Our Dual Standards
In early 2009 the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a non-binding resolution called the ‘Defamation of Religions’. This resolution was moved by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The main purpose of the resolution was to declare the desecration of religions especially Islam, a violation of human rights. The Islamic countries had taken this initiative after rising Islamophobia post 9/11 and the publication of derogatory cartoons in the Danish newspaper in 2005 which had stirred commotion throughout the Muslim world.
Several western countries objected to this resolution stating that it was aimed at the protection of ideas instead of the protection of individual right to practice religion which was the core of the international human rights law. In 2008, the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) had submitted a study to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights analyzing the legal viability of the proposed Defamation of Religions resolution.
ECLJ pointed out several legal and technical flaws. First, the follower of every religion believe his faith to be supreme and true hence, it is not possible in a country where one religion is in majority such as an Islamic country, to remain neutral towards other faiths. The study suggested that it is not for an international community to decide which faith is true and which is not and on that basis the international community should not be ‘in the business of the enforcer of religious laws or penalties’. The second objection was related to the freedom of expression. ECLJ concluded that by adopting principles precluding defamation of religion are in direct friction with the notion of freedom of speech, which is one of the fundamental human rights.
In 2009, at the occasion of the passage of resolution the Pakistani representative urged that a ‘delicate balance’ had to be reached for differentiating between freedom of speech and respect for religions. The irony of that statement could easily be observed in the fact that at home hate speech by the clergy, urging to kill Salman Taseer and Sherry Rehman is tolerated while on the other hand, Shahbaz Bhatti’s democratic right to engage his fellow parliamentarian and community members in the legal discourse about the possible reform of the law is judged as a crime.
The ECLJ study also stated that such restrictive laws create the atmosphere of violence. If we examine our history of the past three decades it becomes evident that the enactment of certain religious laws has only triggered division between Muslims and other minority groups in the country. Talking of blasphemy law it is hard to digest that people would risk engaging in any derogatory act despite having knowledge of the legal consequences; hence, the foul play cannot be ignored when such cases reach the courts. What’s even more mind-boggling is that the large number of victims had been Muslims at that time the blame falls upon the inter-sect disharmony and the misuse of law. Laws are generally enacted to quell the crime rate but blasphemy law unfortunately has only elevated the level of violence and sectarian/religious acrimony.
The introduction of resolutions like ‘Defamation of Religions’ would only count for judicial activism unless our government take concrete steps and ensure similar sort of measures at home. When we talk of religious defamation at the international level with Islam in mind, at home and in practice, it should also include all the Muslim sects plus Ahmadis and other religions such as Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism etc. This means that all the sects and religions should be respected and protected by law without any bias. If at home, one’s freedom of speech is playing with other person’s religious feelings than all should be prohibited from overstepping the line instead of only holding the minorities or the weaker class accountable for violation of freedom of speech. It’s not hard to fathom how the feelings of a devout minority hurt when the Muslim clergy rips his faith apart by his fiery hate speech. On the contrary, anything said even in defense by the minority could be labeled as blasphemous because in the Muslim majority country minority voices are rarely heeded. The sooner we understand the better that we can peacefully move together as a society only if we are ready to share the same rights.
In order to be taken seriously at the international forum, our country will have to shun dual standards and come clean in terms of human rights record otherwise aspiring to bring our faith under the folds of human rights protection will merely be a subject of ridicule.