The U.N. has turned the concepts of freedom and tolerance on their heads by passing a resolution that:
"...provides international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws, and there are a number of people who are in prison today because they have been accused of committing blasphemy," said Bennett Graham, international program director with the Becket Fund, a think tank aimed at promoting religious liberty.
"Those arrests are made legitimate by the UN body's (effective) stamp of approval."
This turns the entire concept of freedom and tolerance on its head. Now tolerance means not allowing people to speak freely, and freedom of religion means not having anyone criticize your religion. While the issue is nonbinding, the trend of world attitude on this issue is troubling, and legally tenuous:
"Defamation carries a particular legal meaning and application in domestic systems that makes the term wholly unsuitable in the context of religions," says the U.S. government in a response on the issue to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"A defamatory statement . . . is more than just an offensive one. It is also a statement that is false."
The paper also points out the legal difficulty of even defining the term "defamation" since "one individual's sincere belief that his or her creed alone is the truth conflicts with another's sincerely held view of the truth."
Indeed, an even more basic problem with anti-defamation laws is determining what is and is not a religion. Since religious views are to a large degree faith-based and subjective, one could make up a religion on the fly. My religion could be to watch football on Sundays, and if you tell me that's stupid, then you defamed me. Not a real religion you say? What determines a real one from a fake one? In the world of faith religion occupies, what meaning do "real" and "fake" have anyway? The application of such rules result in de facto privileges for religions deemed "real", and tough noogies for everyone else. The Canadians got it right:
"From the human rights side of things, this is the opposite of what is supposed to be happening," said Becket's Graham. "Instead of protecting an individual, this resolution protects an idea, and relies on hurt feelings as a source of judgment. It can only lead to a jurisprudence of hurt feelings."
Canada says governments have abused laws against defamation or contempt of religions to "prosecute and imprison journalists, bloggers, academics students and peaceful political dissidents."
The Iranian parliament, for example, is currently weighing a draft amendment to its penal code that would impose capital punishment for apostasy.
But in an irony given Canada's stance, an anti-blasphemy law remains in the Criminal Code. Experts point out it has not been used for a prosecution in more than 70 years.
There's also consensus among opponents of the UN measure that people most likely to be targeted by anti-blasphemy laws are Muslims in Muslim countries.
"Pakistan has the (toughest) anti-blasphemy laws, and while they are certainly used against lots of minority religions, they are used mainly against Muslims," said Graham.
"They have been used to intimidate business partners, suppress any reformist ideas, jail people who discuss women's rights."
There is little more unique to America than the value we place on free speech. "I disagree with what you say, but will fight to defend your right to say it" is a value worth fighting for, and one that demands an uncompromising attitude. This is the threat Islam poses for America. It's not bombs we should fear, nor is it bombs we should fight with. It is the potential change in world culture that could occur if the hardliners get their way and enforce this form of Sharia on the world that we should fear. It is a war of ideas, we have the better ones, and we should unapologetically say so.
Nothing is beyond reproach, nothing is sacred. We will and should criticize Jesus, Mohammad, Moses, George Bush, Barack Obama, whenever we are inclined to, and to Hell with those who think otherwise. For too long bad ideas have gotten a pass from criticism in the marketplace of ideas. No longer.