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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Jihad Against Free Speech

Jihad Against Free Speech
By Deborah Weiss | Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is an Islamist supremacist organization. Composed of 57 member states with Muslim majority populations, the OIC is the largest Islamic body in the world. It is also the largest international organization of any kind, second only to the United Nations. It represents an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims across the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The purpose of the OIC is to promote Islamic values, to revitalize Islam’s pioneering role in the world, to strengthen and enhance the bond of solidarity and unity among Muslim states, to support “the Palestinian struggle” and to defend Islam. Its charter claims that OIC works to promote peace, tolerance, and fight terrorism. However, its actions are dissonant with these claims, as it strives to define these words through the extraordinarily skewed views of radical Islam.

Since 1999, the OIC has been pushing incrementally and strategically toward its goal of internationally outlawing all criticism of Islam, Muslims, Muslim theocracies, and Islamic extremism. Subsequent to September 11, 2001, it professed concern about alleged backlash against Muslims.

In 2005, the OIC urged the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (“UNCHR”) to pass a resolution called “combating defamation of religions.” Although the title of the resolution referred to religions generally, the text cited concerns only Islam specifically. It lamented negativity towards Islam in the media and the use of broadcast, print and the internet to incite violence, discrimination or intolerance towards Islam and other religions. It revealed alarm over the backlash against Muslims since 9/11, and law enforcement measures that “target Muslims.” It expressed deep concern over statements which “attack” religions generally, and Islam and Muslims in particular, and concern over the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities. It alleged that Islam was frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism. Additionally, it proclaimed that defamation of religions plays a role in the denial of fundamental rights of the target groups.

The Commission urged resolute action to prohibit “racist, and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers… and to protect against acts of discrimination, intimidation, hatred, and defamation of religion.” It called on the international community to begin a “global dialogue” on religious diversity and to combat defamation of religions. It further required the Special Rapporteur to report on the discrimination faced by Muslims and Arabs. Not surprisingly, the countries that voted in favor of the resolution included many Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Sudan, among others. Freer nations such as the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, and Japan, all voted in opposition to the resolution.

The OIC’s insistence on prohibiting defamatory speech against Islamic countries was without reciprocity. No effort to silence anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli speech has been made. At an OIC Special Session in 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad freely expressed his goal to eliminate the “Zionist regime.” Indeed, the OIC backs Iran’s nuclear program, supports Hamas, and rationalizes 9/11. Moreover, the OIC insists that the definition of terrorism should exclude the killing of innocent civilians where there is a “legitimate resistance to foreign occupation,” i.e. Israel. It is for this reason that the UN has been unable to pass a comprehensive convention against international terrorism.

At the OIC’s 2006 summit in Mecca, it adopted a zero tolerance policy regarding insults to Islam, going so far as to include “hostile glances” in its definition of Islamophic behavior. The immediate goal of the summit was to obtain “protection” for Islam in European parliaments and the UN including the Human Rights Council (which replaced the Human Rights Commission with the failed hope of becoming an effective advocate for human rights). It also proposed the creation of an “Islamic Council of Human Rights” and a “Charter of Human Rights in Islam.” Both would be based on Sharia law and run contrary to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In 2007, the Secretary General of the OIC, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a “moderate” Muslim from Turkey, used the “International Day of Tolerance” to assert that freedom of speech is defiling Islam. He stated, “[M]uslims around the world are the first victims of intolerance. They are facing a campaign of hatred and prejudice, what is otherwise known as Islamophobia. This growing trend of Islamophobia has subjected them to discrimination including religious profiling and stereotyping. The right to freedom of speech is being used to defile the sacred symbols of Islam.”

He continued, “[I]t is high time that the international community considers enacting legal measures against defamation of religions and religious beliefs. I would urge the Alliance of Civilizations and the Human Rights Council to take pro-active action in this regard.”

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (“IHEU”) warned that UN approval of a law combating defamation of religions would have grave implications for the freedom to criticize a religion or its practices. It explained that countries will have broad latitude in how they penalize the disrespect of religion because OIC’s resolution did not define what constitutes “defamation.” Further, the resolution failed to distinguish between defamation of religion and incitement to racial and religious violence.

In March 2008, the OIC held a two-day summit in Senegal, where it produced a battle plan to combat Islamophobia. It would defend itself against all forms of free expression that could be interpreted as criticism of Islam, including that of cartoonists, film producers, reporters, politicians or governments. Countries that already regularly deny religious freedom and freedom of speech to their own citizens, demanded legal measures to have their oppressive rules be imposed internationally. “I don’t think freedom of expression should mean freedom from blasphemy” explained Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal’s President, and Chairman of the OIC. “There can be no freedom without limits.” To support his argument, some OIC delegates pointed to European laws that criminalize holocaust denial and anti-Semitic rhetoric, as well as to UN charters that condemn discrimination based on religion. As a result of this summit, the UNHRC passed the resolution.

Instead of fighting terrorism to make obvious that Islam and terrorism need not be affiliated, the OIC unveiled at its summit, the first report on Islamophobia. It consisted of 58 pages of real, perceived, and alleged claims of Islamophobia. Under “negative incidents,” it cited numerous occurrences of Muslims threatening or committing violence against non-Muslims in response to factual reports on Muslim behavior. Negative reports about Muslims, even if true, resulted in claims of Islamaphobia.

Some of the incidents reported as Islamophobic included: Wikipedia’s refusal to cave into Muslims’ demand to remove all depictions of the Prophet from its English language website; a report accurately stating Muslims were outraged by the opening of the first church in Qatar and insisting that Qatar is a Muslim country where others have no right to build a place of worship; the fact that Florida Attorney General (and former Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime in Congress) showed the movie “Obsession” to his staff; and the fact that the European Union requested Iran to drop the death penalty in its penal code for the crimes of apostasy, heresy, and witchcraft. Reports of threats made to Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, producer of the documentary “Fitna,” were also deemed Islamophobic.

Finally, the bulletin suggested that Islamophobia poses a threat to global peace and security. It proposed the use of legal instruments to prohibit Islamophobic speech, urged monitoring and compiling lists of Islamophobic incidents, and encouraged the persuading of others to believe that Islam is a moderate, peaceful and tolerant religion.

In June of 2008, the OIC reported on the 2007 opening of its Washington, DC office which works to engage OIC politically. Karen Hughes, then-undersecretary of public diplomacy at the State Department, spoke at the opening ceremony. She lauded OIC’s effort to pass the resolution on combating defamation of religions. She also advocated a program called “citizen dialogue” which she started in order to address Muslims’ sense of isolation. However, Muslims abroad indicated that they were not interested in meeting with U.S. government officials or non-Muslim Americans, so she sent Muslim-Americans as envoys to foreign countries for the so-called dialogue.

The OIC also boasted about the inroads it has made at the UN. It pledged to place Islamophobia at the forefront of its next summit in April 2009.

Additionally, a rule has been implemented at the UNHRC, requiring that all speaker presentations and discussions omit any “judgment or evaluation about religion.” The word “sharia” does not have to be expressly stated to violate this rule. All discussions must avoid making any mention of controversial fatwas (religious rulings) or human rights abuses that are implemented as part of Sharia or in Islamic countries. This includes, for example, protests against the forced marriages of young girls.

The OIC construes the word Islamophobia very broadly, using it to include news reports, observations, and accurate accounts of violence or intolerance on the part of Muslims or Islamic theocracies. In effect, the OIC is requesting a legal exemption from free speech rights of any criticism of the effects of an extremist interpretation of Islam. Any individual, group, or government acting in the name of Islam would be entirely off limits for open debate or discussion.

The obvious result of OIC’s push to internationally outlaw defamation of Islam, would be not only to stifle free speech and freedom of religion, but to devastate efforts to fight human rights abuses and to counter terrorism. Fighting for human rights in Islamic countries might be deemed Islamophobic even if it pertains to the human rights of Muslims.

Therefore, OIC’s comment that Islamophobia jeopardizes global peace and security was not an expression of fear of Islamophobia. Rather, it was a warning that anyone who claims Islam is not a religion of peace might have violence perpetrated against him. Its simultaneous propaganda campaign to convince people that Islam is a “moderate, peaceful, and tolerant religion” demonstrates that its words and actions are at odds with each other.

It’s ironic that countries which follow an interpretation of Islam that disallows religious freedom or freedom of speech at home, are utilizing these very freedoms abroad to achieve their Islamist goals. By turning the definition of freedom on its head, free speech and religious freedom for non-Muslims can now be condemned as anti-Islamic.

Claiming victimhood can score big political points in a free and compassionate society. If the OIC can convince people that those who stone women, behead apostates, sexually abuse minors, fly planes into buildings, and blow up subway systems are really the victims of evil, rather than the perpetrators, then the OIC’s proposed restrictions on free speech will accomplish more damage throughout the west than 9/11 ever could.

It is important to understand that only individuals should be afforded rights. Ideas, thoughts and religions should not be protected from criticism. There is no such thing as defamation of religion. To the degree that it is concocted, the rights of ideas and religions will stand in direct opposition to the rights and freedoms of humans. The right of free speech is, in part, designed to offend others. The Founding Fathers of the United States Constitution erected the First Amendment for the purpose of fostering cantankerous political speech. They believed that the way to counter offensive speech and bad ideas is to engage in more speech, espousing good ideas. In this case, however, it is the OIC that clearly has the bad ideas, and not the alleged defamers. Perhaps the reason the OIC seeks to prohibit free speech rather than to rebut it, is because it too knows that free speech works.
Deborah Weiss is an attorney and regular contributor to

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