"Defamation of religion" - By Sheikh Zakir Elahi
"Defamation of religion"
By Sheikh Zakir Elahi
The Islamic world is raving anger, both aghast and enraged over the movie Innocence of Muslim and the cartoons published by a French magazine. These deplorable actions, the defamation of the Prophet were carefully planned to hurt the sentiments of over 1.6 Billion Muslims worldwide. For Muslims, their love for the prophet takes precedent over any other kind of love. For Muslims, the Holy Prophet Mohammad is dearer in their hearts than their parents, children, brothers, sisters and wives.
The question we ask now is: what is objective of this movie? Does the freedom of expression have no limit, even as it incites violence and hatred within many? I have the utmost respect and agree with first amendment of US constitution and believe that it does protect the freedom of expression but this freedom has its limits. This movie, which is based on derogatory, defamatory and blasphemous material, is motivated by a deep seated hatred for Muslims. The producer of this movie was acutely aware of what he was doing and what kind of reaction would spur, worldwide, from his actions. The sole purpose of this movie was to spark violence and it could legally constitute as a vehicle to incite violence, as it so obviously has. The Producer wanted to inspire hatred towards Islam and Muslims and to destroy intra-religious relations.
This defamation of the world’s second largest religion can lead to social disharmony and anarchy, and is a clear violation of human rights. As per professor of law, H. Brian Holland, “We don't protect threats or 'fighting words,' which means something that incites an immediate breach of the peace," Taking his words into account, this case at hand can indeed be categorized as hate speech in its worst form, as his actions were clearly fighting actions. The General Secretary of UN, Ban Ki-Moon, not only condemned this abuse of the freedom of speech but in his own words says, “Some people abuse this freedom. This effort to provoke, to humiliate others by using [religious] beliefs cannot be protected in such a way. We are living through a period of unease. We are also seeing incidents of intolerance and hatred that are then exploited by others. Voices of moderation and calm need to make them heard at this time. We all need to speak up in favour of mutual respect and understanding of the values and beliefs of others.” Clearly, voices of moderation and of peace need to be heard more loudly in this day and age, than the voice of hatred, and that is what, ideally, the freedom of speech should provide.
Furthermore, Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects the right to hold an opinion without interference but, the exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or moral.
Additionally, Article 20 of the ICCPR also adds, “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” The article referred to here calls on states to take measures that are “consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat such incidents.” This is a duty that the US has clearly, painfully overlooked and ignored for too long now, claiming greater advocacy for the freedom of speech and expression. But, US must realize that through their abuse and misuse of their freedom of speech, they are going against the international community’s common law and such an abuse of freedom of speech which disrespects other religions is against its own national interest and a threat to its national security. Such irresponsible actions endanger American Citizens as we have seen in the case of the US ambassador in Libya and the hurt US interest and credibility all over the world. There is a direct correlation between the actions of the makers of this film and deaths of several Americans. This movie was to provoke Muslims all over world and such a violent reaction was expected. Makers of the movie must be prosecuted for hate crime and provoking violence. The director made a conscious decision, when making this film, to commit a hate crime. He was fully aware of the probable and possible consequences. His actions were premeditated. He can be also be tried under current FARA law as this film serves as propaganda with intentions to start a worldwide conflict, incite violence and promote hatred.
The UN also adopted a Religious Tolerance Resolution condemning the stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of people based on their religion and urged countries to take effective steps to address and combat such incidents as necessary. But the UN resolution failed to include following language as suggested by the OIC: “Alarmed at increasing instances of deliberate and systematic negative projection of religions, their adherents and prophets in media and by influential political parties and groups” – a phrase opposed by the EU. However, the document did recall that “Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights provisions, that make punishable by law all acts and dissemination of ideas based on religious hatred that lead to incitement to violence.” Again, a duty to the US put forth by the global community that the nation has once again ignored.
Moving along, in 2010 the Human Rights Council did pass an unbinding resolution (Combating the defamations of religions). This resolution covered items like stereotyping of Muslims, attempts to identify Muslims with terrorism, denial of their fundamental rights, measures specially designed to control and monitor Muslims, protection against hate crime, protection against hate, discrimination, intimidation, etc .But the most important is clause is clause 14 which deplores the use of printed, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet, and of any other means to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination towards Islam or any religion.
Another resolution has also been being pushed since 1999 by the OIC condemning thedefamation of religion which deals with incidents like we see today (disrespect for the Prophet) but also includes criticism of Shari’a. Muslim courtiers argued that this resolution was essential to defend Islam along with other religions against criticism that could cause offence to the ordinary believers. But it really is a major embarrassment for all 57 Islamic countries that the number of votes, instead of increasing every year, is decreasing with each passing year. The resolution had 57 votes in 2007, and last year only 12 countries supported this resolution. This means that even the majority of Muslim countries are failing to support this resolution. All of the major European countries and the US opposed the resolution, holding that this concept is inconsistent with the universal human rights standards that protect individual’s right of speech rather than abstract ideas or religions. The US, under the first amendment has the highest threshold of free speech in the world, and the U.S. government did not want to lower those standards even though, as mentioned before, it clearly violates Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right.
Finally in 2011 after 12 years of campaigning by Islamic countries to pass the resolution (Defamation of religion) came to an end. The Western world saw this as an attempt by Muslim countries to protect their religion and their prophet from “defamation.” Instead, there was a compromise where a new resolution was adopted and the focus shifted from protecting beliefs to protecting believers as a whole (Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief). This resolution, which was passed by 193 countries at the National Assembly condemned religious intolerance without urging states to outlaw “defamation of religions.” The call on countries to prohibit “defamation” had been included in the non-binding resolution. Resolution 16/18 calls on states to make “a strong effort to counter religious profiling, which is understood to be the invidious use of religion as a criterion in conducting questionings, searches and other law enforcement investigative procedures.” Countries are expected “to take effective measures to ensure that public functionaries in the conduct of their public duties do not discriminate against an individual on the basis of religion or belief.” The bottom line of this resolution calls for the criminalization only of religion-related “incitement to imminent violence, and although this is certainly the case here with this movie, this incident has not been handled as an act of crime.
At this point in time, there are indeed legislation against Anti-Semitism in Romania, Mexico, Latvia, France, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland. It is a punishable crime to deny the Holocaust in Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Slovakia, Poland, Switzerland and Luxemburg. Certain legislation even prohibits the use of Nazi symbols in Brazil, Hungary, France, Austria and Denmark. The underlying principal used by these countries is that such actions are threat to the national security; it endangers the unity and integrity of country and have the ability to incite actions which severely imperil law and order in those country. To go against these laws constitutes as harassment, racism, discrimination, conscious incitement of violence and disturb law and order. Punishment for these violations is between 1 to 30 years. The question is, if the world as whole is willing to accept such laws for the Jewish community, why we can’t we as Muslims have similar laws against religious intolerance?
The only solution to avoid future attempts by fanatics in the West to fuel hatred against Muslims is the UN penalizing the defamation of religion, with the overall objective to prohibit expression that would, as stated in a UN General Assembly prior, "fuel discrimination, extremism and misperception leading to polarization and fragmentation with dangerous unintended and unforeseen consequences." It must be mandatory for all countries that are members to implement that resolution. This is not an attempt to protect our religion only, but all religions. OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu called on political and religious leaders worldwide to “ take a united stand against fanatics and radicals involved in destabilizing global peace and security by fanning incitement and religious intolerance.” He continues that it is time for the “international community to take serious note of the dangerous implications of hate speech and inciting publications and come out of hiding behind the excuse of freedom of expression.”
We all live in a global village where all countries are dependent on each other for resources. Muslim countries have combined DGP (at purchasing power parity) of USD 7,740 billion. If all 57 Muslim countries can come together and speak with one voice and put pressure on the international community, they can get this resolution /convention to pass without any problem. Economic pressures and threats of sanctions on different countries for the passage of the law is a simple, civilized solution. Further we have option to boycott companies ,search engines which are used for propaganda against our religion.
Muslims around the world must unite against such sacrilegious acts and disrespect to their prophet. They must put pressure on their respective governments, but they must also realize that violence in the streets of their own homes and destroying their own property isnot the answer. Any protest in the street must be fully civilized and non-violent in line with teaching of our beloved prophet.
About the Writer:
Sheikh Zakir Elahi
Advisor to Chairman PTI Imran Khan
Political and Planning affairs
Convener Advisory Committee
Sheikh Zakir Elahi