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When Human Rights and Free Speech Collide, Guess Which One Loses?

When Human Rights and Free Speech Collide, Guess Which One Loses?

Author: Herbert London
Publication: FaithFreedom.org
Date: April 17, 2009
URL: http://www.faithfreedom.org/2009/04/17/when-human-rights-and-free-speech-collide-guess-which-one-loses/

The United Nations is at it again. Recently the human rights organization approved a proposal launched by Muslims to protect Islam from criticism. A simple plurality of 23 members of the 47 nation Human Rights Council voted in favor of the resolution. Eleven Western nations opposed it and 13 abstained.

The resolution urges states to provide "protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation, and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religions hatred in general."

According to Terry Counier, the Canadian representative, "it is individuals who have rights and not religions," a criticism echoed by most European Union countries.

But the council is dominated by Muslim and African nations that have argued religion, particularly Islam, must be shielded from criticism in the media and other areas of public discourse. Specific reference was made to the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as an example of "unacceptable free speech." The resolution noted that "Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."

The United States did not cast a vote on the resolution because it is not a member of the Council. Bush administration members voiced disapproval of the Council's reflexive anti-Israel posture and its failure to act on abuses in Sudan and elsewhere.

This latest resolution will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on free speech whatever the intent of the Council. Geert Wilders' Fitna, a film depicting violence in many Muslim nations, would be treated as a crime. Even the use of terminology such as Islamo-fascism might be interpreted as incitement. Could one even condemn suicide bombers, shahadists, who believe they are acting in the Prophet's name?

Moreover, the blanket assertion that Islam is wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism is contradicted by the Koran itself and events in the news. Unless one embraces Sharia - the abuse of woman, the stoning of adulteresses and honor killings are clearly violations of human rights. And while most Muslims do not engage in acts of terror, those who do frequently justify this behavior with reference to the Koran, specifically the Verses of the Sword.

The other curious, arguably hypocritical, matter is that some Islamists use free speech provisions in the West to attack Christianity as polytheism and an unworthy religion and Jews as apes and pigs. If criticism of Islam is banned, does that resolution apply to all religions?

At stake with this Human Rights Council resolution is the essence of Western civilization, which rests on a foundation of open expression of different and even unpopular opinion. If the nations of the world concede this point, Islamic religion would be provided a free speech sanctuary, and opinion of any kind that might violate the sensibility of mullahs would be relegated to a criminal offense.

While this may appear to be an innocuous development, its implications are profound. Europe, already in an accommodationist mood, would slide even further into the Eurabia scenario described by Bernard Lewis, among others. Muslims would be treated as a separate, and to some degree, privileged category and the Christian civilization, Winston Churchill argued we must defend, will have engaged in a form of preemptive surrender.

At this point, the Europeans have opposed the resolution which passed. Does that mean they must acquiesce in the resolutions' provisions? Is the intent of this action to impose Islamic will on the world? And if this is to be the standard, how will violators be punished? Can a critic of Islam travel to Pakistan?
The questions pose a dilemma for anyone who believes in free and untrammeled expression. Is the metaphorical door closing on Western freedom? The signs at this Geneva based Human Rights meeting are not hopeful.

- FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001) and America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books).

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