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In response to the Innocence of Muslims global controversy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for recognizing “Islamophobia as a crime against humanity” and “international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred.” In the statement’s wake, the number of political leaders around the world openly musing about restrictions on anti-Islamic speech has only increased.
Erdoğan’s Turkish compatriot, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a grouping of 56 Muslim-majority states (including Turkey) and the Palestinian Authority (PA), said on September 19, 2012 that the international community should “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression” used by Western countries against a decade-long campaign by the OIC to effect universal blasphemy laws. Ihsanoglu described the “deliberate, motivated and systematic abuse of this freedom” as a threat to global security. The Human Rights Commission of the Saudi Arabian-headquartered OIC, meanwhile, called for the halting of “growing intolerance towards Muslims” and for “an international code of conduct for media and social media to disallow the dissemination of incitement material.”
That same day, Ihsanoglu’s counterpart at the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, decried at a news conference the making of Innocence of Muslims as a “disgraceful and shameful act” that represented an abuse of “freedom of expression…a fundamental right and privilege.” Using “freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs” was not worthy of protection. Rather, Ki-moon indicated that such freedom only deserved protection when “used for common justice, common purpose.” Like Erdoğan’s previously analyzed bizarre understanding of intellectual freedom, Ki-moon would apparently allow majorities to prohibit an individual’s expression deemed not serving a “common” collective goal, a fundamental inversion of the traditionally recognized need to protect minority views in a free market of ideas.
Rounding out the number of international organizations now apparently ready to implement the medieval-sounding idea of blasphemy laws, Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby stated at league headquarters in Cairo, Egypt on September 19, 2012 that the league, the OIC, the European Union (EU), and the African Union (AU) were about to formulate an international agreement penalizing blasphemy. Indeed, the next day, al-Araby, Ihsanoglu, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, and AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra issued a joint statement on the eve of Muslim Friday prayers, which was designed to quell further violence resulting from Innocence of Muslims and the subsequent publication by the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo of cartoons mocking Islam’s prophet Muhammad.
“While fully recognizing freedom of expression,” the statement stressed the “importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to.” The statement added to its respect for a prophet pantheon the declaration that the “anguish of Muslims at the production of the film insulting Islam, posting of its trailer on the internet and other similar acts, is shared by all individuals and communities who refuse to allow religion to be used to fuel provocation, confrontation and extremism.” The statement also professed a desire to “ensure that the recent events do not undermine the relationships of trust and respect we have built up over so many years among our peoples, communities and states,” citing amiable relationships perhaps previously unnoticed by many Europeans. In an act of moral equivalence between filmmakers and rioters/terrorists, the statement then proclaimed that the “international community cannot be held hostage to the acts of extremists on either side.” The four officials then concluded by stating that they “reiterate our strong commitment to take further measures and to work for an international consensus on tolerance and full respect of religion, including on the basis of UN Human Rights Council resolution 16/18.”
This last reference to resolution 16/18 is a red flag to anyone concerned about the implications of “respect of religion” according Islam for freedoms of speech and religion. As this author and others have analyzed, resolution 16/18 is the latest incarnation of the previously mentioned OIC efforts to effectuate international blasphemy laws. Although watered down by American diplomatic efforts from its original OIC formulation, the resolution in its present form still contains ambiguous phrases capable of justifying Islamic restrictions on free expression. Indeed, the report by the Italy-based news organization ANSAmed on the statement said that it “stressed the organizations’ engagement in promoting anti-blasphemy measures within a UN resolution on human rights.”
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