The United Nations Human Rights Council has endorsed the idea of proscribing the “defamation of religion.” A Globe and Mail editorial rightly puts the boots to this notion.
The UN resolution has no legal force, but its symbolism is disturbing. Any Islamic government that legislates against an “insult to Islam,” which can cover nearly anything, has just been given a pat on the back. Anyone anywhere who finds something objectionable – a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in an editorial cartoon in Denmark, or a novel set in India, or a mention of the Prophet Mohammed in connection with a beauty pageant in Nigeria – has been handed a moral justification for protest. This, in a world in which such protests have often taken deadly forms.
The notion of defamation of religion is vague to the point of meaninglessness. What is its reach? The text of the Human Rights Council's resolution says, “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human-rights violations and terrorism.” That suggests a vast range of discussion is off-limits. The UN itself has overseen several reports outlining how Arab societies (both secular and religious) have fallen into decay. “Why do Arabs enjoy so little freedom?” the authors, 40 Arab intellectuals, asked. (If defamation of religion is wrong, is defamation of ethnic groups allowed? Is there now a hierarchy of protected groups?) Islam can co-exist with modernity, they say, implying that it does not do so now. Did the UN defame Islam, then? …
The notion that Islam should be protected has played out in Canada, with a human-rights complaint about the writings of journalist Mark Steyn on Muslims in Europe that were inflammatory but well within the bounds of free speech. Democracies do not, or at least should not, have their debates overseen by human-rights tribunals.
The discredited UN Human Rights Council is trying to drag the world backward. Instead of the Enlightenment, medievalism. It is disgraceful, though not surprising.