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Tuesday, 25 November 2008

On the road to more blasphemy laws?

The UN General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution calling on all countries to alter their legal and constitutional systems to prevent “defamation of religions”.

This was carried by a vote of 85 to 50, with 42 abstaining.

We know just which religion is behind it, of course. The Assembly is asserting that “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism”.

It is true that Islam is frequently associated with these things – too frequently at times. It is not so that it is always wrongly associated with these things. It’s just a fact of life. Not all Muslims want to bomb the hell out of people – but some do. If more of those who don’t do so spoke up against those who do, we might see changes that don’t necessitate this gagging.

As for human rights, well, this blog and others and commentators the world over have rehearsed that argument many times. Women under Islam? Gays under Islam? Go figure.

We know what will happen. The nuttier religions and sects – not just Islam – will be using this to try to stamp on freedom of expression. They do it now; they’ll do it all the more with this sort of nonsense in place.

“This is just the latest shot in an intensifying campaign of UN resolutions that dangerously seek to import Islamic anti-blasphemy prohibitions into the discourse of international human-rights law,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, an independent human-rights monitoring group in Geneva.

“Human rights were designed to protect individuals – to guarantee every person free speech and free exercise of religion – but most certainly not to shield any set of beliefs, religion included. These resolutions legitimise the criminalisation of free speech in countries like Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia,” Neuer continued. “Muslim moderates, bloggers, women seeking basic freedoms – all of these will be the first to suffer from the worsening climate of state repression in the name of state-supported Islamic orthodoxy.”

It remains to be seen how those who find themselves criticising religious privileges and religion’s attempts to gain unfair advantages in society – I’m thinking of the blogging community, journalists, other commentators, comedians and satirists who poke fun at religion, thinkers who do scholarly analyses of religion – will react to this.

I know a few bloggers who will raise a stiff middle finger to the UN’s General Assembly and its ridiculous attempt to gag us in the name of superstition. And it will be interesting to see which countries do alter their laws.

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