Three posts at Volokh (see them all on one page here) have highlighted an extraordinarily dangerous movement toward the adoption of laws, both national and international, against “defamation of religion.” Volokh points to two articles, one by a Muslim law professor named Liaquat Ali Khan and one by a Jewish professor of political science named Robert Freedman, arguing for such laws. And as the former article points out, the UN General Assembly has voted two years in a row to call on member states to adopt laws prohibiting any speech that defames a religion. This is an incredibly dangerous idea. Ali Khan writes:
The General Assembly resolutions may contain soft international law. With the passage of time and compliant state behavior, some resolutions pave the way for the formation of a multilateral treaty or customary international law. In almost all cases, these resolutions reflect the international community’s views, which cannot be dismissed as mere opinions.
No, I would not dismiss those votes as mere opinions; I’d dismiss them as insanely wrong opinions and I categorically reject it. Want to hear something even crazier? Look at the patterns of who voted for the resolution and who didn’t:
Supportive States: In 2005, 101 states voted for the Defamation Resolution. In 2006, the Resolution gained ten more states, bringing the total to 111. All Middle Eastern states except Israel, an overwhelming majority of states from Asia, Africa, and South America voted for the Resolution. Russia and China, the two permanent members of the UN Security Council also voted for the Resolution.
All middle eastern states except Israel voted for the resolution? Can that be serious? We’re going to ask the opinion of Saudi Arabia, where schools routinely teach that Jews and Christians are pigs worthy of death, whether we should pass a law forbidding the defamation of religion? We’re going to ask nations full of people who burn down synagogues over cartoons drawn halfway around the world and who believe that someone who converts from Islam to Christianity should be put to death whether religions can be criticized? We’re supposed to care what China, a nation that has all but destroyed Tibetan Buddhism and routinely locks up and tortures Christians and Muslims, thinks about our laws on religious freedom?
Have we passed through the mirror into some sort of bizarro world? The fact that a Jewish professor actually supports such legislation suggests that we have. Freedman writes of the Danish cartoon controversy::
As a result of the crisis, lives were lost, embassies were attacked in the Muslim world, the loyalty of Muslims living in Europe was put into question, and the image of Islam in the West as a violent religion was reinforced, thus increasing the possibility of the “clash of civilizations” desired by Islamic radicals such as Osama bin Laden.
Prof. Freedman, with all due respect, what the Danish cartoon controversy demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that this is a clash of civilizations. It’s a clash between those who believe that they have the right to kill those who criticize their religion and those who believe that we all have the right to question any idea, even those ideas other people are willing to kill over; indeed that believes that those ideas people are willing to kill over are the ideas that must be questioned and criticized the most.
This is a clash between modern conceptions of liberty and equality and a barbaric medieval philosophy that seeks the destruction of every achievement gained since the Enlightenment. If the image of Islam as a violent religion was reinforced, there is a very good reason for that: because they reacted by firebombing embassies and calling for the extermination of those who dared to insult them. And rather that telling such nuts that we will not bow to their thuggery, Freedman suggests that we bow to them:
In order to rectify the situation, and to prevent a future crisis of this type from erupting, what is needed is a “code of conduct” for the newspapers and other media in both the Western and Muslim worlds. All governments must agree that the negative depiction of religion is “out of bounds,” and penalties should be imposed on those who violate the code of conduct.
The problem, of course, is to determine the difference between legitimate criticism of someone who acts in the name of a religion, and the negative depiction of that religion.
To solve that problem, I propose the creation of an International Religious Court, composed of Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergymen with one clergyman representing each of the three religions. Anyone feeling that his or her religion was insulted could appeal to the International Religious Court for a ruling on the matter, and the court would then determine whether a penalty should be invoked. It would be the responsibility of the government on whose territory the action took place to impose the penalty.
Given the sheer insanity of this position, “no” is hardly a strong enough answer. Try hell no. Try fuck no. Try “over my dead body.” Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.