Tuesday, March 03, 2009
The World Doesn't Need a Global Gag Order
Anti-Blasphemy Resolution could silence criticism of religion
If anything is certain in the international community, it's that oppressive regimes don't appreciate criticism.
Their resentment of criticism ranges from substantive criticisms of the conduct of those states to fictional portrayals.
Iran, in particular, has complained several times over the past couple of years about (fictional) films such as 300 and The Wrestler.
Now, the Organization of Islam Congress, a 57-member coalition of states, seems to think they've found the solution to their problems. They want to push an Anti-Blasphemy Resolution through the United Nations in order to blind member states to pass anti-blasphemy laws in their countries.
They're coming uncomfortably close after passing their resolution in an important committee in the General Assembly.
Atheist activist Christopher Hitchens blamed lack of criticism by religious figures for the Anti-Blasphemy resolution.
"When Salman Rushdie was sentenced to death by a senile theocrat in Iran for writing a novel the Archbishop of Canterbury, his holiness the Pope, the Sepharddic chief Rabbi of Israel and many other religious figures joined with [Ayatollah] Khomeni not in endorsing the fatwah, but saying the problem was blasphemy," Hitchens noted. "They agreed with the Ayotollah to this extent, that the problem was not the destruction of free speech and free expression, but the hurt feelings of the religious."
Those who suspect that a formal adoption of the anti-blasphemy resolution could pose significant challenges to secular democracy may not be as paranoid as one would otherwise like to think. A law regulating what can and cannot be said about any religion would essentially obliterate the separation of church and state. The anti-blasphemy resolution may well be a precursor for such a law.
"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," says the Beckett Fund's Bennett Graham. “Those arrests are made legitimate by the UN body’s [effective] stamp of approval.”
It's an obvious point. Considered the arbiter of what is and is not considered a human right, UN acceptance of arrests for "blasphemy" (however one may define it) would undermine the ability of human rights-oriented organiations to denounce them.
Even more troublesome is the fact that the Anti-Blasphemy resolution was pushed hard by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The OIC includes among its membership countries like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia -- countries with some of the worst human rights records in the world.
The Anti-Blasphemy Resolution could be used to silence criticism of human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of Islam, however improper such an act may actually be.
This is especially sobering when one consdiers that, as Hitchens himself notes, OIC member Saudi Arabia has refused to sign the International Declaration of Human Rights. Not only has this country definitively rejected the notion of human rights but it's also taking part in a movement that would serve to roll back many of the freedoms contained in the Declaration.
The Anti-Blasphemy Resolution could also be used to silence critism of human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of any other religion.
The best way to make anything oppressive is to raise it above scrutiny or criticism. History has shown countless examples of what happens when political power is considered unassailable, and has also shown countless examples of what happens when the same feat is applied to religion.
The Anti-Blasphemy Resolution must not be allowed to progress any further.