In God’s name

Miklós Haraszti in Eurozine:

On 26 March, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning ‘defamation of religions’ as a human rights violation, despite wide concerns that it could be used to justify curbs on free speech. The Council adopted the non-binding text, proposed by Pakistan on behalf of the Islamic states, with a vote of 23 states in favour and 11 against, with 13 abstentions. The resolution “Combating Defamation of Religions” has been passed, revised and passed again every year since 1999, except in 2006, in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and its predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission. It is promoted by the persistent sponsorship of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference with the acknowledged objective of getting it codified as a crime in as many countries as possible, or at least promoting it into a universal anathema. Alongside this campaign, there is a global undercurrent of violence and ready-made self-censorship that has surrounded all secular and artistic depictions of Islamic subjects since the Rushdie fatwa.

This year’s resolution, unlike previous versions, no longer ignores Article 19, the right to free expression. That crucial human right has now received a mention, albeit in a context which misleadingly equates defamation of religions with incitement to hatred and violence against religious people, and on that basis denies it the protection of free speech. It also attempts to bracket criticism of religion with racism.

On the other hand, the vague parameters of possible defamation cases have now grown to include the “targeting” of symbols and venerated leaders of religion by the media and the Internet. What we are witnessing may be an effort at diplomacy, but it is also a declaration of war on twenty-first century media freedoms by a coalition of latter-day authoritarians.