By Joseph Klein
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Last week, I reported on the move by China and its authoritarian-minded cohorts in the General assembly to stop UN staffers from talking to the press without their approval about matters under investigation that might impact the "reputation" of the United Nations. While that is certainly bad enough if you believe in freedom of the press, it is nothing compared to what the Islamic fanatics are trying to ban--and using the United Nations to do it.
No, I am not just talking about the widespread riots across the Muslim world calling for death to Westerners on account of those insulting cartoons published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last September and re-published in other European newspapers. These mobs, whipped up by fanatical clerics and the Iranian and Syrian regimes, are certainly intimidating to people trying to exercise their rights of free speech and press. But the furor is likely to die down, at least until the next "provocation" to violence occurs.
Far more insidious to our cherished values of freedom of speech and press is the effort by Muslim leaders to use the United Nations to enact an international law banning the publication of any insults to religious symbols. These leaders of the Muslim world are the "respectable" alter egos to the mobs in the streets and they are far more persistent. The cartoons have simply provided them with the semblance of a grievance to justify what they have been seeking for nearly a decade in the back halls of UN agencies. In 1999, for example, they sought a resolution by the discredited Commission on Human Rights expressing concern at the use of print, audiovisual or electronic media or any other means to spread intolerance against Islam. In april 2001, that Commission did adopt a resolution expressing its deep concern regarding the stereotyping of Islam as a faith that has been "wrongly associated with human-rights violations and with terrorism." But the Islamists' efforts did not get much further, especially after al Qaeda's September 1lth attack in the name of Islam, until they found an opening last year provided by the cartoon uproar.
The first step on the way to UN-sanctioned censorship took place last December when Louise arbour--the United Nations high Commissioner for Human Rights--appointed two UN "experts on racism" to investigate what arbour characterized as a "disrespect for belief." She was responding to a complaint by the Organization of Islamic Conference over the Danish cartoons.
The second step toward UN-sanctioned censorship occurred in the General assembly on December 16, 2005. Snuck through with about 60 other resolutions on the same day, the General assembly passed a resolution against "defamation of religions." Its one-sided focus emphasized the need to particularly respect Islam and not to link the word Islam with terrorism. The resolution passed despite opposition from many Western countries including the United States.
The same group, the Organization of Islamic Conference, which had prompted the UN investigation of the cartoons, sponsored this resolution. Of course, the resolution's sponsors did not reference the anti-Semitic and anti-Christian hate spewing from Saudi and other Muslim countries' state newspapers and school books, not to mention the incitement to violence against innocent Jews and Christians that have resulted. as for linking the word Islam with terrorism, wasn't that the doing of al Qaeda when it justified its murderous attacks on innocent civilians as a necessary part of defending its version of Islam? Why wasn't there a resolution directed against al Qaeda for defaming the true version of Islam if it is so different than the al Qaeda brand?
The third step toward deepening the UN's involvement in censorship occurred on February 5, 2006 at an assemblage of Muslim dignitaries and organizations. according to the London-based al-Quds Press news agency, activists began collecting signatures to be sent to Kofi annan demanding a law on respecting Islam and its prophet: " we ask you to take all measures to guarantee respect of Prophet Muhammad and hold accountable those who violate our religion." The street riots conveniently kept the spotlight on the issue.
at the same time, ahmed akari, a spokesman for the European Committee for Defending Prophet Muhammad, told IslamOnline that "leaders of the Muslim minority are seeking a UN resolution banning insults against religious symbols and criminalizing such acts."
The secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, issued a press release on February 5, 2006 saying that he had discussed with Kofi annan "what can be done in the UN framework to develop an international code of conduct." http://www.oic-oci.org/
The fourth step is unfolding as we speak. This is the coordinated push for another sneak resolution at the UN with Kofi anna's backing. The new resolution would up the ante from simply condemning defamation of Islam to legislating against such disrespectful speech.
On February 7, 2006, Kofi annan joined in a statement with the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the EU paying lip service to freedom of the press while stating that "we understand the deep hurt and widespread indignation felt in the Muslim World. We believe freedom of the press entails responsibility and discretion, and should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions." www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/sg2105.doc.htm
Two days later on February 9th, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu issued a second press release of his own declaring that "this joint statement and the said UN resolution provide the legal ground for condemnation of acts of the European newspapers and for international legitimacy of the Islamic position towards it To combat Islamophobia in the West we must work towards the adoption of relevant legislations." www.oic-oci.org/
also on February 9th, in an obviously coordinated statement, Kofi annan told the press: "I do not understand why any newspaper will publish the cartoons today." although intoning that he is not against freedom of speech or freedom of the press, he said that such freedom "is not a license." and he distinguished violence against innocent civilians from violence directed against those responsible for publishing the cartoons: ""They should not attack innocent civilians. They should not attack people who are not responsible for the publication of the cartoons." (emphasis added) at the same press conference, annan blessed the efforts of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to add their latest proposals to a draft resolution currently circulating to replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights with the new Human Rights Council. www.un.org/apps/sg/offthecuff.asp?nid=832
On February 10, 2006, Saudi arabia's top cleric, Sheik abdul Rahman al-Seedes, said that mere apologies for the "slanderous" caricatures of Mohammed were not good enough. He demanded trial and punishment of the offending publishers as well as laws enacted by the international community against such any insults.
Where is all this taking us? Connect the dots and we see a concerted effort by the Islamic fanatics to exploit the Danish cartoon controversy. They are using it as a pretext to achieve their long-cherished wish to export their repressive laws against freedom of speech and press to the rest of the world under the guise of respect for religions or, to be more precise, to legislate universal respect for just their own religion since they disrespect all non-Muslims as infidels.
Looking for legitimacy from the international community, they are intent on using the UN to create and enforce a universal code of unacceptable speech binding on all member states. It is a good bet that by the end of this year we will see a new General assembly resolution along these lines as a follow-up to last year's defamation of religions' resolution. after all, the United States and other clear thinking democratic nations who oppose censorship do not have enough votes to stop it.
If such a resolution does pass, the United States may finally reach the point where it has to decide to cut its financial support for this dysfunctional organization until it truly reforms itself. If we have to choose between the guarantees of freedom of speech and press enshrined in the U.S. Constitution or the UN's code of acceptable speech, the choice should be obvious to all.
(a New York-based global technology attorney for more than 30 years, Joseph Klein is the author of Global Deception).