to free speech from their citizens with violence. But in the past year, a coalition of religious fundamentalist states has successfully fought to change her job description. Now, she has to report on "abuses of free expression" including "defamation of religions and prophets." Instead of defending free speech, she must now oppose it.

I argued this was a symbol of how religious fundamentalists – of all stripes – have been progressively stripping away the right to freely discuss their faiths. They claim religious ideas are unique and cannot be discussed freely; instead, they must be "respected" – by which they mean unchallenged. So now, whenever anyone on the UN Human Rights Council tries to discuss the stoning of "adulterous" women, the hanging of gay people, or the marrying off of ten year old girls to grandfathers, they are silenced by the chair on the grounds these are "religious" issues, and it is "offensive" to talk about them.

This trend is not confined to the UN. It has spread deep into democratic countries. Whenever I have reported on immoral acts by religious fanatics – Catholic, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim – I am accused of "prejudice", and I am not alone. But my only "prejudice" is in favour of individuals being able to choose to live their lives, their way, without intimidation. That means choosing religion, or rejecting it, as they wish, after hearing an honest, open argument.

A religious idea is just an idea somebody had a long time ago, and claimed to have received from God. It does not have a different status to other ideas; it is not surrounded by an electric fence none of us can pass.

That's why I wrote: "All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don't respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don't respect the idea that we should follow a "Prophet" who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn't follow him. I don't respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don't respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. When you demand "respect", you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade."

An Indian newspaper called The Statesman – one of the oldest and most venerable dailies in the country – thought this accorded with the rich Indian tradition of secularism, and reprinted the article. That night, four thousand Islamic fundamentalists began to riot outside their offices, calling for me, the editor, and the publisher to be arrested – or worse. They brought Central Calcutta to a standstill. A typical supporter of the riots, Abdus Subhan, said he was "prepared to lay down his life, if necessary, to protect the honour of the Prophet" and I should be sent "to hell if he chooses not to respect any religion or religious symbol? He has no liberty to vilify or blaspheme any religion or its icons on grounds of freedom of speech."

Then, two days ago, the editor and publisher were indeed arrested. They have been charged – in the world's largest democracy, with a constitution supposedly guaranteeing a right to free speech – with "deliberately acting with malicious intent to outrage religious feelings". I am told I too will be arrested if I go to Calcutta.

What should an honest defender of free speech say in this position? Every word I wrote was true. I believe the right to openly discuss religion, and follow the facts wherever they lead us, is one of the most precious on earth – especially in a democracy of a billion people riven with streaks of fanaticism from a minority of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. So I cannot and will not apologize.

I did not write a sectarian attack on any particular religion of the kind that could lead to a rerun of India's hellish anti-Muslim or anti-Sikh pogroms, but rather a principled critique of all religions who try to forcibly silence their critics. The right to free speech I am defending protects Muslims as much as everyone else. I passionately support their right to say anything they want – as long as I too have the right to respond.

It's worth going through the arguments put forward by the rioting fundamentalists, because they will keep recurring in the twenty-first century as secularism is assaulted again and again. They said I had upset "the harmony" of India, and it could only be restored by my arrest. But this is a lop-sided vision of "harmony". It would mean that religious fundamentalists are free to say whatever they want – and the rest of us have to shut up and agree.

The protestors said I deliberately set out to "offend" them, and I am supposed to say that, no, no offence was intended. But the honest truth is more complicated. Offending fundamentalists isn't my goal – but if it is an inevitable side-effect of defending human rights, so be it. If fanatics who believe Muslim women should be imprisoned in their homes and gay people should be killed are insulted by my arguments, I don't resile from it. Nothing worth saying is inoffensive to everyone.

You do not have a right to be ring-fenced from offence. Every day, I am offended – not least by ancient religious texts filled with hate-speech. But I am glad, because I know that the price of taking offence is that I can give it too, if that is where the facts lead me. But again, the protestors propose a lop-sided world. They do not propose to stop voicing their own heinously offensive views about women's rights or homosexuality, but we have to shut up and take it – or we are the ones being "insulting".

It's also worth going through the arguments of the Western defenders of these protestors, because they too aren't going away. Already I have had e-mails and bloggers saying I was "asking for it" by writing a "needlessly provocative" article. When there is a disagreement and one side uses violence, it is a reassuring rhetorical stance to claim both sides are in the wrong, and you take a happy position somewhere in the middle. But is this true? I wrote an article defending human rights, and stating simple facts. Fanatics want to arrest or kill me for it. Is there equivalence here?

The argument that I was "asking for it" seems a little like saying a woman wearing a short skirt is "asking" to be raped. Or, as Salman Rushdie wrote when he received far, far worse threats simply for writing a novel (and a masterpiece at that): "When Osip Mandelstam wrote his poem against Stalin, did he ‘know what he was doing' and so deserve his death? When the students filled Tiananmen Square to ask for freedom, were they not also, and knowingly, asking for the murderous repression that resulted? When Terry Waite was taken hostage, hadn't he been ‘asking for it'?" When fanatics threaten violence against people who simply use words, you should not blame the victim.

These events are also a reminder of why it is so important to try to let the oxygen of rationality into religious debates – and introduce doubt. Voltaire – one of the great anti-clericalists – said: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." If you can be made to believe the absurd notion that an invisible deity dictated The Eternal Unchanging Truth to a specific person at a specific time in history and anyone who questions this is Evil, then you can easily be made to demand the death of journalists and free women and homosexuals who question that Truth. But if they have a moment of doubt – if there is a single nagging question at the back of their minds – then they are more likely to hesitate. That's why these ideas must be challenged at their core, using words and reason.

But the fundamentalists are determined not to allow those rational ideas to be heard – because at some level they know they will persuade for many people, especially children and teenagers in the slow process of being indoctrinated.

If, after all the discussion and all the facts about how contradictory and periodically vile their ‘holy' texts are, religious people still choose fanatical faith, I passionately defend their right to articulate it. Free speech is for the stupid and the wicked and the wrong – whether it is fanatics or the racist Geert Wilders – just as much as for the rational and the right. All I say is that they do not have the right to force it on other people or silence the other side. In this respect, Wilders resembles the Islamists he professes to despise: he wants to ban the Koran. Fine. Let him make his argument. He discredits himself by speaking such ugly nonsense.

The solution to the problems of free speech – that sometimes people will say terrible things – is always and irreducibly more free speech. If you don't like what a person says, argue back. Make a better case. Persuade people. The best way to discredit a bad argument is to let people hear it. I recently interviewed the pseudo-historian David Irving, and simply quoting his crazy arguments did far more harm to him than any Austrian jail sentence for Holocaust Denial.

Please do not imagine that if you defend these rioters, you are defending ordinary Muslims. If we allow fanatics to silence all questioning voices, the primary victims today will be Muslim women, Muslim gay people, and the many good and honourable Muslim men who support them. Imagine what Britain would look like now if everybody who offered dissenting thoughts about Christianity in the seventeenth century and since was intimidated into silence by the mobs and tyrants who wanted to preserve the most literalist and fanatical readings of the Bible. Imagine how women and gay people would live.

You can see this if you compare my experience to that of journalists living under religious-Islamist regimes. Because generations of British people sought to create a secular space, when I went to the police, they offered total protection. When they go to the police, they are handed over to the fanatics – or charged for their "crimes." They are people like Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the young Afghan journalism student who was sentenced to death for downloading a report on women's rights. They are people like the staff of Zanan, one of Iran's leading reform-minded women's magazines, who have been told they will be jailed if they carry on publishing. They are people like the 27-year old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman who has been seized, jailed and tortured in Egypt for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah law.

It would be a betrayal of them – and the tens of thousands of journalists like them – to apologize for what I wrote. Yes, if we speak out now, there will be turbulence and threats, and some people may get hurt. But if we fall silent – if we leave the basic human values of free speech, feminism and gay rights undefended in the face of violent religious mobs – then many, many more people will be hurt in the long term. Today, we have to use our right to criticise religion – or lose it.

Postscript: If you are appalled by the erosion of secularism across the world and want to do something about it, there are a number of organizations you can join, volunteer for or donate to.

Some good places to start are the National Secular Society, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason, or – if you want the money to go specifically to work in India – the International Humanist and Ethical Union. (Mark your donation as for their India branch.)

Even donating a few hours or a few pounds can really make a difference to defending people subject to religious oppression – by providing them with legal help, education materials, and lobbying for changes in the law.

An essential source of news for secularists is the terrific website Butterflies and Wheels."

Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/comme...te-1608059.html

Does this sort of thing make you as annoyed as I am right now?


Edit: Apologies if this has already been posted and I was in two minds as to which section of the forum to post this in (Politics? Religion?) so if an administrator would like to move it to the appropriate destination that'd be great. Thanks.:)
“Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a twat.” - Professor Brian Cox.
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03-06-2009, 02:21 AM, (This post was last modified: 03-06-2009, 02:22 AM by ---.)
#2
UN Anti-Blasphemy Measures
I'm going to move it to 'landmine legislation'

looks very interesting but I am too tired to give it full attention right now. Will have a read through tomorrow. thanks for posting this.
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