Friday, February 15, 2008
Flemming Rose, the involuntarily courageous Danish editor who first published the famous "Danish cartoons" depicting the Prophet Mohammed, has an op-ed this morning about the danger that Islam and its appeasers in the West pose to free speech. My own term for this is the "violence veto," which I discussed here in one of my most widely-read posts.
Rose touches on the now many cases of censorship, imprisonment, and intimidation against speakers who dare challenge Islam, often in Western countries that have laws that purport to protect speakers from such things. Now the United Nations has gotten into the act, transforming itself in the most Orwellian way from a defender of human rights to an opponent:
Every one of the above cases speaks to the same problem: a global battle for the right to free speech. The cases are different, and you can't compare the legal systems in Egypt and Norway, but the justifications for censorship and self-censorship are similar in different parts of the world: Religious feelings and taboos need to be treated with a kind of sensibility and respect that other feelings and ideas cannot command.
This position boils down to a simple rule: If you respect my taboo, I'll respect yours. That was the rule of the game during the Cold War until people like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Andrei Sakharov and other dissenting voices behind the Iron Curtain insisted on another rule: It is not cultures, religions or political systems that enjoy rights. Human beings enjoy rights, and certain principles like the ones embedded in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights are universal.
Unfortunately, misplaced sensitivity is being used by tyrants and fanatics to justify murder and silence criticism. Right now the Organization of Islamic Countries is conducting a successful campaign at the United Nations to rewrite international human-rights standards to curtail the right to free speech. Last year the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution against "defamation of religion," calling on governments around the world to clamp down on cartoonists, writers, journalists, artists and dissidents who dare to speak up.
There are two key points. First, it is human beings who enjoy rights. A religion, per se, has no rights. Only people who practice a religion have rights, and they include the right of free expression. Religious freedom is nothing but a particular form of freedom of speech and assembly; where there is no freedom of speech and assembly, there can be no freedom to practice religion.
Second, it is no more possible to defame a religion, which is a bundle of ideas, than it is to defame any other idea. Sure, one can defame a religious institution -- the Roman Catholic Church, for example -- but not a religion, just as one can defame John McCain, but one cannot defame the idea of supporting John McCain.
However obvious it may be, this is all apparently lost on the United Nations Human Rights Council. If that does not discredit that institution beyond redemption, I am not sure what would.
Don't these same arguments condemn the actions of the Canadian government, in their legal assault on Mark Steyn and others, in much the same way? Carrying the question one step further, how would American university administrators respond to this argument in their efforts to justify "anti-hate speech" regulations at public universities?
It seems to me that law in many western societies has somehow morphed in such a way that those practicing identity politics can claim legal protections for their ideas and arguments, that other citizens may not claim.