Muslim Torquemadas, mob and anti-blasphemy law
Euroislam.pl 26 September 2012
By Jan Wójcik
Sacrilege! Blasphemy! Kill unbelievers! The Middle Ages once again burst in our, it would seem modern life. For a short period a time window was open and we could observe something that we thought no longer exists. So we are more likely to ascribe such behavior to the small group of extremists, mob driven by hate and not being representative for its coreligionists.
Nothing could be more wrong. The governments of Muslim countries would greet any regulation criminalizing blasphemy. Already in 1999 the then Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), grouping 57 Muslim states, proposed on a forum of the Human Rights Committee the resolution condemning defamation of Islam. Since then United Nations have become the arena of struggle, where the freedom of expression is under the threat to be controlled by resentful imams. The riots in defense of Muhammad defamed in some not well known movie are another scene of the battle, in which bombing of embassies, murders and threats are interlaced with diplomatic notes.
Up to 2005 not much happened in the matter of blasphemy. Each HRC one after another, having in it's bodies such human rights champions like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, approved subsequent resolutions against defamation of religion. The process, however needed stronger impulse.
The Muhammad Cartoons printed in autumn 2005, by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten were used to generate such. They were printed in a protest against fear from any critics of the Islam founder. During the following months the Danish government was under pressure to intervene, Jyllands Posten was under prosecutor investigation, however it was canceled in January 2006. In the meantime, two Danish imams prepared a dossier of blasphemous caricatures, which was circulated in December 2005 at the OIC summit and became the subject of an OIC resolution calling on UN sanctions against Denmark. The resolution in the next months got support of Muslims on the streets. Then Danish embassies became targets of bombings and arson. Also EU buildings were attacked. The riots cost the lives of 100 people.
Starting from 2006 we can observe increased activity in order to persuade states to accept blasphemy regulations. In March, months after the riots, UNHRC approved a resolution against the defamation of religion which then was accepted by General Assembly of UN. In 2007 the High Commissionaire for Human Rights was obliged to report on defamation of religion. In the same year special a report on this topic named only one king of blasphemy – islamophobia. Similarly a UNHRC resolution from 2008 condemns using media fueling intolerance "against Islam and other religions” and calls on Special Rapporteur "to report on all manifestations of defamation of religions, and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia”.
The activity of Muslim states encountered resistance from many NGO's, among them also religious ones, which in 2009 called on UN to refuse any resolution against defamation of religion. Opponents of this regulations argued that it's an attempt to bring blasphemy laws from Muslim countries into the international sphere. Their anxieties are not groundless, if one takes under consideration that the main protagonist of anti-blasphemy resolutions is Pakistan, a country where critics of Muhammad can be stoned, even when they are mentally disabled. In Saudi Arabia this year Hamza Kashgari was jailed for publicly announcing his religious doubts. He was caught with the help of police in Malaysia, which is considered as one of the most modern Muslim countries.
In 2011, however, it seemed that the offensive collapsed when in March one little word in the whole idea was changed. "Protection of religion” was transformed into "protection of believers”. Not everyone was so optimistic about that. Muslim reformer, leader of American-Islamic Forum for Democracy, Dr Zuhdi Jasser was convinced that this change is only cosmetic and does not change the whole paradigm. Jaya Sekulow from American Center for Law and Justice underlined that there is no protection of religious minorities in Muslim countries, where having a cross can be taken as defamation.
The last intergovernmental negotiation on blasphemy called "Istanbul Process” took place in December 2011, during a 3-day conference of 30 countries including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in Washington, behind closed doors. A new proposal of combating intolerance against people because of their belief was approved by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, despite the OIC has not hidden their true aims. Half a year before in Istanbul, OIC found "new ideas towards promoting in a new way the legality of the concept of 'defamation of religions'”. OIC's text also states the need "to create the necessary environment conducive to 'prohibition of defamation of religions'”. According to OIC there should exist "limits to the right to freedom of opinion and expression, in a structured multilateral framework, and in the light of events like the burning of Quran according to the 'test of consequence'.
In other words, the responsibility for reactions caused by blasphemy are for blasphemous statements a litmus test, which decides if such expressions are free or should be penalized.
Presently the Muhammad movie, which caused allegedly spontaneous reflexes of righteous indignation of Muslims, was created almost a year before the riots and had been available on the internet for a long time. It was only in September 2012, when it became widely known to the Muslim community. The date of the attacks on embassies in Benghazi and Cairo, September 11, may suggest that it is the answer to this tragic anniversary.
Were these tragic evens another required impulse for the anti-blasphemy legal process? Right after the attacks both Clinton and Obama, however condemning violence were underlining that they do everything to not defame religion and not to hurt feeling of Muslims. It didn't happen few hours after the hate drunk mob dragged the body of the ambassador through the streets of Benghazi. The following days OIC called on UN to introduce an international ban on blasphemy, and prime minister of Turkey Erdogan expressed the same demands as after Muhammad Cartoons. The anti-blasphemy struggle continues, Muslim Torquemadas are again on the rise. Unless we protect the unlimited freedom of speech there is serious risk that there will be a Middle Age gap for a longer period for us than we might think.