A 12-year campaign by Islamic countries to have religion protected from “defamation” via a series of United Nations resolutions finally came off the rails yesterday when Western countries and their Latin American allies – strong opponents of the defamation concept – joined Muslim and African states in backing a new approach that switches the focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.
Since 1998, the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) had won majority approval in the UN Human Rights Council and at the United Nations General Assembly for a series of resolutions to “combat defamation of religion”.
But critics said the concept ran against international law and free speech, and left the way open for draconian blasphemy laws like those in Pakistan.
They argued that it also allowed states where one religion predominates to keep religious minorities under tight control or even leave them open to forced conversion or oppression.
However, Pakistan, which speaks for the OIC in the rights council, had argued that such protection against defamation was essential to defend Islam, and other religions, against criticism that caused offence to ordinary believers.
Pakistan’s stance had very little support from other countries.
A study conducted in 2009 showed that majorities in 13 of 20 nations polled around the world supported the right to criticise a religion.
Support for the right to criticise religion was strongest in the United States, at 89 percent. Chile was next with 82 percent support, followed by Mexico (81 percent), Britain (81 percent), Germany (76 percent), Poland (68 percent), Azerbaijan (67 percent), France (66 percent), Russia (61 percent), South Korea (59 percent), Turkey (54 percent), Kenya (54 percent), and Ukraine (53 percent).
In addition, 68 percent of Taiwanese and 81 percent in Hong Kong believed that criticism of religion should be a right.