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Muslim Campaign

Based on this deep conviction, we the Kings and the Heads of State and Government of the OIC renew our pledge to work harder to make sure that Islam’s true image is better projected the world over in line with the guidelines contained in the Ten-Year Programme of Action issued by the 3rd Extraordinary Summit of Makkah Al Mukarramah, which seek to combat an Islamophobia with designs to distort our religion            . [1] “Dakar Declaration”

 

The degree of thought control, of limitations on freedom of speech and expression [imposed by political correctness and multiculturalism] is without parallel in the Western world since the eighteenth century and in some cases longer than that.[2]

Bernard Lewis

Introduction

Demands for the worldwide protection of religions from incitement to hatred and violence are currently being made at the United Nations. The driving force is the 57 Muslim states united in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Their goal is to safeguard the place of Islam within the public sphere in all societies. They believe that Islam, its source texts (Qur’an and hadith), its law (sharia) and Muhammad must be protected from any criticism. Because in Islam there is no separation of religion from the state, they see the state as the guarantor and protector of Islam, and they expect the UN, which represents all states in the world, to fulfil the same function.

The OIC

The OIC defines its aims as follows:

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is an international organization grouping fifty seven States which have decided to pool their resources together, combine their efforts and speak with one voice to safeguard the interests and secure the progress and well-being of their peoples and of all Muslims in the world.[3]

The OIC is part of the Islamic resurgence sweeping the Muslim world, which aims to restore Muslim power, glory, hegemony and dominion in all areas. One of its goals is to improve the image of Islam and present it as a religion of peace, tolerance, moderation and justice. In pursuit of this goal, in 1999 it began to introduce annual resolutions at the UN to ban the defamation of Islam.

Then in 2005, at the Third Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit Conference held in Mecca, the OIC initiated a Ten-Year Programme of Action to meet the challenges facing the Muslim global community (the Umma) in the 21st century and to ensure its revival. The countering of Islamophobia was a main issue raised at the conference, which established a department at the OIC General Secretariat to monitor all forms of Islamophobia, issue an annual report, and ensure cooperation with relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations. It also resolved to “endeavor to have the United Nations adopt an international resolution to counter Islamophobia, and call upon all States to enact laws to counter it, including deterrent punishments.”[4]

In 2008, at the 11th Session of the Islamic Summit Conference held in Dakar (March 13-14, 2008), Resolution No.11/11-C (Is), “On the Defamation of Religions and Discrimination Against Muslims,” was passed. Although this resolution professed to defend all religions, its focus was clearly on Islam. It expressed alarm at “the burgeoning tide of Islamophobia in certain non-Islamic countries and increasing incidences of acts of discrimination against Muslims on the basis of religion,” and concern at the failure of some non-Islamic countries to address these problems. It also strongly condemned all “defamation and desecration of the holy symbols of Islam.” It called on all states to “ensure the criminalization of all acts of defamation of religions and discrimination on the basis of religion, and to enact the appropriate penalties that represent adequate deterrence against such practices.”

The OIC also issued instructions to its delegation at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC):

to endeavor to adopt an international instrument on the prohibition of the defamation of religions and to declare such practices as a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Final Communique of the “Annual Coordination Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the OIC Member States” at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, on September 26, 2008:

condemned the growing trend of Islamophobia and systematic discrimination against Muslims. It called upon the international community to prevent incitement to hatred and discrimination against Muslims and take effective measures to combat defamation of religions and acts of negative stereotyping of people based on religion, belief or ethnicity. The Meeting requested the Secretary General to continue the OIC initiatives to effectively counter Islamophobia through discussion and debates at various international fora and stressed the importance that Member States continue their support to the organization’s observatory on Islamophobia.

Also:

The Meeting emphasized the fact that defamation of religions constitute a form of incitement to religious hatred, hostility and violence against the followers of these religions which in turn leads to the denial of their fundamental rights and freedoms. It further stressed that combating religious discrimination in general requires a particular focus on preventing the direct and indirect consequences of defamation of religions, including its role in legitimizing discriminatory discourse and ideological violence.

And:

The Meeting reaffirmed the responsibility of the Islamic world in reviewing the condition of Muslim communities and minorities in Non-OIC countries to ensure promotion and protection of their basic rights including cultural and religious freedom.

The UN

The power of the OIC and of individual Muslim states has been marshalled at the UN to challenge offences against Islam and promote resolutions to protect it from perceived criticism. This campaign is seen as a prelude to the introduction of legislative changes favourable to Islam in Western and other non-Muslim states. Muslim communities in the West often complain about Islamophobia and request laws to protect Islam.

The UN increasingly practises self-censorship to counter accusations of “blasphemy,” “Islamophobia,” “defamation of Islam,” or “sacrilege.” For the sake of political and diplomatic advantage, many states seem willing to accept the new rules being requested by the OIC, and especially by its member states, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their constant pressure, and the resolutions adopted at the UN, have served to restrict open discussions of subjects not congenial to Muslim states, such as slavery in Sudan or Muslim anti-Semitism. Discussion about political issues within Islamic states is now out of bounds, and freedom of speech and expression is being voluntarily limited in many international organizations and conferences.[5] Non-Muslim states seem to have decided to keep silent on topics relating to Islam.[6]

Representatives of Muslim states have requested, and to some extent received, special treatment, especially in the Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and its successor, the UNHRC. [7] As a result the “representatives of Islam,” especially the OIC, have an unprecedented and exceptional status at the UN.

Pressure has been building in the UN in recent years specifically to forbid the defamation of Islam. As a result, terms such as “blasphemy” and “defamation of Islam” have appeared in UN documents. Support is growing in the West for this Muslim campaign.[8] Since 1999 various resolutions have been passed by the UNCHR, and one in the UN General Assembly (2007), criticising and opposing the defamation of religions.[9] The three most recent resolutions specifically mentioned Islam, but no other religions.

Durban II UN Conference against Racism

Durban II (Durban Review Conference, April 20-24, 2009 in Geneva) was a follow-up to the 2001 World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, under UN auspices. The goal of these conferences is to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.[10]

However, the conferences have been used by developing world and Muslim states to criticise Israel as a racist state (no other state was mentioned by name). Muslim states are also trying to make defamation of religion equivalent to racism in the hope of protecting Islam. Muslim states attending Durban II pressed the conference to state that criticizing Islam is a form of incitement.[11] In this way the OIC tried to use Durban II to rewrite the rules of human rights and international law.

Analysis[12]

Legal protection for individuals, including Muslims, from insults, defamation, and incitement to hatred and violence is acceptable to most people. The consensus within Western societies, however, is that ideas should be open to criticism and challenge in the public square. Western democratic principles of equality and freedom stand opposed to the practices of censorship and suppression of opinions and information that are widely practised by Muslim states and societies.

Thus, accepted laws on defamation protect the reputations of individuals, not belief systems and worldviews. A religion should defend its position in the marketplace of ideas and beliefs by setting forth its positions and defending them by argument and counter-argument, not by using the coercive force of the state and its legislation. Christianity in the West, for example, has long accepted criticism and disparagement as part of the liberal and democratic discourse.

The OIC, however, is seeking not to protect individuals from harm, but rather to shield a specific set of beliefs, namely the religion and ideology of Islam, from any question, debate, or critical inquiry. The aim of the Muslim states is not only to protect Muhammad and the Qur’an but also to silence any criticism of Islam and Islamism.

The OIC wants UN support for and legitimation of its state-sanctioned, sharia-based anti-blasphemy prohibitions, which stifle religious freedom, persecute religious minorities and outlaw conversions from Islam to other faiths. Its goal is to incorporate these prohibitions into international human rights law. At present, “defamation of religions” has no basis in that law, but it is likely soon to have one if the Muslim states keep up their campaign.[13]

The very notion of individual human rights is at stake in this campaign. Such resolutions contradict not only the basic Western principles of free thought and expression, but also “the right to freedom of opinion and expression” enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Following a row at the UNHRC in July 2008, in which Islamic countries intervened to stop mention of sharia, and the Romanian president appeared to back their stance, even Louise Arbour, outgoing UN Commissioner on Human Rights, raised concerns about debates on sharia and Islam becoming taboo at the UN:

It is very concerning in a Council which should be … the guardian of freedom of expression, to see constraints or taboos, or subjects that become taboo for discussion.[14]

Yet because of the pressure on the UN by the OIC states and their allies, the practice of avoiding the discussion of certain aspects of Islam has become deeply ingrained at the UNHRC and in other UN agencies and assemblies. No critique, even if valid, of aspects of Islam or of human rights breaches in Muslim states may be offered. UN documents and councils ignore and suppress any reports of discrimination and incitement to hatred in Muslim states, which fuels the widespread terrorist atrocities committed by jihad groups in the name of Islam.

They also accept the claim that Muslims are always and everywhere the greatest victims of Western aggression and racism and never the perpetrators.[15] In fact it could be argued that the majority of incitement to racial hatred and violence is now coming from the Islamic world, but it is those who expose what is happening in Islamic states who are targeted for spreading hatred and defamation. Silencing discussion about the role of Islam in discrimination and terrorism tends to protect, strengthen and endorse Islamist terrorism and its sources of finance. It also helps radical Islamist elements to achieve their goals by paralysing the ability of the international community to address the real threats posed by the Islamist agenda and to fight them. Banning speech critical of religion, and particularly about radical Islam and Islamist terrorism, is a step towards legitimising violence committed in the name of Islam.

Not only in the UN, but also in some Western and other non-Muslim states, the seemingly moderate Islamic establishment is skilfully manoeuvring within the legal systems to enforce “hate speech” and libel laws. Large funds are set aside for hiring skilful lawyers to sue critics in the courts and silence them. Free speech is thus being attacked by Islamic organisations. This widespread use of Islamic ‘lawfare’ is beginning to limit and control public discussion of Islam as well as of the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. It presents a real threat to both civil rights and national security in Western states.[16]

The first victims of the OIC’s campaign are likely to be moderate Muslims and religious minorities in states such as Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, which support the resolutions. Other victims will be writers, journalists and intellectuals in the democratic West, who will be targeted for the “deliberate stereotyping of religions, their adherents and sacred persons.”

It could become impossible to criticise any religious teachings that seem to have detrimental social consequences, such as the execution of apostates from Islam, or the treatment of Dalits (untouchables) in Hinduism. Those who suffer discrimination, violence and death as a result of such teachings will be left without voice and protection. Anyone who tries to speak on their behalf will effectively be silenced.

The power of the OIC and its leverage at the UN are being used to further the Islamisation of the world, granting Islam a privileged and protected position not accorded to any other religion. While Muslim preachers and media continue freely to defame Christianity and Judaism, the whole weight of the UN and the threat of litigation have imposed strict censorship on those who point to negative aspects of Islam.

Anti-Hatred Legislation in Western Countries

In 2001 the Australian state of Victoria passed into law a Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. This law prohibited citizens from engaging “in conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of” another person or group on the ground of their religious belief or activity.

An exception written into the Act was conduct “engaged in reasonably and in good faith – in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate – for any genuine religious purpose.” Yet in 2005 two pastors were convicted under this law for making critical statements about Islam in a church seminar. Although the Supreme Court of Victoria subsequently upheld their appeal, many Australian Christians fear the suggested introduction of similar laws nationally, believing that Muslims will try to use them to stifle all criticism of Islam.

Then in 2007 a Racial and Religious Hatred Act came into effect in the UK. It outlawed the use of threatening words or behaviour meant to incite hatred against groups of people because of their faith. Unlike the law in Victoria, this Act requires the prosecution to prove that any defendant intended to stir up hatred. This stipulation was introduced in a House of Lords amendment that was accepted by the Commons against the wishes of the government.

The draft law was also intended to prohibit the proselytising of adherents of one religion by those of another, and insulting or making jokes about any religion. The House of Lords was concerned that these provisions violated the right to freedom of speech, and carried amendments designed to protect it. Again the government was determined to reject these, but they were nonetheless passed in the Commons, though one of them by only one vote. Baroness Cox said, “Britain’s fundamental freedom of speech hung by a thread on that day.”

But despite the limited scope and wide exemptions of this law, anxieties remain about how it will be used and implemented. Government ministers profess to accept that religious beliefs are a legitimate subject of public discussion and debate, but in a context where Christianity has become increasingly marginalised their commitment to free speech may be severely tested by an increasingly confident Muslim minority.

© The Westminster Institute 2009


[1] “Dakar Declaration”, 11th Session Of The Islamic Summit Conference, 13-14 March 2008, http://www.oic-oci.org/is11/english/DAKAR-DEC-11SUMMIT-E.pdf (viewed 23 April 2009).

[2] Bernard Lewis, keynote address to the Conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, Washington DC, 24–26 April 2008

[3] ”About the OIC”, Permanent Mission of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to the United Nations Offices in Geneva and Vienna, http://www.oic-un.org/about_oic.asp (viewed 23 April 2009); see also “Charter of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference”, new version ratified Dakar in March 2008, http://www.oic-oci.org/is11/english/Charter-en.pdf (viewed 23 April 2009).

[4] “Ten-Year Programme Of Action To Meet The Challenges Facing The Muslim Ummah In The 21st Century”, Third Extraordinary Session Of The Islamic Summit Conference, Makkah, 7-8 December 2005, http://www.oic-oci.org/ex-summit/english/10-years-plan.htm (viewed 23 April 2009).

[5] David G. Littman, “‘submission’ at the United Nations?”, Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference on Islam,

The Hague, 17-19 February 2005.

[6] David Littman, “Islamism Grows Stronger at the United Nations”, Middle East Quarterly, September 1999, pp59-64.

[7] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is composed of 47-states, of which 17 are Muslim. Founded in 2006, it replaced the UN Human Rights Commission. It has no power beyond drawing international attention to rights issues and abuses in certain countries.

[8] Elliot Jager, “An Islamist ‘new world order’”, The Jerusalem Post, 22 April 2009.

[9] The UN General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding on its 192 member states, but pave the way for the formation of multilateral treaties and customary international law. Liaquat Ali Khan, “Combating Defamation of Religions”, MWC News, 18 April 2008.

[10] “ Durban Review Conference – Geneva 2009”, http://www.un.org/durbanreview2009/pdf/InfoNote_04_BasicFacts_En.pdf (viewed 24 April 2009).

[11] Elliot Jager, “Islamist ‘new world order’”; “Written OIC Contribution”, presented in a “Note verbale dated 13 September 2008 from the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights”,  Durban Review Conference Preparatory Committee Second substantive session, 3 October 2008.

[12] David Littman, “Creeping Dhimmitude at the United Nations”, lecture given at the Counterjihad Brussels Conference, 18 October 2007.

[13] “Shattering The Red Lines: The Durban II Draft Declaration”, UN Watch, October 2008, www.unwatch.org/durban2 (viewed 23 April 2009).

[14] Robert Evans , “UN’s Arbour opposes ‘taboo’ subjects at human rights body”,

OttawaCitizen.com, 18 June 2008, http://www2.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=d7d3a363-70ee-40f7-8974-3e6365c63e6d (viewed 27 April 2009).

[15] “Shattering The Red Lines”.

[16] Brooke Goldstein, “‘Legal Jihad’: How Islamist ‘lawfare’ is stifling Western free speech on Radical Islam,” The Henry Jackson Society, 25 November 2008.

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