Op-Ed: Criminalizing intolerance
This week in Washington, the United States is hosting an international conference obliquely titled “Expert Meeting on Implementing the U.N. Human Rights Resolution 16/18.” The impenetrable title conceals the disturbing agenda: to establish international standards for, among other things, criminalizing “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of … religion and belief.” The unstated enemy of religion in this conference is free speech, and the Obama administration is facilitating efforts by Muslim countries to “deter” some speech in the name of human rights.
This year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited nations to come to implement the resolution and “to build those muscles” needed “to avoid a return to the old patterns of division.” Those “old patterns” include instances in which writers and cartoonists became the targets of protests by religious groups. The most famous such incident occurred in 2005 when a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. The result were worldwide protests in which Muslims reportedly killed more than 100 people — a curious way to demonstrate religious tolerance. While Western governments reaffirmed the right of people to free speech after the riots, they quietly moved toward greater prosecution of anti-religious speech under laws prohibiting hate speech and discrimination.
The OIC members have long sought to elevate religious dogma over individual rights. In 1990, members adopted the Cairo Declaration, which rejected core provisions of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and affirmed that free speech and other rights must be consistent with “the principles of the sharia,” or Islamic law. The biggest victory of the OIC came in 2009 when the Obama administration joined in condemning speech containing “negative racial and religious stereotyping” and asked states to “take effective measures” to combat incidents, including those of “religious intolerance.” Then, in March, the U.S. supported Resolution 16/18’s call for states to “criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief.” It also “condemns” statements that advocate “hostility” toward religion.
In the fifth year since its establishment, the OIC Observatory on Islamophobia has brought out its 4th annual report covering a particularly tumultuous period punctuated by some alarming developments. The scourge of Islamophobia continued unabated, despite all efforts to raise awareness of its dangers and the need to contain it. Rather it acquired an expansive dimension with some of the most shocking manifestations of the anti-Islam tirade. Islamophobia is already acute in Europe and in recent time it has unfolded in the US – a nation essentially premised on, and long admired as an exponent of, cultural and religious diversity. The unfortunate and outrageous episode of burning the Holy Quran was one of the most blatant examples of extremism that the international community has been consistent and unanimous in condemning since the 9/11 tragedy. Beyond the confines of electoral politics in the West, some important revelations during the reporting period suggested Islamophobia factoring as a variable in the conduct of international relations. Despite the UN resolutions reflecting international community’s loud and clear stance against conflation of any religion with terrorism, the tendency, on the part of media and motivated individuals and groups, of inflicting the psyche of over 1.5 billion Muslims by manipulating the portrayal of ‘collective guilt’ was unrelenting. The escalation in Islamophobia is indeed portentous. It accentuates the gravity of the issue and validates the OIC’s concerns with regard to adverse implications towards multicultural fabric of societies and peaceful coexistence, underwritten by interfaith harmony, as articulated in preceding reports of the Observatory as well as a host of resolutions and communiqués. Fortunately, a sustained frequency and intensity of Islamophobic incidents in this eventful year did not escape the attention of the international political and religious elite. OIC appreciates the stance taken by many Western leaders against the proponents of religious hatred and discrimination against Muslims. It was during my address to the 15th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva that I outlined a new approach towards evolving a consensus against incitement to violence and intolerance on religious ground that could plague peaceful coexistence and as such was antithetical to the very notion of a globalized world. I am glad that the eight points in the proposed approach found resonance with all the negotiating partners and formed the basis of the consensus reflected in HRC resolution 16/18. The importance of this resolution as a triumph of multilateralism must not be discounted. It could yield a considerable amount of positive energy. It would now be important to translate this potential energy into the kinetic form by taking action to implement the resolution in letter and spirit. Islamophobia remains a matter of transcendental priority for the OIC. From a futuristic perspective, events during the period covered by this report clearly establish that combating incitement to hatred and violence on religious grounds must figure into the strategic calculations of the international community. Encouraged by the experience of the Observatory in the General Secretariat, OIC has proposed a similar mechanism at the international level as a first concrete step towards concerted action at both monitoring as well as combating Islamophobia, Christianophobia, Judeophobia and other manifestations intolerance, incitement to violence and discrimination on religious grounds.
News Sources: May 10, 2011
The European Parliament stripped parliamentary immunity from French far-right MEP Bruno Gollnisch following a complaint of “incitement to racial hatred.”
French authorities will interview Gollnisch after asking for the move, following a complaint over an October 2008 press release issued by Rhone-Alpes regional authorities near Lyon, which Gollnisch led, that cited “the invasion of our land and the destruction of our culture and values” by Islam.
A judge in Yemen sentenced the radical American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in absentia on Monday to 10 years in prison on charges of incitement to murder and belonging to a terrorist group.
American and Yemeni officials say Mr. Awlaki is working with Al Qaeda’s Arabian branch to plot terrorist attacks, and the Obama administration has authorized his targeted killing. He is believed to be hiding in the remote mountains of Shabwa Province in Yemen.
Mr. Awlaki was convicted in connection with the murder in October of a French citizen, Jacques Spagnolo, in the Yemeni capital, Sana. Prosecutors said that in e-mail exchanges, Mr. Awlaki incited the 19-year-old gunman, Hisham Muhammad Assem, to kill foreigners. A cousin of Mr. Awlaki’s who is also in hiding, Othman al-Awlaki, was accused of incitement in the case along with him, and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The Amsterdam district court has set the date for anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders’ trial for October, after initially scheduling it for June. According to the court, the change is a result of scheduling problems, as the court requires five days to hear evidence in the case. Preliminary schedules mark October 4, 6 and 8 for the trial, followed by a judgment on November 2. The leader of the Freedom Party (PVV) is accused of five counts of religious insult and anti- Muslim incitement.
In Sansepolcro, a town near Arezzo, the local Northern League has been denounced for having distributed samples of disinfectant to supposedly clean people’s hands from contacts with immigrants. The local sections of Rifondazione Comunista (Left), whose members confirm to have witnessed the event, have attacked the Northern League’s actions. The Northern League denies the accusation and claims that the soap was just an electoral gadget. Many national politicians are raising their objections against such a xenophobic initiative which they believe offends the identity and history of Italian people. Ahmad Giampiero Vincenzo, president of the Muslim Italian Intellectuals Association, consultant for immigration at the Senato’s Committee for Constitutional Affairs, and a member of the Great Mosque in Rome, will present a formal recourse against the Northern League defining its initiative as a serious incitement to racism that resembles similar facts taking place during the Fascist and Nazi regimes.
Conservative Italian MP Isabella Bertolini called for authorities to clamp down on Internet website which have been found to propagate jihadist messages and encourage terrorist activities. Don’t under-estimate the danger posed by the internet said Bertolini. Such websites, including one by the name ‘Ekhlas,’ has been guilty of death threats against PM Berlusconi and Italian journalist Magdi Allam. Bertolini also warned against the dangers of terrorism infiltrating illegal immigrants and the equally alarming incitement of hatred against Catholicism propagated in mosques in the country.
The Hague District Court ruled that the views expressed by right-wing legislator Geert Wilders in his _Fitna’ film do not exceed the legal boundaries against inciting hatred or violence and as a politician, he is not barred from voicing his criticism against radical Islam or the Quran. The ruling said Wilders “must be able to – sometimes in sharp terms – express his opinions. In this context, it cannot be said that (Wilders’) statements – even though provocative – are an incitement to hate or violence against Muslims.” Wilders responded by welcoming the ruling, emphasizing the importance of political debate and the freedom to be able to say what you think.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon led a condemnation of the Internet broadcast of a video made by a Dutch parliament member, describing the film as offensively anti-Islamic and called on those upset by the film to remain calm. In a statement issued after the film’s airing, Mr. Ban said there is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free expression is not at stake here. The Secretary General stressed that the UN stands to advance mutual respect and understanding, and to foster dialogue between different religions and cultures.
Five Dutch Muslim intellectuals are asking the government to intervene on the planned release of a controversial anti-Islam film by Geert Widers. Farhad Golyardi, Faisal Mirza, Shervin Nekuee, Frank Sadiqqi, and Tariq Shadid have called on politicians to stop the release of the film, citing a total lack of effort on their end. The five released a statement citing that they believe it is time that a clear political line should be drawn between freedom of expression and incitement to hate. The five suggest are accusing the government of exploitation of xenophobia, and political cowardice.