The Cartoonphobia War Goes On

Will it soon be illegal to criticize Islam?

On July 15th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on freedom of expression at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s meeting on Combating Religious Intolerance. The religious intolerance in the title is not practiced by Muslims against Christians in Pakistan, Egypt and Malaysia, of course, but that of Muslims being offended by cartoons of a bearded man wielding a sword.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary General of the OIC, had previously said that the Mohammed cartoons were the Muslim world’s version of September 11 and called for punitive action against cartoonist Lars Vilks.

Human Rights Council draft resolution (A/HRC/4/L.12) actually demanded that states prohibit the dissemination of xenophobic ideas aimed at any religion.  If taken literally this would lead to a ban on the Koran. Their aim however was not the Koran, but the cartoon.

Now Hillary Clinton is racking up a victory for supposedly getting the OIC to back off its war against freedom of expression. In remarks at the Center for Islamic Arts and History, she thanked the OIC for getting behind Resolution 1618, which stops short of asking states to criminalize dissent against Islam, but does implicitly express support for criminalizing attacks on the Burqa (6b) and profiling (6d) and blurs the lines between illegal violence and legal hostility (3).

This blurring of the lines has been at the heart of the OIC’s campaign. The term Islamophobia is meant to conflate criticism of Islam with violence against Muslims. With the long term aim of banning both.

“We cannot and must not ignore the implications of hate speech and incitement of discrimination and violence.” Ihsanoglu’s statement at the meeting followed that same track. And Resolution 1618 follows a slower course to the same destination.

For the OIC and Ihsanoglu, Resolution 1618 is not an end point, but  the beginning of a process of “sustained and structured engagement” meant to yield policy options. Those policy options will drop a heavy curtain over freedom of expression.

By linking satirical cartoons, law enforcement profiling, critical articles and violent attacks and by classifying them all as Islamophobia, and convincing nations to tackle them together under the category of hate crimes and discrimination, the assault on freedom of expression will be indirect and at the same time extremely effective. Just follow the “implications”.

In her remarks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of, “the false divide that pits religious sensitivities against freedom of expression.” But there is nothing false about that divide to the OIC, whose position has always been that freedom of expression cannot take precedence over religious values. If the divide were actually false, the issue would never have come up to begin with.

The OIC’s own Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam states in Article 22 that, “Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari’ah.” It concedes that information is important, but warns that it may not be used to undermine the “dignity of Prophets” or weaken the faith.

Is the OIC about to retract or modify that declaration as a result of Hillary Clinton’s visit? Obviously not. She didn’t  change its agenda or its emphasis on the supremacy of Islamic law. But then the point of the process is not to bring the OIC into line with Western norms, but to bring the West in line with Islamic norms.

In March, Ihsanoglu had addressed the Human Rights Council with a call to establish “an Observatory at the Office of the High Commissioner to monitor acts of defamation of all religions… as a first step toward concerted action at the international level.” This “Observatory” would be an echo of the Saudi based Islamophobia Observatory of the OIC. And the “concerted action at the international level” would slowly push states to criminalize those hated cartoons in the name of combating Islamophobia.

As her alternative to Sharia’s judicial punishments, Clinton suggested, “old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor.” And so we go from Cass Sunstein’s nudges to Hillary Clinton’s public shaming. How many more stages will it be till the train pulls into the beheading station?

Is it now the job of the state to ridicule dissenters from a religious practice? According to Clinton that would seem to be the case. And the media has been operating that way for some time now. But in the Muslim world, public shaming usually means something more serious than being mocked by a blowdried talking head on CNN or a Slate editor. And they’re not about to accept sneering pieces in the New York Times as a substitute for lashes or an execution.

Once we have accepted the idea that the government should be penalizing certain ideas in some way, then it’s a slippery slope from promoting “peer pressure and shaming” against dissenters, to turning to more active measures, some of which are already in place in Europe.

The OIC is presenting its consensus mechanisms as the reasonable alternative to the fanatics who will riot and kill over any offense, real or imagined. But that’s blackmail dressed up in a diplomatic tuxedo; freedoms passed around and given up as political protection money. And Ihsanoglu has never hesitated to point out that the alternative to doing business with the OIC is more violence and terrorism.

But is Ihsanoglu, who has embraced terrorists, really a peaceful alternative or another side of the same bloody coin? And is his agenda any different than that of the rioters and the terrorists. The violence is what gives the OIC its leverage to impose its demands on the free world. And giving in to those demands would mean an unprecedented assault on the United States Constitution until eventually it would come to resemble the Cairo Declaration with only those rights permitted by Sharia law still left standing.

That is the essence of the conflict. The Cairo Declaration states that all human beings are “united by their subordination to Allah”. We do not believe that, and it this makes us infidels in their eyes. This forms an irreconcilable gulf of premises and theories of governments. Our government is premised on individual rights, theirs on the obligation of all human beings to follow the Sharia. Our system is bottom up. Theirs is top down. Our system vests its final authority in the people. Theirs in the clerics.

Our highest value is also the basis for our system of government. So is their highest value. But our highest value allows us to live and let live. Theirs does not. Our system is based on freedoms, theirs on the theocratic tyranny of a slave empire.

Tyranny is upheld by its assertion. So is freedom.  By asserting the freedom to think, the freedom to create and the freedom to believe, we can push back against the OIC and its agenda of theocratic tyranny.