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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Religions don’t need UN protection

    Last Thursday, the UN Human Rights Council took another step on the path to insanity by passing a resolution that urges UN member nations to pass laws criminalizing the criticism of religion, specifically Islam.

    It hardly needs to be said that such a resolution is wholly incompatible with free speech and democracy. As Canadian diplomat Terry Cormier said, “”It is individuals who have rights and not religions.”” Luckily, the resolution, like most UN resolutions, has about as many teeth as its representatives do vertebrae – that is to say, none at all.

    One has to wonder why an abstract idea is in need of protection. The simplest (but not necessarily correct) explanation is that this is merely another incarnation of Muslim disrespect for free speech, as was displayed in the furor over the 2005 Jyllands-Posten cartoons which featured drawings of the prophet Muhammad. It should be obvious that resolutions encouraging the prohibition of speech which others unjustifiably view as “”hateful”” or “”offensive”” are toxic in nature.

    But Muslim UN representatives, as well as the framers of the resolution, tried to portray the need for protection of religion in a different light by noting that Islam has become associated with the work of a small number of extremists, including Muslim terrorists. To protect the Muslim world from undue harm and association with evil, Islam should be beyond reproach.

    This, too, is silly at best and poisonous at worst. No idea is immune to valid criticism; no idea deserves protection from it; and no idea is better served by attempting to stifle it.

    Much of the criticism leveled at the Muslim world is valid, as some Muslim states have slid further into insanity in the last few months. Afghani President Hamid Karzai has given a great deal of unnecessary legitimacy to the Taliban, even endorsing laws which would allow the Taliban’s brand of sharia law to be implemented in Afghanistan – including a recent law which, women’s rights groups argue, effectively legalizes rape. And Amnesty International reports that several homosexuals in Iraq are currently sentenced to death for their sexual orientation, not to mention the treatment homosexuals in Iran.But what has also been troubling is the Western response to the resolution.

    Strong reactions to this resolution have come from Christian conservatives who argue that Islam is a hateful religion that is incompatible with democracy and freedom; the problem is Islam itself, not merely a few Muslims. Even Slate columnist Chris Hitchens, a liberal atheist (albeit one who supported the Iraq War), lamented this resolution and labeled it as just another piece of evidence that something is incorrigibly wrong with Islam.

    Never mind that Islam is as diverse as the people who practice it. Statements like “”Islam says”” or “”according to Islam”” are incorrect. Islam, as a religion, cannot “”say”” or “”do”” anything; it is individuals who say and do things, not religions.

    Never mind that the Bible contains passages which are just as ugly as hateful verses in the Qur’an. True, some Qur’anic and Hadith passages can be interpreted to advocate the killing of apostates, the oppression of women, and the slaughtering of nonbelievers. But the Bible also contains passages endorsing the killing of miscreants like homosexuals and adulterers, and the Torah is replete with stories reveling in slaughter, including slaying innocents and taking women as sex slaves. If your response to this is that I’m misinterpreting the Bible, you may be correct – but I’m sure most Muslims would likewise suggest that Westerners are misinterpreting the Qur’an.

    Never mind that, for every Muslim leader who does or says something repulsive, some Christian has matched it. Christopher Columbus, a Catholic, saw little wrong with enslaving and murdering the Haitian Awaraks; Martin Luther, a Protestant, described the Jews as a “”base, whoring people”” and stated that they are full of “”the devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine.”” (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, eat your heart out.)

    At various points in history, the global human rights situation has been reversed; some medieval Islamic caliphates supported religious pluralism, democracy, free speech, public health and science, whereas some Christian colonies and European kingdoms suppressed all of these things.

    Indeed, blanket labeling of an entire religion as though it’s somehow especially conducive to terrorism, oppression and hatred is exactly what Muslim UN representatives have tried (albeit very poorly) to prevent. And it’s arguably one of the main reasons why the United States continues to support a foreign policy that is outright derisive toward many Muslim countries, including Palestine. Rhetoric stating that Islam itself is the problem prevails among far-right thinkers; it’s no wonder some Muslim leaders are deluded into thinking that protecting Islam from attacks is a good idea.

    The Muslim world would do well to have several more leaders like Atatürk, a devout Muslim who managed to frame his opposition to theocracy in terms of elevating Islam to a supreme status by divorcing it from politics, as well as progressive leaders of other stripes. And it would do well to have Western allies who favor modernizing Muslim countries rather than pushing them into extremism by antagonizing them.

    But what Muslims don’t need are feeble UN resolutions claiming to “”protect”” Islam. Such acts are steps down a road paved with good intentions.

    -ÿTaylor Kessinger is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, math, and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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