Monday, March 30, 2009

Freedom of speech, or the right not to be offended?

The United Nations' Human Rights Council (the indistinguishable and undistinguished successor to the discredited Human Rights Commission) has excelled itself [see this article]. That august body of the UN approved a resolution which calls for limits on what they called "defamation" of religions, especially Islam. To illustrate the sort of defamation they had in mind, the resolution mentions associations with terrorism or human rights abuses, which it describes as unfair.

It may be argued that such linkages are unfair - correlation does not necessarily imply causation, after all, and human rights abuses and terrorism are not uniquely Islamic. But to seek to ban such discussions would be to play into the hands of two dangerous,yet opposed, groups. It would give comfort to extremists within Islam who believe precisely that their faith requires militant terrorism; they would now have the spurious authority of the UN when they label any critique of their ideas a defamation of Islam. And it would make martyrs of those who see every Muslim as a Bin Laden in waiting.

Worse, this proposal rests on an utterly misguided notion - that organisations and belief systems have "human rights" which trump the rights of actual people. They do not.

Fortunately or unfortunately (you decide) it's about the tenth time the UN has done something like this, so it's not likely to become law any time soon - except perhaps in states where human rights are already pretty much a lost cause.

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