17 October 2012

Good news from the UN

Advocates for freedom of thought and expression have a reason to celebrate: the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has failed to gain UN support for its call to outlaw blasphemy and insults to religion. Muslim member states of the OIC have been pushing for a UN-backed ban on blasphemy for almost 14 years. They suffered a serious setback last year when the UN General Assembly omitted any mention of outlawing “defamation of religions” in a statement condemning religious intolerance.

But after all these years, the OIC has finally given up trying to ‘legitimately’ gag those who criticise or mock their faith. Of course, it’s those horrible American and European spoilsports who stymied the OIC’s plan to silence all criticism of religion (and by ‘religion’, we know the OIC means Islam), whether valid or odious, eloquent or crass. Its Turkish secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, is apparently unimpressed by Western notions of free speech:

The long dispute highlighted differing views of free speech in Western and Muslim countries. Ihsanoglu said Western states had a “strange understanding” of free speech if it could be abused to hurt and insult others.

Well Mr Secretary General, us Westerners believe that no one has the right to not be insulted, let alone the right to expect the state to punish those who have given offense. This is a fundamental aspect of free speech. It is your understanding of free speech that is truly strange; one is free to express oneself except when one offends others for totally arbitrary reasons. How can such a conception even be considered free speech? Your country’s prime minister also seems to share your peculiar understanding.

Ihsanoglu may wring his hands over the potential abuse of free speech, yet blasphemy laws are just as susceptible to abuse, with arguably more sinister consequences:

But while editorialists and religious leaders have renewed calls for a worldwide blasphemy ban, few national leaders have actually ended their rhetorical reactions with that demand.
One who did at the United Nations last month was President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, whose own national blasphemy law has come under increasing criticism at home and abroad as open to widespread abuse against minority Christians.
Ihsanoglu, speaking at the conference on a panel with Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan, encouraged countries with blasphemy laws to apply them against insults to Islam, and then quickly added: “not particularly the one in Pakistan”.

I find it quite telling how Ihsanoglu isn’t very keen on the logical conclusion of enforcing blasphemy laws.

The creator of Jesus and Mo weighs in with this cartoon:


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