One of the most important human rights is the freedom of expression. Not just because this is vital to human creativity. But because it is the only way we have of protecting our other rights – by identifying and exposing violations of human rights.
It is no accident that freedom of expression is one of the first things restricted by oppressive regimes – and even democratic governments when their leaders are criticised.
This is why the current clamour to limit the freedom of expression in the interests of “religious tolerance,” “multiculturalism” and “respect” is so insidious.
It’s not a matter of balancing the creative and artistic rights of Danish cartoonists, authors like Salmon Rushdie or Dutch film makers against the need for religious tolerance and respect. It’s a matter of sacrificing the human rights of women, gays and the non-religious which are regularly violated in the name of religion.
Requiring us to ignore persecution of fellow humans so that we don’t offend somebody’s religious feelings.
There is an unhealthy tendency for liberals and western governments to be hypersensitive to the possibilities of giving religious offence. A tendency to blame cartoonists and authors for the violent demonstrations against them. Even a tendency to blame Theo van Gogh and Geert Wilders for the violent opposition to the films Submission and Fitna.
Let’s not forget that Submission (written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali) reported on the abuse of Muslim women – Van Gogh was murdered. Wilders’ film Fitna shows how verses from the Qur’an are being used today to incite modern Muslims to behave violently and anti-democratically. He has received death threats.
Legislating against freedom of expression
Individuals, publishers, religious leaders and governments have succumbed to violent pressure. Unfortunately this willingness to restrict freedom of expression goes further than voluntary cowardice in the face of violent demonstrations.
A recent vote at the UN Human Rights Council reveals a concerted move by religious interests to formalise such restrictions into international law. This decision now requires anti-religious statements in individual countries to be reported. As Roy Brown says: “The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression will now be required to report on the “abuse” of this most cherished freedom [freedom of expression] by anyone who, for example, dares speak out against Sharia laws that require women to be stoned to death for adultery or young men to be hanged for being gay, or against the marriage of girls as young as nine, as in Iran.”
The decision (sponsored by Egypt and Pakistan, and supported by all Arab, Muslim and African countries) breaches article 19 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
I guess we will soon see otherwise democratic governments legislating similar restriction of freedom of expression.
This threat to freedom of expression also highlights the dangers of “interfaith” dialogue when this is based on the restriction or elimination of the human rights of others (see Interfaith dialogue to fight against human rights)
THE MUHAMMAD CARTOONS BLOGBURST
How the Islamic states dominate the UN Human Rights Council
Vote on freedom of expression marks the end of Universal Human Rights
Column One: Fear of democracy
Interfaith dialogue to fight against human rights
Freedom of expression and offence – religious or otherwise
From faith to reason
Ayaan Hirsi Ali to get EU protection
Limits to respect and toleration
The Trouble with Islam