U.N. May Try to Criminalize Criticism of Islam

UNITED NATIONS — For the last nine years, the U.N.'s annual ban on defaming Islam has been non-binding. In March, the United Nations may try to impose its view on Islamic blasphemy on all of its member nations — including the United States — thus making criticism of Islam a crime. In December, the U.N. General Assembly, as it has every year since 1999, passed a resolution titled "Combating Defamation of Religions."

The vote was 86-53, with 42 nations abstaining. The United States opposed the measure.

Originally titled "Defamation of Islam," the name of the resolution has changed over the years but not the intent. The only religion mentioned in the seven-page document is Islam.

The resolution’s main sponsor is the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference. Critics charge the OIC’s membership, which includes Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, reads like a Who’s Who of religious intolerance.

Saudi Arabia has its own religious police force that cracks down on those who violate the Kingdom’s hyper-strict Islamic dress and behavior codes.

In early February, members of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice arrested a married 37-year-old American businesswoman and mother of three for sitting inside a Starbucks coffee shop with a male colleague, according to The Times Online.

"The religious police took (the woman’s) mobile phone, pushed her into a cab and drove her to Malaz prison in Riyadh," the article said. "She was interrogated, strip-searched and forced to sign and fingerprint a series of confessions pleading guilty to her ‘crime.’"

Afghanistan and some other OIC member nations impose the death penalty on those who convert from Islam to another religion. 

A copy of the United Nations resolution dated Nov. 12, 2008, says the U.N. General Assembly, "Notes with deep concern … the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001."

In the document, the United Nations also, "Expresses deep concern … that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."

The resolution urges all member states to enact laws consistent with the U.N.’s ban on blasphemy. Although the current resolution is non-binding, recent reports suggest the U.N. Human Rights Council will attempt to pass a binding version of the resolution when the council meets in Geneva in March.

In November, when the most recent version of the anti-blasphemy resolution was introduced, Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan told the Human Rights Council the OIC wants to see a "new instrument or convention" that addresses the issue of blasphemy, one that would be binding on member states, according to Canwest News Services.

On Feb. 25, CNN’s Lou Dobbs reported that the United Nations will seek to impose its religious defamation resolution on all of its members.

"The United Nations has adopted what it calls a Resolution to Combat Defamation of Religion," Dobbs said. "The U.N. now wants to make that anti-blasphemy resolution binding on member nations, including, of course, our own. That would make it a crime in the United States … to criticize religion, in particular, Islam."

Floyd Abrams, a constitutional lawyer, told CNN, "What they would do would be to make it illegal to put out a movie or write a book or a poem that somebody could say was defamatory of Islam."

February marked the 20-year anniversary of the death fatwa issued against British author Salman Rushdie, whose 1989 novel The Satanic Verses earned the ire of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who ordered that any "good" Muslim should kill Rushdie on sight.

Opponents of the United Nations’ annual defamation resolutions charge the documents are nothing more than an attempt to shield Islam from criticism and a way to silence its critics.

In a 2007 letter to the U.N. General Assembly, the International Humanist and Ethical Union called the resolutions "unnecessary, flawed, and morally wrong."

In the letter, the Amsterdam-based human rights group expressed its concern that "during debates on the defamation of religions, the focus has been almost entirely on Islam. There is a tendency to ignore anti-Semitism."

The IHEU charged that the documents do not define "defamation," and it called the U.N.’s anti-defamation effort an attempt to "stifle religious dissent."

Critics say that although the religious defamation resolutions are not yet binding on U.N. member nations, the campaign to stamp out any criticism of Islam is working.

In February, police in Kolkata, Indian arrested the editor and the publisher of the respected English-language newspaper The Statesman after they reprinted a British newspaper article titled "Why Should I Respect These Oppressive Religions?"

The article, which led with the sentence, "The right to criticize religion is being slowly doused in acid," was critical of the intolerance of the world’s three dominate religions — Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

After several days of Muslim rioting, police charged the newspaper executives with "hurting the religious feelings" of Muslims.

Last year in the United States, book publishing giant Random House canceled its planned publication of the novel "The Jewel of Medina," which told the story of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s

many wives. In a written statement, House said part of the reason it decided not to publish the novel was because company executives feared the book might offend Muslims and incite some of them to "acts of violence."

In the last couple of years, school administrators at the University of Michigan caved in to pressure from the Muslim Student Association and spent taxpayer money to install foot baths in restrooms so Muslim students could wash their feet before prayers. At Harvard, the school changed its long-standing co-ed gym policy to exclude men during certain hours so as not to offend Muslim students.

Legal experts in the United States say religious defamation laws as vague as those the United Nations wants to impose on its members stand little chance of success because of the free speech protections guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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