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Friday, August 5, 2011

The USA, Religious Defamation, and Islam

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has stated that the USA supports the efforts of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to declare defamation of religion a violation of human rights. While this appears respectful to all religions, it is in fact a veiled bid for Islamic supremacism, and as such needs to be opposed. Fundamentally, it strikes at both traditional American free exercise of religion and freedom of speech

The OIC represents a number of countries that are egregious violators of religious freedom. Pakistan is notorious for mob action against its small Christian, Hindu, and Sikh minorities that go uninvestigated or unpunished by the courts. Especially, in recent years, there have been numerous reports of abductions, rapes, and forced conversions of Christian and Hindu girls to Islam, with the Pakistani courts recognizing the marriages of these young women to their Muslim abductors, and the force of Islamic personal law over their persons.

In Egypt, permission to build a new church requires permission of the head of state. During the Mubarak years, security organs often encouraged the deflection of anti-regime anger into anti-Christian channels. Egypt also has had a number of cases in which people have been imprisoned after conversion from Islam to Christianity, and the refusal to allow former Muslims to re-register their religious identity as Christian. Further, attacks on the ten percent of Egypt's population that identifies itself as Christians--mostly of the Coptic Orthodox Church--have been growing in frequency and intensity over the past several years, and the removal of Mubarak does not seem to have lessened intercommmunal tensions.

The OIC called for this ban on defamation of religion in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, where possession of a Bible is a crime, and conversion to Christianity a capital offense. Similar treatment of apostates is both legislated and enforced in Iran and Afghanistan, even after the fall of the Taliban.

The target of this "anti-defamation" campaign is a rise in both Western awareness of Islam and Western criticism of Islam since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. While the criticism has found little resonance in Western governments, it has found a following among non-Muslim people. Many who have inquired into Islam since then have not like what they have found, especially the close link between mosque and state and the division of the world into realms of Islam and the Dar-al-Harb (Lands of War), which is seen as a real or potential target for Islamic aggressive war. Non-Muslims who have noted such things have spoken up against Islam in both America and Europe. Bloggers such as Robert Spencer have developed large followings due to their careful research into Islamic doctrine and tradition, and their exposing clear theological links between core Islamic texts and teachings and the practice of political terror. While such bloggers do not call for violence against Muslims per se, they have spawned a fierce reaction from both Muslims and the political Left (which sees Muslims as a "minority", and hence a client group needing special protection and deference).

Since 9/11, Muslims have been quick to claim victim status as targets of "hate crimes" (although statistically, proven "hate crimes" against Muslims remain many times fewer than those perpetrated against Jews). Official American endorsement of an OIC-sponsored UN resolution against "defamation of religion" could easily turn into a judicial weapon to punish all who might criticize that religion, no matter how respectfully such criticism might be couched. This would have a very negative bearing on traditional American free exercise of religion and freedom of speech and the press.

But could not the same resolution be used for the protection of Christianity (or Judaism, or Daoism, or Buddhism, or Mormonism)? Perhaps. But the biases of influential jurists against Christianity could easily cause the prosecution of defamation cases to be skewed in favor of protection of the supposed "discrete and insular minority" of Muslims, or any other that is willing to use courts to silence their critics.

The USA has already proffered the hand of friendship towards the Islamic world several times, most noteworthily during the Obama administration. Mr. Obama's address to assembled Islamic representatives at Cairo was obsequious in the extreme. His administration has also backed politicized Islam in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and will probably do the same in Syria. Noteworthy spokesmen from our Department of State and CIA have dubbed the Muslim Brotherhood "moderate" and "secular", most likely out of unhappy recognition that it enjoys widespread support in the Islamic world and is likely to win the current power struggles going on among Arab Muslims; certainly not because these American leaders have read anything written by Seyyid Qotb or noticed the rise in attacks on non-Muslim minorities since the much-touted "Arab Spring".

Prior actions by the current administration have not endeared the USA to the Arab and wider Islamic street, nor have such attempts at outreach uncovered the supposed reserves of "moderate" Muslim sentiment in the Islamic world. It would be far better policy for the USA to remain aloof from the OIC initiative, and reiterate its commitment to its own First Amendment.

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