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Calls For Blasphemy Ban Resurface At UN

Pakistani Muslims shout anti-U.S. slogans during a protest against an anti-Islam movie in Karachi on September 19.
Pakistani Muslims shout anti-U.S. slogans during a protest against an anti-Islam movie in Karachi on September 19.
By Courtney Brooks
UNITED NATIONS -- When Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari took the podium to address the UN General Assembly on September 25, he wasted no time taking on one of the  most divisive issues of the day.

"Before I take up my speech, I want to express the strongest condemnation for the acts of incitement of hate against the faith of billions of Muslims of the world and our beloved Prophet," Zardari said.

He could have specified many such "incitements" over the years, including Koran burnings and the publishing of cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad. The most recent example, of course, is "Innocence of Muslims," a film produced in the United States whose insulting depiction of the Prophet Muhammad prompted outrage and even deadly violence in the Muslim world.

"Although we can never condone violence, the international community must not become silent observers and should criminalize such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger the world security by misusing freedom of expression," Zardari said.

"Pakistan moves the United Nations to immediately address this alarming concern and bridge the widening concern and bridge the widening rift to enable the community of nations to be one again."

On one side of the cultural rift stands free speech, on the other religious sensitivities -- and as evidenced by the contrasting views expressed during the General Assembly, the divide is great.

Criminalizing Disrespect

Aside from condemning both the denigration of Islam and the violence that can follow, however, what can states collectively do to prevent such incidents in the future?

One idea that has been floated for years is again gaining traction: establishing clear rules against blasphemy, protected by international law.

Currently there are about 30 countries worldwide that have instituted their own laws criminalizing blasphemy, including Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, and Poland.

Iraqis hold a banner and shout slogans during a protest against a film seen as insulting the Prophet Muhammad in Basra.
Iraqis hold a banner and shout slogans during a protest against a film seen as insulting the Prophet Muhammad in Basra.

Speaking at a Security Council briefing on peace and security in the Middle East, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby provided his view of how such measures could be established universally.

"The League of Arab States calls for the development of an international legal framework which is binding in order to confront insulting religions and ensuring that religious faith and its symbols are respected."

Many have tried, and failed, to establish such frameworks before. Islamic countries have pushed resolutions through the UN's General Assembly and Human Rights Council. Because they were nonbinding, however, those initiatives had no real teeth.

Growing Support

One way to reverse course would be to go outside the UN. The Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has 57 member states and a permanent delegation to the United Nations, is one option.

The grouping of mostly Muslim-majority countries has a history of developing legal guidelines in keeping with Islamic views. The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, for example, was adopted in 1990. Nine years later, the OIC passed the Convention on Combating International Terrorism. And in 2005, after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the OIC called an extraordinary session in which the cartoons were condemned.

The OIC has previously pushed blasphemy legislation that would be agreed by legally binding treaty or international convention. That is until last year, when the cause was dropped.

In recent days, however, the OIC has released several statements in support of an international blasphemy ban. Turkey -- whose president has said he would speak out in support of a ban -- is now heading the OIC.

Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's comments on the controversy reflect a sway in opinion toward the religious-sensitivities camp.

"Freedoms of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected, when they are used for common justice, common purpose," Ban told reporters on September 19. "When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others' values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way."

Abusing Laws For Repression

There appears to be growing support for some sort of blasphemy code of conduct to be worked out at some international level, even if not under the umbrella of the United Nations. And that is cause for worry for free-speech advocates.

Pakistani security personnel move Rimsha Masih, a young girl accused of blasphemy, to a helicopter after her release from jail in Rawalpindi.
Pakistani security personnel move Rimsha Masih, a young girl accused of blasphemy, to a helicopter after her release from jail in Rawalpindi.

Courtney Radsch, program manager for the Global Freedom of Expression Campaign at Freedom House, says it is important to note that the divergent views between Islamic leaders and the West are driven by each country's political history, as well as current state of affairs.

"In cultures, in countries where there is an authoritarian government, where there are restrictions on freedom of expression, and freedom of speech, and freedom of association, where criticism of ruling authorities -- whether those are political or religious -- is not tolerated, then yes, you see a much different relationship to freedom of expression, to satire, to what some people would see as poking fun at things," Radsch says.

In the case of the "Innocence Of Muslims," she says, the film itself was not the cause of the violence, but was used as a political tool to incite violence

Likewise, blasphemy laws are not the answer because they too can be used to oppress, rather than protect, religious minorities, according to free-speech advocates.

They point to a recent case in Pakistan in which a 14-year-old Christian girl was tried for allegedly burning pages of the Koran. Her case was moved on September 24 to a juvenile court -- but adults convicted of blasphemy could face a death sentence.

Such an outcome is anathema to the belief systems of some countries, such as the United States, where freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution.

U.S. President Barack Obama laid out the general argument during his address to the General Assembly on September 25. "The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech -- the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect," he said.

And that is why, ultimately, without the support of the United States and key Western countries, the effort to criminalize blasphemy is unlikely to be enshrined universally in international law.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
September 27, 2012 20:19
The death penalty for blasphemy? What am absurd notion of justice. Freedom of speech is protected by the US Constitution, and no international law is ever going to override that for me.

by: Jack from: US
September 28, 2012 00:01
Muslims cannot tolerate the truth, and pathetic US government bows to Muslims. US government arrested the film maker on politically motivated charges. So much for the freedom of speech in this country
In Response

by: James from: Nebraska
September 29, 2012 18:49
And yet we have blasphemy laws in US states (to the GOP's credit in Oklahoma, a bill is being introduced to repeal it there). And free speech here is used by religious groups to subvert the teaching of science in the name of religion (look up Ahlquist v. Cranston in Wikipedia to see what people really think of free speech in the modern USA). The film maker in question was arrested for parole violation (accessing the Internet was a violation of his parole after conviction for fraud), not political charges. The 1st Amendment can be repealed just like any other part of the Constitution if the religious value something greater than religious freedom, specifically prohibited by the Bible's ten commandments.

by: Cathy Fitzpatrick from: New York
September 28, 2012 00:30
So, not surprisingly, Egypt and other OIC members have gone back on the consensus that the Obama Administration once thought they had with them in Resolution 16/18 passed last year at the UN Human Rights Council, where they limited restriction of speech that constituted "incitement to imminent violence" by the speaker (not the insulted):

http://3dblogger.typepad.com/wired_state/2012/09/incitement-of-imminent-violence.html

So now the OIC has reverted to supporting the global blasphemy law that they sponsored on the "defamations of religion" which other states rightly called out as preventing criticism of theocratic states.

The answer to this ploy by the OIC states now is to call for a new resolution on "insult violence"

http://3dblogger.typepad.com/wired_state/2012/09/we-need-a-un-resolution-on-insult-violence.html

This is how you have to play the game at the UN.

by: Anonymous
September 28, 2012 03:45
What is free speech? Free speech is you can say ANYTHING you want against Islam and Muslims but in your country, with your businesses, your armies, your bases, and diplomatic missions out of their countries. That is free speech.
I bet Muslims won't protest after that.

by: Rational Thinker from: No place for rationalism
September 28, 2012 06:43
We cannot believe that we are living in 21 century.

Religion is the sole guiding principle of millions still , some sadistic people use it to solve there own problems by making fils and cartoons.

If people want to live as 1400 hundred years back they should opt for segregation , and do not mix or migrate to land of free speeches.

Europe was great place , its history is shaped renaissance , where people challenged authority of religion and religious hierarchy.

Now it is getting spoiled because of migration of people from conservative society.

Brits were forced out of those countries where they ruled and gave development , now people of those former colonies live in UK and forgot that they once overthrowed british from there country.
Are they genuinely citizens of UK.
All soughts of slogans were raised British leave !@#$%.

Non-European countries including russia (Since Pussy Riot sentencing) have not gone through this phase ,

Muslim countries are worst at reform or to openness .

Even other Asiatic countries where Britons ruled just speak good english and dress like english (or westeners ) but are similarly rotten they kill their daughter if she marries out of caste , and are devout believers in 5000 year old rituals which are senseless.

False secularism is exhibited. I am talking of "Jewel in British Crown".

Buddha's birthplace doesnot believe in rational principle , there was systematic persecution of buddhism in Homeland and it vanished.

Recently in news was a pakistan parent in UK , killed there own daughter as she wanted to live westernised way , Parents had no remorse , In his Youngage father was loose-charactered and dated several white ladies , and was in relation when he brought his cousin sister from pakistan and impregnated her therby ending relation with white lady.

If there is something created like Blasphemy law it will kill very notion of thinking, for any rational thought may become blasphemous .

Because Islam mean submitting oneself to ALLAH.
There no scope for improvement.

Islam is just is more radical now , Christanity has passed the face of extremism.

Why are they interested to go to european countries is strange and the want wear hijab , veil burkha etc and want to live as fundamentalist.
Practise hardcore ideology in your homeland and do not migrate.

Us is also responsible for this mess it has used extremist forces for its strategic influence and still uses it and faces consequences .
killing of US ambassador in Benghazi.

But Americans are fond of playing with fire.


by: Anonymous
September 28, 2012 19:10
Blashpemy laws are an issue of religious freedom, more than speech. Things said or done in one religion that are considered blasphemous can be blessings or duties in another.

For the idea of global blasphemy laws - countries like Pakistan shouldn't support that. Having other countries with free speech / religion benefits them. Specifically, every country has religious minorities, and sometimes countries go overboard and persecute them. In which case, ethnics can maybe migrate to new places. (which can maybe prevent pogroms and genocides from happening, or at least help prevent them - since nobody really wants them or the guilt they bring on.)

an example:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniate
This church is a Christian sect that was originally Orthodox, but become part of the Catholic church under the Pope. This offended Tsarist Russia, who persecuted them; but they migrated to America. Rather than wipe them out, they just left, had a place to go to. The same goes for Amish and other migrant sects that moved on.

by: Shoaib from: Karachi
September 28, 2012 19:11
I ask one question from those who really deliberate on such matters. Which religion on the face of earth allows to show disrespect and sow the seeds of anger and hatred? World cannot witness peace unless we do not learn to respect ourselves and our religions. Free speech is a beauty of US constitution but this beauty was never intended to create havoc and problems for the people.
In Response

by: Anonymous
September 28, 2012 19:33
There are such religions, and they're usually small. Peaceful religions grow large by nature - but they clash because of this. That aggressive religions are small and mostly harmless is shown by the fact that you never hear about them in the news. Mostly they scowl and say things, but don't engage in various acts of war. I think it's often backwards with religious behavior.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
September 28, 2012 19:40
So far the world has seen how violent and intolerant Muslims are. The world has seen Islam is a hateful and retarded cult
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
September 29, 2012 06:23
Jack is lifting again 150 millions ass or Russia,
As Russia usually does, turn against each other,
The more US and Muslim World hate one another
The more will Russians breed-expand its Parasha.

"Innocence of Muslims" was below dirty propaganda.
Muhamed was descandent of Kaba prists - Medians
Of Holly Mountain - that settled in Mecca and Medina.
Even at the Muhamed old age 12 tribes got tablets,
Till pristhood from Babilon, after his death, joined,
Rewrote Koran, calling not for violant abuses,
Although they tried change soul of Muhamed,
Which they used incite conquest and killing,
Not unike Christian history of bloody times.

West-East empires provoking it artificially
in Caucsus and in Muslim World, expand
Russia, Germany. Austria and Brit's seas
Through havoc, burning garbage and cars
And blowing bombs using "Muslims" case.
In Response

by: peter from: ottawa, canada
September 28, 2012 23:22
religion is the opium of the people. Karl Marx
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
September 30, 2012 02:45
Religious at time is "opium", Peter, not true faith,
Because per each blessing of God, even "invisible",
Mean Human hideous "Gusnak" monkies lie, debase,
Steal, desecrate and enslave body and soul of "usable".

Beside that true realist is beleiver - or he trusts only eatable,
True beleiver is realist, or God is fiction, to make us eatable.

by: Sveta from: Ukraine
September 30, 2012 05:23
The Prophet's honor comes from Allah, not from man, and cannot be destroyed by man. Why do 'believers' then want laws to protect the Prophet's honor? If they are truly 'believers' then they know that no man can destroy the Prophet's honor!
If Islaam is to get protection by law at an international level, then it is only fair that ALL religions get the same treatment - and that NO ISLAAMIC country should be allowed to ban ANY OTHER religion as they currently do. Equality for all, not just for some!
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los angeles
September 30, 2012 20:40
You might be right, Svetlana, but small observation:
"Invisible ways of God" already protecting his honor,
Why do you think Konstantin, with few explanations,
Easy hold devisive "empires" on so many Forums?

by: Michael from: Melbourne
October 02, 2012 10:46
Respect? Let's start with a dignified compensation and institutional condolences for more than 1 million Chrstian martyrs in 10 years - most of which in Muslim countries. Honor? Let's see a bit of reciprocity from Islam for all the hospitality and support in the West to millions of poor Muslims. Law against crime? Yes, let's see some deportation and imprisonment of vocal criminals who have killed and harassed in the name of God and patronised their Western hosts.
True religion? Yes let's see some beauty of Islam in the action of Love, Compassion , meekness and gratitude.

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