The International Humanist and Ethical Union monthly news email just came. Among their recent activities they have endorsed a letter sent by Diana Brown of the World Population Foundation to the U.N. Human Rights Council objecting to their resolution (also brought to the UN General Assembly) against the “defamation of religion”.
The problem is that the U.N. Human Rights Council’s wording is so broad that it condemns not just biases against people of various religious traditions, but any “defamation” of the content of those religious traditions. Instead of defending, this betrays human rights. As Brown wrote,
We believe that the Council resolutions combating defamation of religions are inappropriate and misguided. It is people that merit protection, Mr President, not their beliefs. We would suggest that member States would do better to consider a resolution combating religious obstruction to the enjoyment of human rights.
Brown pointed out that religion is often the enemy of human rights, and the resolution seems to support local laws which protect religion from being criticized on that point.
In our work of promoting reproductive health and rights we often find ourselves being opposed by religious leaders. In our programs for sex education for young people in Africa it is more often than not the churches who oppose us, believing that ignorance in matters of human reproduction is better than knowledge. In Africa, many campaigns for AIDS prevention have been cut back or replaced entirely by religiously-inspired and totally ineffective campaigns promoting abstinence only – in a continent where abstinence is simply not an option for many young girls. And we actually find some church leaders telling lies about the efficacy of condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In March this year we presented to the Council a paper on the cruel practice of child marriage [A/HRC/4/NGO/84] . In some countries we are told that this blight on the lives of young girls has divine sanction, and that to criticise it is tantamount to blasphemy – defamation of religion.
I’m glad the IHEU has seconded her on thi.
In a not unrelated matter, the IHEU has also criticized the U.N. Special Report on Islamophobia, calling the report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur “seriously flawed”. The idea behind the report is to criticize hatred and bias against Muslims which has been rearing up in Europe and elsewhere. But like the resolution against defamation of religion, the report fails to distinguish between belief systems and the people who hold to them.
As I quoted Brown earlier, “It is people that merit protection…not their beliefs.” The U. N. Special Rapporteur, explains the IHEU letter,
… fails to distinguish between, on the one hand, Islamophobia, which he defines as “baseless hostility and fear vis-à-vis Islam”, and on the other, legitimate concerns regarding the rise of Islamic extremism.
Furthermore, IHEU points out something so obvious that it should never have to be pointed out to any “Human Rights Council”, namely that the radical Islam which has become ascendant in many parts of the world is an enemy of human rights, including the right to freedom of religious belief, but also the right to kiss in public, the right of women to drive cars or teach in schools or even show their faces in public, the right to dance with someone of the opposite sex or play modern music — the list, ridiculous as it is, goes on and on.
Secondly, he fails to recognise the important differences that exist between the Islamic and modern European worldviews; differences that need to be addressed if increasing tension is to be avoided. Rather than dismissing Europe’s defence of its identity, which he describes as ‘based on intangible “values”‘ in scare quotes, he should recognise that these values are neither intangible nor exclusively “European”. They include, inter alia, the dignity and autonomy of the individual, equality of the sexes, democracy, and human rights – surely the very rights that this Council should be seeking to defend.
I have no doubt that many in the U. N. are frightened by the hostile state of affairs which currently exists between Christians and Muslims, and they desire to the stave off the rhetoric about WWIII which rolls so easily off the lips of both Christian Presidents and al Qaeda mullahs today.
The neo-Conservative goal of militarily overthrowing conservative Islamic regimes throughout the middle east was doomed from the start because of neo-Conservatives’ fundamental inability to understand human nature. When under attack or the stress of warfare, people become frightened and religious, and in fact more fanatical. Attacking the middle east the way the U. S. has exacerbates the problem of Islamic radicalism. It’s the opposite of a solution.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Islam is a threat to human rights in every country in which it is dominant if that nation lacks adequate separation of religion and state. We don’t need the U.N. or its Human Rights Council to forget why it exists. Not now and not ever.