Once again, the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution urging member states to combat "religious defamation". As others smarter than I am have pointed out, such measures operate primarily to provide political cover for various thuggish regimes to jail and otherwise abuse people for apostasy, blasphemy, and criticizing theocratic governments. It's also a form of theatre, allowing selected religious interests to pose as martyrs and suggest that embassy-torching, beheading-urging, and fatwa-issuing are defensive rather than offensive measures.
In recent years some variation has been an annual event, provoking critique and concern among free speech advocates. This year, as before, the core language is buried in the furious tangled mess of numbers and sub-sections and committee reports and wherefores that make up the communications style of the United Nations. Here is the report containing the resolution and a roll call on the vote.
The melodically named "Draft resolutions A/C.3/63/L.22 and Rev.1" is structured as an inordinately long series of italicized verbs, each describing actions of the sort favored by committees, followed by factual, political, social, and religious assertions of dubious provenance, like so:
“The General Assembly,
“Reaffirming the pledge made by all States, under the Charter of the
United Nations, to promote and encourage universal respect for and
observance of all human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction
as to race, sex, language or religion,
“Recalling the relevant international instruments on the elimination of
discrimination, in particular the International Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of
Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief, the Declaration
on the Human Rights of Individuals Who are not Nationals of the Country in
which They Live and the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to
National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities,
And so forth. The list of committee verbs does not include, as you might expect from the U.N,
Seizing every possible opportunity to criticize Israel whilst ignoring comparable or worse conduct by politically favored states, and
Continuing the proud tradition of drafting and bickering over verbose non-binding resolutions whilst genocidal maniacs are bulldozing piles of human corpses into ditches,
and so on.
Anyway, the rhetorical heart of the resolution is the proposition that legal measures prohibiting "defamation of religion" are justified because such defamation poses what First Amendment wonks might call a clear and present danger to the world:
Stressing that defamation of religions is a serious affront to human
dignity leading to the restriction of the freedom of religion of their adherents
and incitement to religious hatred and violence,
To the credit of the General Assembly, it is not coy about what particular religious group is the primary intended beneficiary of the resolution:
Stressing also the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions
and incitement to religious hatred, against Islam and Muslims in particular,
It's a little more coy about what will happen if member states don't prevent "defamation." But not much more coy.
Noting with concern that defamation of religions, and incitement to
religious hatred in general, could lead to social disharmony and violations of
human rights, and alarmed at the inaction of some States to combat this
burgeoning trend and the resulting discriminatory practices against adherents
of certain religions,
Nice embassy you've got there, Denmark. Shame if something happened to it, wot?
Then we get to the meat — the actions that the General Assembly urges of its member states, still couched in committee verbs:
10. Emphasizes that, as stipulated in international human rights law,
everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to
freedom of expression, and that the exercise of these rights carries with it
special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations
as are provided for by law and are necessary for respect of the rights or
reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public
health or morals;
So, people have a right to speak, but speech can and should be limited to protect the "rights" (defined broadly as the right to be free of "discrimination") of others, reputation, "public order," and "public health or morals." (I believe the public health and morals part is the reason you can't drive in Saudi Arabia if you have to squat to pee).
"13. Reaffirms the obligation of all States to enact the necessary
legislation to prohibit the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that
constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and urges States
to take resolute action in this regard;
“14. Urges all States to provide, within their respective legal and
constitutional systems, adequate protection against acts of hatred,
discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of
religions and incitement to religious hatred in general, to take all possible
measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and beliefs and the
understanding of their value systems and to complement legal systems with
intellectual and moral strategies to combat religious hatred and intolerance;;
Note that in paragraph 14 they've smuggled in the notion that "defamation of religion" can result in "hatred, discrimination, intimidation, and coercion." What does that mean, exactly? The General Assembly would like free-speech advocates to believe that it means merely that "defamation" can incite extremists to commit atrocities, and therefore is an issue of concern. But from the context of the entire resolution, I submit that the real message is that "religious defamation" — that is, to be frank, speech about Islam that some politically powerful adherents do not like — constitutes by its very nature "hatred, discrimination, intimidation, and cocercion" that nations should prohibit by the force of law.
The resolution purports to be a long love-note to freedom of religion. But the vote on the resolution is here. Look at the nations that voted for, and look at the nations that voted against. Which group includes nations that protect the free exercise of religion, and which group includes nations with no tradition of freedom of religion, and even nations with laws requiring people to be jailed, flogged, or even executed for deviations from religious orthodoxy?
Vote on Combating Defamation of Religion
The draft resolution on combating defamation of religion (document A/63/430/Add.2) was adopted by a recorded vote of 86 in favour to 53 against, with 42 abstentions, as follows:
In favour: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Dominica, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.
Against: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Palau, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States.
The resolution's paean to freedom of religion is a sick joke. It's a lie — not just a bad lie, but a straight-up fuck you lie, the sort of lie told by people who have neither the inclination nor the need to come up with a credible excuse for their conduct. Hence we see the contemptible spectacle of Afghanistan, where people who convert from Islam to Christianity face execution, can be the fist listed signatory to a resolution decrying religious discrimination.
The resolution captures, in its whys and wherefores and subsections, everything that is wrong with the United Nations, and every reason that the United States should have a frank and open dialogue about our policy towards that august body. The resolution illuminates the General Assembly for what it is — a noisy and disordered slow-class last-period study hall for the unapologetically thuggish and the shrugging apologists for theocracy. Regrettably, there is no serious and mainstream dialogue in the United States about reevaluating our ties to the U.N., nor will there be soon. The notion that America should cooperate with the General Assembly is ingrained in the new Left. The possibility of leaving that body, or at least standing up to it, is mostly confined to the marginal, to the more deranged big-L Libertarians who like to poison debate by jabbering about blowing the place up, and to porn-mustachioed self-promoting henchmen.
The good news is that the resolution carried by a narrower margin this year. For that reason, and because the resolution is merely non-binding, many very smart people seem not particularly concerned. But I don't think we should feel complacent. First, the resolutions establish a sort of on-paper international norm that courts everywhere can point to if they are looking for grounds to find that governments have compelling reasons to restrict speech. Second, events since 9/11 suggest that nations — including our own — will tolerate an alarming diminution of rights if it is sold to them as necessary to their security. The resolution — couched as it is in terms of preventing bloodshed and unrest and other threats to national interests — is aimed squarely at that weak spot in our cultural commitment to liberty.