This is a severe setback for America’s policy of allowing free speech, a policy that has made our country perhaps the freest place in the world to utter unpopular views.
As Wikipedia notes: “Holocaust denial is explicitly or implicitly illegal in 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Liechtenstein,Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Switzerland.” And, as Abigail Esman writes in the Forbes article highlighted below:
Mein Kampf is banned in the Netherlands. France last week criminalized the denial of the Armenian genocide in Turkey (an act that resulted in widespread condemnation by the OIC, whose Secretary General, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, had the audacity, days after the ratification of 16/18, to bluster that those who defend cartoons that mock Mohammed as “freedom of thought and expression” have no business limiting the speech of those who deny the Armenian genocide. “This is an indisputable and unacceptable paradox,” he declared). And so on.
As Christopher Hitchens pointed out in one of his most eloquent talks, this kind of suppression of speech is odious and counterproductive (go listen to hear his reasons; I’ve linked to the first of his four-part talk). Unless all opinions and evidence can be freely discussed without censorship, it’s hard for the truth to rise to the top. That, after all, is how science works.
We need the right to freely and publicly criticize politicians, religious people and their beliefs, and historians—indeed, even those historians who affirm the Holocaust. I’ve learned a lot listening to Holocaust deniers, including ways that they resemble other conspiracy theorists, the methods that Nazis used to suppress information about the gas chambers, and the paucity of direct written links between Hitler himself and the extirpation of the Jews. It should not be a crime to promulgate such denialism, odious though those viewpoints may seem.
For several years, a resolution has been brewing in the United Nations that will suppress free speech under the guise of protecting religions from criticism that could incite them to violence. Now guess which religion would be seeking this kind of protection? Hint: it’s a faith that threatens violence whenever it’s criticized.
Yep, you guessed it. It’s Islam, and at issue is Resolution 16/18 of the United Nations Human Rights Council (have a look at it.) It ostensibly protects all religions, but the people pushing it are, of course, Muslims.
As Abigail Esman at Forbes notes in her informative piece, “Could you be a criminal? U.S. supports UN anti-freespeech measure,” the US long resisted the resolution because it contravened our First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech. But now the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (a consortium of Islamic Nations) has tweaked the language to make it palatable to America, and they’ve succeded: Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are supporting the resolution, and the U.S. may sign on.
The resolution is meant to prevent criticism of Islam. Originally it tried to prohibit “defamation,” but of course that’s no crime in the U.S. So the language changed: it’s now illegal to criticize faith in a way that incites violence. (That’s a form of free speech that, under some circumstances, is also prohibited in America).
This is what the resolution says (the highlighting in part 3 is mine):
[The UN Human Rights Council]
1. Expresses deep concern at the continued serious instances of derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief, as well as programmes and agendas pursued by extremist organizations and groups aimed at creating and perpetuating negative stereotypes about religious groups, in particular when condoned by Governments;
2. Expresses its concern that incidents of religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence, as well as of negative stereotyping of individuals on the basis of religion or belief, continue to rise around the world, and condemns, in this context, any advocacy of religious hatred against individuals that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and urges States to take effective measures, as set forth in the present resolution, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat such incidents;
3. Condemns any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, whether it involves the use of print, audio-visual or electronic media or any other means;
4. Recognizes that the open public debate of ideas, as well as interfaith and intercultural dialogue, at the local, national and international levels can be among the best protections against religious intolerance and can play a positive role in strengthening democracy and combating religious hatred, and convinced that a continuing dialogue on these issues can help overcome existing misperceptions;
5. Notes the speech given by Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference at the fifteenth session of the Human Rights Council, and draws on his call on States to take the following actions to foster a domestic environment of religious tolerance, peace and respect, by . .
What’s the problem? After all, it’s illegal in the United States to make a speech or print an article where the likely and forseeable consequence is violence. Other forms of speech are also restricted, including those that are defamatory, abrogation commercial rights, or promote child pornography.
The problem, as Esman notes, is this: forms of speech that would incite some religious groups to violence would not do so for others. (Note as well that incitement to “discrimination,” a much more slippery issue, is also prohibited).
Islam is particularly sensitive in this respect: people were murdered over Danish cartoons and the anti-Islamic movie Fitna, and a British teacher in the Sudan was threatened with jail and lashing for “disrepecting Islam” by naming a teddy bear “Muhamed” in her class (many Muslim boys, of course, bear exactly that name). The fact is that any substantive criticism of Islam can be, and often is, taken as an offense that justifies violence.
Not all religions react this way. As Esman notes in her piece,
The only limitation on speech that is in the operative part of the resolution is incitement to “imminent violence”, which is in accordance with US law.
But others are less forgiving, noting, among other things, that the resolution does nothing to prevent the continued use of anti-Jewish materials in the schools of Saudi Arabia (where the Protocols of Zion are treated as fact, thereby absolving Saudis of charges of “racism”) or the ongoing persecution of Jews and Christians in numerous Muslim countries. And yet, ironically,it was exactly those same countries who initiated the motion, as put forth in its initial drafts by the General Assembly, with expressions of concern for “cases motivated by Islamophobia, Judeophobia, and Christanophobia.”
Indeed, as M. Zuhdi Jasser, an observant American Muslim and the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, remarked in an e-mail, “Anyone who believes that Resolution 16’18 is some kind of a breakthrough is sadly being duped by the most obvious Islamist double discourse. The shift from ‘defamation’ to ‘incitement’ does nothing at all to change the basic paradigm where Islamist nations remain in the offense, continuing to put Western, free nations on the defense.”
Let’s look at a couple of anti-Semitic cartoons, the kind that often appear in the Arab press:
In this cartoon, from Al-Watan (Oman) (August 10, 2002), Jewish acts are equated with those of the Nazis. This Nazi-type anti-Semitic caricature of a Jew has a hooked nose, a hunched back, has no shoes, and is sweating.
This cartoon, from the Syrian newspaper Al-Ahram (May 29, 2002), shows an anti-Semitic caricature of a Jew with a long beard and hooked nose, fuelling the “World Media” with “Zionist Media” propaganda, while in the background bombs are falling on the Moslem al-Aqsa shrine on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. This cartoon stereotypes Jews, repeats the anti-Semitic myth that the Jews control the world media, and adds the lie that the Israeli government has damaged the al-Aqsa complex on the Temple Mount.
The cartoon [below], with text in English designed for a foreign audience, was posted on the official website of the Palestinian Authority State Information Center on April 6, 2003. The Palestinian Authority State Information Center regularly posts ugly anti-Israel and anti-American cartoons, including this reiteration of the anti-Semitic blood libel that Jews kill non-Jewish children.
Vile stuff? Certainly. Should it be banned? Of course not! And not because it’s an incitement to violence, for we don’t see Jews around the world going on killing sprees in reaction to such cartoons. Only Muslims do that, and in response to cartoons far less provocative.
The problem is that by deliberately assuming the posture of being offended, and then rioting and killing when they are offended, religions can assure themselves protection under the UN resolution. Those religions that may be offended, but don’t commit violence over it, aren’t protected. In other words, Muslims can provoke Jews in the vilest way possible, and that’s okay, but if you publish a picture of Muhamed with a bomb in his turban, you’re inciting violence, and you’re toast. The former act allowed; the latter is prohibited.
What forms of anti-religious speech should be prohibited? Not many. As Hitchens has noted, I believe, he wouldn’t stand on the Temple Mount and preach to a crowd of Jews that Muslims are evil and should be killed (or vice versa). That sort of speech does pose an imminent danger to life and liberty. But that’s the rare exception. It should not be illegal to parody or mock any religion in any way, no matter how much those religions’ adherents evince “sensitive feelings” and threaten violence if those feelings are bruised.
What’s happening here is that Islam is seeking special protections not afforded to other faiths. We should not let ourselves be bullied by this stance, or by this resolution. Resolution 16/18 is an offense to the American tradition of free speech, and it’s odious that both Obama and Hillary Clinton are supporting it.
h/t: Malgorzata for the cartoon links