It Started Monday December 12th of this week in Washington, DC, a meeting was held that jeopardizes freedom of speech as we currently understand it in the United States.
The Obama Administration has invited the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation ("OIC," formerly, The Organization of the Islamic Conference) to a meeting of "experts" to discuss the implementation of (SHARIAH LAW) a UN resolution ostensibly targeting "religious intolerance.
Now, even if by combating "religious intolerance" the resolution were just targeting actual violations of freedom of religion it still should raise a few eyebrows that the OIC is behind the resolution and was invited as a partner to these meetings.
The Jeddah-based OIC includes as its members such "champions" of human rights and religious freedom and tolerance as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and Iran, But the catch is that the resolution isn't about protecting freedom of religion. It's more about limiting freedom of speech and expression of Americans.
In August 2011, the International Islamic News Agency (IINA), a news organ of the OIC, reported that Washington would host a meeting "to discuss" with the OIC "how to implement the shariah compliant resolution # 16/18 on combating defamation of religions and that the aim of this and further meetings was "developing a legal basis" for domestic and international laws "preventing inciting hatred resulting from the continued defamation of religions.
To be clear, the organization the Obama Administration invited to Washington still seems to think this resolution is about effectuating the anti-free speech concept, "defamation of religions." That is a major problem. Worse yet, by playing the name-game at the UN's HRC, the OIC has won several major victories for itself: praise by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; an excellent piece of propaganda for its constituency, regarding the "West's" and specifically the US's apparent buy-in; a seat at the table in DC; and a foot-in-the door toward implementing shariah compliant speech restrictions via "hate speech" provisions.
This latter part, with the exception of "against individuals," tracks ICCPR Article 20 and is similar in wording to various "hate speech" provisions adopted throughout Europe. Article 20 raised sufficient speech-related concerns that the US only signed onto the ICCPR with an explicit reservations clause to that article! Resolution 16/18 also "urges States to take effective measures as set forth in the present resolution, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat such incidents." In short, it is a call to action for states to take steps to curtail certain kinds of expressive acts. What steps, if any, does the Obama Administration think the US should to take in response to the resolution's call to limit expression? That remains to be seen.
But how can we expect our less speech-protective allies to resist the latest effort, if the US does not? And worse, how can we expect our allies to resist if it appears the US has bought into the idea that at least some of the OIC's speech-restrictive demands are legitimate? It seems the Obama Administration has bought in .
You need to protect one to fully protect the other. But, freedom of expression and so-called religious "sensitivities" (hurt feelings, offense, and the like), on the other hand, are often at odds unless you limit expression. Historically, it has been the OIC's position that setting limits on speech and expression is necessary and appropriate to protect religious sensitivities. Is that now the Obama Administration's position? In the same speech, Secretary Clinton offered plans to advance the resolution's goals, which include "counter[ing] offensive expression." One approach Clinton says "we" plan to employ is "us[ing] some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don't feel that they have the support to do what we abhor."
It would be a terrible mistake for the United States to take any guidance or input from the OIC on setting—legally, culturally, or otherwise—the acceptable boundaries of freedom of expression here. So open and so notorious has been the OIC's campaign to impose limitations on speech in the West, that the upcoming meeting cannot credibly pass muster under the guise of diplomacy. Complicity seems a more appropriate term. If that is not the Obama Administration's position, it should take immediate steps to clarify its policy and to express its commitment to preserving our fundamental and constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech.