UN fails to protect free speech

The UN has adopted resolution 16/18, effectively abandoning free speech, the most vital of all human rights. At first glance the resolution appears to be decent with the intention to combat “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief.” The problem mainly stems from the last end of that list, combating “incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief,” especially when you consider that the source of the resolution is the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The OIC is meant to represent the Muslim world, a world whose goals have almost consistently run contrary to human rights and who has a history of violence against critics. It will be fine to restrict speech that explicitly calls for violence against a group of people but you cannot restrict speech because someone might react violently to what is said. This is a particular problem with the Islamic world where even the most innocuous statements, even in non-Muslim countries can lead to violent retaliations from the Muslim community.

For example, in the UK an imam faced death threats and was expelled from his mosque of 25 years for saying that he supported evolution and a woman’s right to refuse her veil. This UN resolution is saying that that imam should be criminally charged (UN: “[Adopt] measures to criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief”) for expressing support for a scientific fact because some Muslims reacted violently. Still in the UK Muslim students are also walking out of classes at medical school when the subject of Darwin is brought up. Thankfully there was no violence but it happened at the mosque and it would be stupid to believe it could not happen at a university and foolish to hold the teacher responsible for that violence.

Abigail Esman points out this has implications for terrorism as well. If al-Qaeda launched a terrorist attack due to some perceived slight to Islam the UN is practically offering them a justification because we shouldn’t have said something to incite them to violence. This is just not acceptable.

Incitement to violence is too broad a concept to have any meaning when drawing a comic of Jesus is widely accepted, even by most Christians, in the West but drawing a comic of Mohammed is sufficient to start off world-wide violence. You cannot say beforehand what will incite someone to violence and even if they are incited to violence there is no reason to suppose that that violence was justified. Indeed it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine any scenario where a person’s violent reaction to someone else’s speech is a justifiable reaction and no reason why the rest of the world should capitulate to such a belligerent person.

We can not restrict expression to appease those who threaten violence. We must stand against violence and support human rights for everyone. Faith cannot stand unquestioned and in this case it’s not just merely standing unquestioned but demanding that no one say anything to which they could take offence.


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