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Another Long March Through The UN

The Islamic conference's 20-year campaign against freedom of speech.

12:00 AM, Apr 16, 2009 • By PAUL MARSHALL
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In 1999, the OIC began a campaign first in the Human Rights Commission, then in its successor the Human Rights Council, and, most recently, in the General Assembly and the Security Council, to outlaw any criticism that could be construed, by them, as a 'defamation of religion,' specifically Islam. With support from China, Russia, and, later, Venezuela, Cuba, Belarus, and other authoritarian states, this produced yearly resolutions declaring such 'defamation' a violation of international law.

In the next stage of the campaign, in 2002, OIC states, in complete defiance of Islam's nonracial character, redefined religious dissent and criticism as 'racism' and added it to the mandate of the special rapporteur on racism. This campaign was intensified when Saudi Arabia, the chief sponsor of the OIC, called a special OIC meeting in Mecca in December 2005 during the manufactured hubbub over the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. Then, in 2008, in truly Orwellian fashion, they reversed the mandate of the special rapporteur on freedom of expression to include reporting on when "the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination."

We need to be clear that the Islamic conference is targeting far more than irreverent cartoons: It aims to rewrite human rights standards along the lines of the Cairo Declaration in order to curtail any freedom of expression, domestic or international, that threatens its own more authoritarian members. If freedom from defamation is recognized as a new human right, then publishing virtually anything claimed to be "unIslamic" can be deemed a crime that must be punished. Under this scenario, Rasmussen would have violated human rights by failing to prosecute Danish journalists.

This disciplined campaign has continued within the UN and outside of it. In response, the United States and other Western democracies at first compromised, then, even after realizing the full effect of the OIC resolutions on individual freedom, focused on opposing them only in the few weeks that UN human rights bodies were in session. The United States has tended to treat these resolutions as irritants but not as serious grounds for a vigorous counterattack. The result is that the campaign to suppress individual freedom is slowly prevailing.

The OIC's goal goes far beyond complaints about irreverent cartoons: It is to rewrite human rights standards in order to curtail any freedom of expression, domestic or international, that threatens the more authoritarian Islamic countries. If freedom from defamation gains recognition as a new human right, virtually any critical analysis of anything claimed to be Islamic will be viewed internationally as a human rights violation that UN member nations are bound to silence and punish.

We need to resist what Jeane Kirkpatrick, in the context of terrorism, once called radicals' "long march through the UN." We need the same commitment of time and energy to defending freedom as the Islamic conference bloc and its allies put into attacking it. The stakes go beyond the politics of the UN bureaucracy. When politics and religion are intertwined, as they are in much of the world, there can be no political freedom without religious freedom, including the right to criticize religious ideas.

Paul Marshall, senior fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, is co-authoring a book on blasphemy.