Interesting leader in this week’s Economist on the decision by the satirically named UN Human Rights Council to damn “defamation of religions” as a “serious affront to human dignity”. The Economist picks apart the sinister implications.
There is an insidious blurring of categories here, which becomes plain when you compare this resolution with the more rigorous language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 in a spirit of revulsion over the evils of fascism. This asserts the right of human beings in ways that are now entrenched in the theory and (most of the time) the practice of liberal democracy. It upholds the right of people to live in freedom from persecution and arbitrary arrest; to hold any faith or none; to change religion; and to enjoy freedom of expression, which by any fair definition includes freedom to agree or disagree with the tenets of any religion.
In other words, it protects individuals—not religions, or any other set of beliefs. And this is a vital distinction. For it is not possible systematically to protect religions or their followers from offence without infringing the right of individuals.
What exactly is it the drafters of the council resolution are trying to outlaw? To judge from what happens in the countries that lobbied for the vote—like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan—they use the word “defamation” to mean something close to the crime of blasphemy, which is in turn defined as voicing dissent from the official reading of Islam. In many of the 56 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which has led the drive to outlaw “defamation”, both non-Muslims and Muslims who voice dissent (even in technical matters of Koranic interpretation) are often victims of just the sort of persecution the 1948 declaration sought to outlaw. That is a real human-rights problem.
Quite right. But the paper notes only in passing that the attack on freedom of thought was led by “the unholy trio of Pakistan, Belarus and Venezuela”. I would have spent a little more time on that trio. Pakistan is a Muslim country, obviously. But Belarus is a decayed Brezhnevian relic, ‘the last dictatorship in Europe’. Venezuela is led by a charismatic populist who wants to be president for life. Neither is a Muslim country or anything like one. Indeed the ruling doctrine of the old Belarus communists was militant atheism while Chavez claims to be a socialist. Nevertheless they support a universal blasphemy law pushed by the Islamic states. What we are seeing is an alliance of anti-democratic forces in a common front against democracy and liberalism. Never mind that theocratic measures are against everything that Venezuela and Belarus’s rulers once believed in. They are anti-Western and that is enough.
Read the whole thing here