Friday Ephemera

Flattery & Lies

What’s the term I’m looking for? Vanity? Hubris? Ah, yes. Pathological denial

Concerned about what they see as a rise in the defamation of Islam, leaders of the world’s Muslim nations are considering taking legal action against those that slight their religion or its sacred symbols. It was a key issue during a two-day summit that ended Friday in this western Africa capital. The Muslim leaders are attempting to demand redress from nations like Denmark, which allowed the publication of cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad in 2006 and again last month, to the fury of the Muslim world.

Though the legal measures being considered have not been spelled out, the idea pits many Muslims against principles of freedom of speech enshrined in the constitutions of numerous Western governments. “I don’t think freedom of expression should mean freedom from blasphemy,” said Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, the chairman of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference. “There can be no freedom without limits.”

The report urges the creation of a “legal instrument” to crack down on defamation of Islam… “In our relation with the western world, we are going through a difficult time,” [OIC secretary general, Ekmeleddin] Ihsanoglu told the summit’s general assembly. “Islamophobia cannot be dealt with only through cultural activities but (through) a robust political engagement.”…A new charter drafted by the OIC commits the Muslim body “to protect and defend the true image of Islam” and “to combat the defamation of Islam.”

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference seems to imagine that self-esteem is a default entitlement and that “defamation” should also extend to matters of inconvenient fact; and thus believers – or rather Muslims - have some fictional right not to be criticised or mocked for publicly airing absurd and objectionable beliefs:

The OIC - backed by allies in Africa and by Russia and Cuba - has been pushing for stronger resolutions on “defamation” since a global controversy arose two years ago over cartoons in a Danish newspaper which Muslims say insult their religion. The “defamation” issue has become especially sensitive this year as the U.N. prepares to celebrate in the autumn the 50th anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration, long seen as the bedrock of international human rights law and practice.

That would be the declaration originally intended to protect against the most appalling acts of discrimination - many of which are, of course, still affirmed and perpetuated by orthodox Islamic jurisprudence. But perhaps we should peel away the rhetoric of victimhood, used so indecently, and look at what’s actually being demanded here: A right not to hear that one is being irrational, dishonest or mortifyingly stupid, regardless of just how irrational, dishonest or mortifyingly stupid one actually is. That’s a license of no small magnitude, and one that a person of good faith would neither grant nor desire. It’s one thing for a Muslim to perform whatever mental contortions are required to add the honorific “peace be upon him” to the name of a vain and murderous Bedouin who claimed to talk with God while beheading hundreds of his victims; but to enshrine that pathological dishonesty in international law would be intellectual vandalism on a jaw-dropping scale. 

Mecca_beckons_3Speaking at the OIC, Indonesia’s President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, mustered the chutzpah to announce, entirely without irony, that “Islam has unjustly been associated with violence.” But events in India, China, the Czech Republic, Afghanistan, Germany, Britain - and, of course, the president’s own country - tell a rather different story. And the supremacist imperatives within Islamic theology, to which jihadists worldwide appeal, are, for many, a matter of religious duty, not some invention of infidels. The association of Islam with intolerance, racism and violence is impressed on the public consciousness first and foremost by those Muslims who, on an all but daily basis, behave in monstrous ways and warp the minds of children in the name of their religion. If the OIC devoted similar indignation and resources to inhibiting the perpetrators of such acts and denouncing what they do, maybe Islam’s public image would be more flattering than it is.


As I hope the above makes clear, the perversity on display in Dakar is remarkable, if not surprising. Like so many Islamic organisations, the OIC expends much more effort denouncing those who criticise aspects of Islam than it does denouncing those who commit atrocities in Islam’s name. If Muslim groups wish to repair Islam’s public image, to whatever extent it can be repaired, their efforts should be directed at the root of the problem, not at those who dare to point out that a problem exists.

Of the many strange ideas aired at the OIC, one of the strangest is the claim that freedom of religion means the right to have one’s beliefs, and thus one’s vanity, flattered at every turn. This is a novel interpretation, to say the least, and just a tad self-serving. But freedom of religion necessarily entails freedom from religion and the freedom to change one’s mind. Islam is, of course, uniquely barbarous in this regard, and most forms of Sharia mandate punishment, and often death, for those who wish to upgrade to a better faith, or indeed to none at all. For any speaker at the OIC to grumble about how Islam is perceived without first addressing the issue of apostasy and its punishment, and the issue of jihad and the dhimma, and sacralised racism, and blasphemy and censorship, and about a dozen other issues, is inexcusable moral flatulence.

As I wrote in one of my first posts,

Religious freedom is presumed to entail sparing believers any hint that others do not share their beliefs, and indeed may find them ludicrous. There is, apparently, no corresponding obligation for believers to embrace ideas that are not clearly risible, monstrous or disgusting.

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