Can the UN ban criticism of Islam?

Peter Glover
Peter Glover Peter C. Glover is former director of the U.K. Christian Research Network and the author of the The Great Evangelical Disaster Revisited (HardWired Books, 2012).
01 June, 2009 3 min read

Can the UN ban criticism of Islam?

The British Government hasn’t had much time for it. The Bush White House gave up on it in disgust. President Obama’s administration has recently resumed America’s observer status, but is not a member.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is controversial across the West, not least because it is dominated by Islamic nations and a number of assorted tyrannies, including Venezuela and Cuba.

Recently, it has been in the headlines again – this time for passing a resolution demanding that world governments legislate in their own countries to criminalise any criticism of ‘religions’. The only religion the resolution actually names, however, is Islam.

The truly ironic nature of this joke-council cannot be overstated. And the passing of this latest anti-free-speech resolution says as much about the United Nations as it does about a council mandated to protect human rights – yet dominated by states with the world’s worst human rights records.

Islamic sensitivities

Sponsored by the bloc of 57 Islamic states of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), the resolution demanding the criminalisation of the defamation of religion (Islam being the only religion actually named) was duly passed at the end of March.

The paper promoting it, entitled ‘Combating Defamation of Religions’, was drafted by Pakistan – the home of al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and assorted international terror groups. The council, chaired by Nigeria (where the Islamic regime has been behind countless murders and attacks on Christians and churches), passed the motion by a simple majority – 23 votes for, 13 abstaining and 11, including all the European states and Canada, voting against.

The resolution deems offending Islamic sensitivities a ‘serious affront to human dignity’ which could lead to ‘social disharmony’, ‘violations of human rights’ and ‘incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam in particular’.

In short, it links religious criticism with violence and racism. As it stands, the binding resolution will next find its ways into various UN documents – all of which would require UN member states at ‘local, national and international levels’ to start restricting the free speech of citizens to prevent public criticism of religious beliefs, particularly Islamic belief.

According to the resolution, Islam is the most ‘sinned against’ religion and needs special protection. It seems that whenever Islamist thugs murder, maim or abuse Christians, Jews and non-Muslims in the name of Islam, no one (particularly in the Western media) should say anything that might offend the ‘sensitivities’ of the said murderers, maimers and abusers. According to the UNHRC, that would infringe their human rights.

Shielding beliefs from question

Last December, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, told Radio Free Europe that Islamic states were pursuing ‘the diplomatic battle with a vengeance’ because of the post 9/11 war on terror and the Danish cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed.

As Neuer pointed out, ‘The resolutions pose a major threat to the premises and principles of international human rights laws and harm Muslims as much as non-Muslims’. Neuer went on to cite the failure of the Islamic states to address human rights violations in Muslim countries. He also pointed out that the latest resolution is ‘not really trying to protect individuals from harm’ but is attempting ‘to shield a set of beliefs from question or debate’.

The resolution’s use of the phrase ‘defamation of religion’ is also misleading. Under the terms of human rights law there is no such legal concept. Laws on defamation, in most Western countries at least, exist to protect the reputation of individuals, not those of belief systems or religions.

Neuer also describes the resolution’s text as ‘Orwellian’ and warns that it distorts the meaning of human rights, free speech and religious freedom. He points out that a binding resolution would first target ‘moderate Muslims’ and that the ‘next to suffer from the UN-sanctioned McCarthyism will be writers and journalists in the democratic West’.

The text singles out the freedom of the Western media which allows for ‘deliberate stereotyping of religions, their adherents and sacred persons’. As Canadian diplomat Terry Cormier put it bluntly, ‘It is individuals who have rights, not religions’.

Global threat

Perversely, the very forum being sponsored by the UN’s Human Rights Council to work for improved human rights and against racism is providing Islamic nations with a global platform which openly espouses pejorative and racist anti-Semitic language against Israel’s Jewish population. And nowhere does the resolution address the widespread human rights violations against Christians and others in Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Indonesia, to name but a few.

The endorsement of this latest UN resolution is yet another blow against free speech as well as a further appeasement to Islamist bigotry. Above all, it reveals that the ‘highest’ body of the United Nations specifically set up with a mandate to protect free speech and human rights has become a significant global threat to those rights.

In a throwaway comment when reporting on this issue, one TV commentator joked that it might be time to ‘bulldoze the large piece of real estate on Manhattan’s East Side [the UN building] and build something useful’.

Personally, I deem joking about demolishing the UN HQ in the name of freedom reprehensible. I’d be deadly serious about it.

Peter C. Glover

Peter C. Glover is author of The Politics of Faith and writes on international affairs. For more information go to

Peter Glover
Peter C. Glover is former director of the U.K. Christian Research Network and the author of the The Great Evangelical Disaster Revisited (HardWired Books, 2012).
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