Interview with Deborah Weiss on the OIC, UN Resolutions, blasphemy laws and defamation of religion
When Islam or the Prophet Muhammad are criticized or vilified, the whole Islamic world may get into an uproar. Islamic leaders worldwide are seeking to make any negative comment about their religion criminalized. Above all, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which several times has proposed such resolutions at the United Nations. Felix Strüning of Citizen Times spoke with Deborah Weiss, journalist and an expert on the UN Defamation of Religions resolutions, about this and the consequences for the free world.
Ms Weiss, you have been observing Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for many years now, an organization unknown to most Westerners. What is the OIC really, and what are its goals?
Deborah Weiss: First, I want to thank you for inviting me to interview with Citizen Times. I appreciate your interest in this important and under-reported topic. The OIC is the second largest international organization in the world, behind only the UN and it is the largest Islamic organization in the world, claiming to represent 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe. It’s comprised of 56 UN Member States plus the Palestinian Authority, and they tend to vote together as a block. Essentially, it is the largest voting block in the UN.
It is an Islamist supremacist organization, which has the ultimate vision of achieving a worldwide Islamic State which recognizes no territorial boundaries, is ruled by a Caliph, and governs by Sharia law.
In 1990, the OIC foreign minister adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. So, if the OIC member states talk of human rights, what could they mean as defined by this declaration?
Weiss: That is a great question; I’m glad you asked it. The UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), though not legally binding, is considered a foundational document in international human rights law. It promotes numerous cornerstone human rights and has served as the inspiration for multitudes of human rights laws around the globe. It does not specifically mention any religion, but assumes that all religions are equal and that men and women are equal.
In 1990, many of the OIC countries abstained from voting for the UNDHR, claiming that it does not take into account the cultural and religious context of Islamic countries. Instead, they proffered an alternative, called the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. Though the OIC countries claim that this is a viable alternative to the UNDHR, in fact it really is not a human rights document in the true sense of the term.
First, it is not a religion neutral document, but asserts the superiority of Islam over all other religions. In so doing, it seeks what is in the best interest of the Islamic Ummah rather than the rights of the individual.
To the extent that it appears to list individual rights, all of the enumerated rights are expressly limited to the confines of Sharia law. Because Sharia law severely restricts many of the rights listed in the Cairo Declaration, what the Cairo Declaration gives with one hand, it takes with the other and they really aren’t rights at all.
For example, the Cairo Declaration purports to provide freedom of speech – as permitted by Sharia law. Yet, under Sharia law, criticism of Islam or the Muslim Prophet Mohammad is considered blasphemy and is prohibited. Severe punishment serves as the penalty for exercising free speech in this regard, ranging from fines, to imprisonment to execution. So the free speech to which this document refers isn’t so free after all.
Similarly, the Cairo Declaration claims to allow freedom of religion, again within the confines of Sharia. Yet, a Muslim who wants to convert to Christianity would be subject to the death penalty because apostasy is a capital offense under Sharia law. Additionally, the Cairo Declaration provides different rights for men and women. There are more examples, but I think you get the point.
In reality, the Cairo Declaration is not a statement of individual rights but a list of obligations that individuals have to conform to under the Sharia.
You are correct, Felix, that when the OIC uses the term “human rights”, its definition comports with its definition of human rights in the Cairo Declaration and it is a far cry from human rights as the term is understood in the West.
For years, the OIC has pushed for UN resolutions to criminalize “defamation of religion”. What does that mean for us in the West?
Weiss: Currently, OIC’s goal is the international criminalization of all speech that is critical of Islam-related topics including Islam, Muslims, Sharia law, Islamic terrorism, and Islamic persecution of religious minorities. It has not pushed for criminalization directly, knowing it would not be accepted in the West. Instead, it introduces UN resolutions and targets EU parliaments, presenting the language in a watered down form, in order to achieve its goals gradually and incrementally.
In the American legal system, we define defamation as pertaining only to people, not to religions or ideas. Additionally, in our system, defamation has to be a false statement of fact. Truth is a defense, and the expression of opinion, no matter how negative, is protected free speech.
The OIC wants laws that would give a religion legal protection from criticism, even if it’s true. For example, if you wanted to talk about Islamic terrorism or Islamic persecution of religious minorities, the OIC would want legal penalties for such a discussion. Or, for example, if you just felt like saying you don’t like the religion of Islam, that statement would also be criminalized.
Though the phrase is “defamation of religions”, in the OIC’s interpretation, it applies only to Islam. Even if penalties were to be meted out even-handedly amongst all religions, I would be against it because obviously it would have a huge impact suppressing free speech.
However, in reality, it would always wind up being applied more often to Islam than to other religions because you just don’t see a situation where Jews, Christians or Buddhists go running to court if someone criticizes or insults their religion. Generally, they ignore it or answer back in a non-legal and non-violent way, like writing op-eds or letters to the editor to get their counter-view expressed. Unfortunately, the pattern appears to be that it’s primarily Muslims who are filing lawsuits, asking for protective legislation from speech against their religion, and committing violence in response to cartoons, videos or otherwise “offensive speech.”
I want to be clear that I am not saying all Muslims are doing this. I am merely saying that when this conduct occurs, it occurs within the Muslim community because it is part of their religion not to be permitted to criticize it. It is also part of their “religion” that non-Muslims should submit to this idea, which is tantamount to compliance with Islamic blasphemy codes.
In 2011, it seemed as if there was a change happening: Resolution 16/18 was suddenly only about “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief”. Did the OIC adopt the Western way of thinking that only discrimination of believers is punishable, but not defamation of a religion?
Weiss: I wish that were the case, Felix, and I’m sure many others do too! I suppose we in the West were naïve to think that the OIC, whose mission is to bring the world under the control of Sharia law, would actually move in the direction of relinquishing their goal of suppression of criticism on the subject of Islam.
Once Western countries caught wind of the fact that the concept “defamation of religions” could have potentially severe consequences for freedom of speech, numerous articles were written about it and the US went on a campaign to educate UN delegates and dissuade them from supporting these resolutions.
When the US State Department asked the OIC to draft an alternative resolution that would retain free speech and still address its concerns about “Islamophobia”, the OIC produced Resolution 16/18.
At first, the US and many NGO’s were elated, believing that indeed, the OIC had come around to focusing on the protection of religious minorities rather than protecting Islam from criticism. Certainly the language of the text could be interpreted that way for the most part. Most notably, the phrase “defamation of religions” was dropped in the new resolution, so people had reason to believe things were moving in the right direction.
Little did we know that the OIC would take the language in Resolution 16/18 and turn it on its head, giving words definitions that nobody in the West ever heard before, and that would result in the OIC’s interpretation of still working to protect Islam from so-called “defamation”.
Only after the State Department’s announcement that it would hold the first Istanbul conference, where implementation of Resolution 16/18 would be the issue at hand, did it become clear from other documents and statements, that the OIC completely retained its goal to combat defamation of Islam, and that is would use the Istanbul process to push the West to move in the direction of speech restrictions.
You were talking about the Istanbul Process. Can you explain what this is?
Weiss: The Istanbul process is just the implementation process for Resolution 16/18, in order to make it a reality. It is very unusual in that UN resolutions are not normally “implemented” but remain as political documents. It is intended to be an action-oriented approach and of course the process was initiated by the OIC.
Unfortunately the US State Department offered to host the first Istanbul conference, thus giving the rest of the Free World the impression that working with the OIC is desirable. So far there have been two official Istanbul conferences, with a third expected in the near future. Countries and NGO’s from all over the world attend.
The process is on-going, with the OIC’s goal of getting each country to implement domestic policies, laws and practices that make Resolution 16/18 tangible. Unfortunately, the biggest result we’ve seen from the Istanbul process is a move toward stifling free expression critical of Islam-related topics, and a push for interfaith and “educational” meetings that whitewash or deny the dangers of Islamic terrorism.
Two years after the Resolution 16/18, in March 2013, the UN Human Rights Council passed Resolution A/HRC/22/L.40 stating that “terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group”. What consequences does this have for us?
Weiss: Well, this is obviously a step in the wrong direction and shows a backsliding of international “consensus” supporting freedom of speech.
Obviously, anyone who doesn’t have their head in the sand knows that there is such a thing as Islamic terrorism. For westerners to be forbidden from discussing it, is not only a free speech infringement, but a national security problem. It is difficult to produce an effective national security strategy if you are forbidden to discuss the threat and identify it by name.
The EU representative at the UN expressly condemned this and other provisions in Resolution L.40 and the concordant unraveling of international support for free speech.
It is nothing less than shameful that the American Ambassador did not do the same. It will be a stain on American history that under the Obama Administration, the government failed to assert a strong principled stand on the right and value of freedom of speech. Instead, the US Ambassador had nothing but praise for the OIC, even in the face of the unraveling of free speech as expressed in Resolution L.40.
America is still the last bastion of freedom regarding free speech, but it is clear that even here, we are sliding down that slippery slope toward the demise of free expression. It is sad and scary. I do hope that people will wake up as many are taking their freedom for granted while it is quietly being stolen from under them.
What, if any impact do these UNHRC resolutions have on legislation of Western democracies? After all, they are not legally binding…
Weiss: Correct, Felix, UN resolutions are not legally binding. However, the ideas contained in them do carry political clout. Therefore, if a resolution is passed repeatedly over the years, or passed in numerous UN bodies, those ideas are given more significance. At some point, it runs the risk of being deemed “customary and international law”. At that point, all countries would be pressured to adhere to the ideas contained in the resolutions. And btw, some of these resolutions were not just passed in the UNHRC but in the GA (General Assembly) as well.
Because western countries did sign onto both Resolution 16/18 and Resolution L.40, it makes things even more difficult. The OIC is pushing western countries to draft domestic legislation that would penalize criticism of Islam. Unfortunately, most EU countries have done just that. The legislation is never titled Islamic blasphemy laws, but the idea is along the same lines – if you criticize Islam or show it in a negative light, you will suffer consequences.
Some of the types of legislation passed for this purpose are called “denigration of religions”, “vilification of religions”, “hate speech laws” or “public order laws”. All of these laws, while implemented in non-Muslim, supposedly free countries, serve to deter the exercise of free speech regarding the criticism of Islam, which is just want the OIC wants.
What differences do you see between USA and Europe regarding freedom of expression?
Weiss: Well, Europe is much farther advanced in the process of being Islamized. Parts of Europe have “no-go zones” which are Muslim enclaves that govern themselves by Sharia law. Many times police are afraid to enter those zones for fear of being attacked.
Additionally, there are parts of Europe where large numbers of Muslims just violate laws and the police just stand by and do nothing. For example, in London and France, sometimes large gatherings of Muslims will get together and pray in huge numbers outside blocking traffic in violation of zoning laws.
As I mentioned earlier, most EU countries already have some kind of laws providing deterrent punishments for “hate speech” or the like.
People think it can’t happen in America, but we are just around the corner. All it takes is the passage of hate speech laws and five Supreme Court judges who believe this is constitutional, even if they are wrong. People need to be vigilant about keeping their freedom. We are the last country left on earth that truly has it.
Deborah Weiss, Esq. is a journalist and an expert in the Defamation of Religions resolutions. She is a regular contributor to FrontPage Magazine and The Washington Times, and is contributing author to the book, “Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network” (Palgrave Macmillan 2011). A partial listing of her work can be found at www.vigilancenow.org