Obama Administration Welcoming Islamic Group to Washington for Discussion on ‘Tolerance’
December 9, 2011
(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration says a meeting in Washington next week seeks to make progress in combating religious intolerance, but critics say the U.S. is pandering to an ideological agenda aimed at restricting free speech critical of Islam.
According to the State Department the aim is to find ways to combat religious hate without compromising freedom of expression. Detractors are skeptical that this can be done, and they suspect that free speech will end up the loser.
Among those criticizing the event are GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, the Traditional Values Coalition, and scholars at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
The State Department-hosted meeting is the latest step in a process stemming from a resolution on “combating intolerance based on religion,” adopted by consensus at the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) last March.
The move marked the first time in more than a decade that the U.N.’s top human rights body did not pass an annual “defamation of religion” resolution, sponsored by the bloc of Islamic states, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Many rights advocacy groups regard the OIC campaign as an attempt to outlaw valid discussion of Islamic teachings – to extend to democratic societies the type of blasphemy provisions enforced in some Islamic states.
The new resolution, known as “resolution 16/18,” called on countries to combat “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization” based on religion, without seeking to criminalize speech – except in cases of “incitement to imminent violence.”
The administration characterized it as a significant breakthrough: “[T]he Council took an important step away from the deeply problematic concept of defamation of religion by adopting a constructive new resolution that promotes tolerance for all religious beliefs, promotes education and dialogue and is consistent with U.S. laws and universal values.”
Some human rights and religious freedom advocacy groups opposed to the “religious defamation” drive also praised the development.
Others were skeptical, noting that the OIC had watched its defamation resolutions receive less and less support each year and may view resolution 16/18 as an alternative route towards achieving the same end.
OIC leaders themselves did not help to allay these suspicions, stressing that the Islamic bloc had not abandoned its agenda of “protecting” Islam and insisting that the “religious defamation” campaign was not dead.
On the sidelines of a first meeting held to advance resolution 16/18, in Istanbul last July, Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador Zamir Akram said that the OIC would not compromise on three things – anything said or done against the Qur’an, anything said or done against Mohammed, and discrimination against the Muslim community. (Akram represents a government overseeing some of the Islamic world’s most controversial blasphemy laws, where “blaspheming” the Qur’an or Mohammed carries the death penalty.)
At that Istanbul meeting, co-chairs Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu issued a statement urging countries “to take effective measures, as set forth in Resolution 16/18, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on religion or belief.”
Next week’s gathering in Washington is a follow-up to the one in Istanbul, and it aims at “implementation.”
From the OIC’s viewpoint, resolution 16/18 is clearly part of the defamation campaign: “Washington plans to host a meeting on resolution opposing defamation of religions,” the OIC’s official news agency reported last August.
Ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom Suzan Johnson Cook says the meeting will bring together international organizations, including the OIC, European Union, Arab League and African Union, as well as law enforcement and justice officials representing some 30 foreign governments.
The meeting will “discuss best practices for two of the recommended actions from resolution 16/18: engagement with members of minority religious communities and enforcement of laws that prohibit acts of discrimination on the basis of religion or belief,” she said.
The State Department would afterwards submit a report on “best practices identified during these sessions” to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and for public distribution.
The Traditional Values Coalition has requested permission to be admitted as an observer to next week’s meeting, and says the State Department has so far refused.
In a letter to Clinton Thursday repeating the request, TVC President Andrea Lafferty wrote that not allowing the organization to observe would only “lead to the conclusion that the objective of this meeting is not religious liberty and toleration, but rather a concert designed to chill, contain, and curb religious liberties and free speech.”
“Why is it that the U.S. Constitution must come second when representatives from Islamic counties such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan demand we must curb our religious liberties and free speech?” Lafferty asked in a statement.
“Americans never signed on to submit their sovereignty to the United Nations, nor should they be expected to submit to the will of Islamic countries whose human rights record against women, Christians, and other persecuted minorities continues to shock the world.”
WHO is the OIC? (Organization of the Islamic Conference)
- Other than the United Nations, it is the largest international organization of any kind
- Its ultimate goal is outlawing, everywhere in the world, any and all criticism of Islamic people, practices, legal codes, and governments
- Considers any and all negative portrayals (whether real, perceived or alleged) of Islam as “Islamophobia”
Founded in 1971 and composed of 57 member states with Muslim-majority populations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is the largest Islamic body in the world. Other than the United Nations, it is also the largest international organization of any kind, representing an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims across the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
OIC’s manifold purpose is to promote Islamic values, revitalize Islam’s pioneering role in the world, strengthen and enhance the bond of solidarity among Muslim states, support “the Palestinian struggle,” and defend Islam generally. OIC’s charter professes a commitment to promoting peace and tolerance on the one hand, and to fighting terrorism on the other.
The organization’s actions, however, are dissonant with these stated aims.
For many years, OIC has been pushing incrementally toward its ultimate goal of outlawing, everywhere in the world, any and all criticism of Islamic people, practices, legal codes, and governments. [Emphasis added]
In the aftermath of 9/11, OIC’s quest to achieve this objective shifted into high gear when the group professed its concern about an angry backlash — which supposedly manifested itself with both words and deeds — against Muslims in the United States. But in fact, no such backlash ever occurred.
In 2005, OIC urged the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) to pass a resolution titled “Combating Defamation of Religions.” Although this title referred to “acts of discrimination, intimidation, hatred, and defamation” of religions generally, the text of the resolution cited only concerns pertaining to Islam. According to the resolution, media outlets around the world were unfairly portraying Islam in a negative fashion and were thereby inciting discrimination and intolerance against Muslims everywhere.
OIC further contended that any speculation about a connection between Islam and terrorism (or between Islam and human rights violations) was firmly rooted in the soil of Islamophobic bigotry. Moreover, said OIC, the definition of terrorism should be altered so as to exclude the killing of innocent civilians where the perpetrators are engaged in “legitimate resistance to foreign occupation” — a transparent reference to Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel.
The “Combating Defamation of Religions” initiative was formally passed on March 30, 2007, by a vote of 24 to 14.
Voting in favor were the following countries: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Tunisia.
Voting against the measure were these nations: Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Switzerland, Ukraine, and United Kingdom.
OIC’s insistence on prohibiting defamatory speech against Islamic practices and countries demanded no corollary ban on anti-Jewish or anti-Israel rhetoric. Indeed, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad candidly expressed his desire to eliminate the “Zionist regime” at an OIC Special Session in 2006. In addition, OIC backs Iran’s nuclear program, supports Hamas, and rationalizes the attacks of 9/11 as acts of retribution for American transgressions.
At its 2006 summit in Mecca, OIC adopted a zero-tolerance policy regarding insults against Islam, going so far as to include “hostile glances” in its definition of Islamophobic behavior. The immediate goal of the summit was to obtain “protection” for Islam in European parliaments and the UN Human Rights Council (which had replaced the UN Human Rights Commission in March 2006).
OIC also proposed the creation of an “Islamic Council of Human Rights” and a “Charter of Human Rights in Islam,” both of which would be based on Sharia (Islamic Law) and, as such, would entirely contradict some key tenets of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights — such as equality before the law; the right to a fair trial; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and freedom of opinion and expression.