APRIL 1, 2009 8:56PM

United Nations: Combating Defamation of Religion

Rate: 8 Flag

 

In November of 2008, the United Nations passed a measure titled Combating Defamation of Religions.  Is it possible to “defame” religion?  The term has very specific legal meanings, which are entirely inappropriate with regards to questioning religion.

Defamation:

·        communication to third parties of false statements about a person that injure the reputation of or deter others from associating with that person

·        a false accusation of an offense or a malicious misrepresentation of someone's words or actions 

·        Act of injuring another's reputation by any slanderous communication, written or oral; the wrong of maliciously injuring the good name of another; slander; detraction; calumny; aspersion.

Note: In modern usage, written defamation bears the title of libel, and oral defamation that of slander. --Burrill.

 

The act of defaming some-BODY or some-THING requires that the defamed entity can be proven to exist, or to be true, that it has been harmed by what has been said, and most importantly, that the defaming statement can be proven to be false.

Is this really a direction in which humanity should be heading?  Have we forgotten that Salman Rushdie has, for years, been in hiding because of religious fatwas that threatened his life, and actually probably still do, for merely writing a fictional book entitle The Satanic Verses? 

There is also the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali copyAyaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia and raised a devout Muslim. In 1992, Ayaan was married off by her father in a ceremony which she refused to attend. In order to escape this marriage, she fled to the Netherlands where she won asylum, and eventually citizenship. After earning a degree in political science at the University of Leiden, she served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament for three years.

She has since become an active critic of fundamentalist Islam, an advocate for women's rights and a leader in the campaign to reform Islam. Her willingness to speak out and her abandonment of the Muslim faith as currently defined have made her a target for violence and threats of death by Islamic extremists. (My emphasis)

Ms. Hirsi Ali was named one of TIME magazine's ''100 Most Influential People'' of 2005, one of Glamour Magazine's Heroes of 2005, and she received the Prix Simone de Beauvoir in 2008. She has published a collection of essays entitled The Caged Virgin (Free Press, 2006) and a best-selling memoir Infidel (Free Press, 2007). She is now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC.

In response to ongoing abuses of women's rights in the name of fundamentalist Islam, Mrs. Hirsi Ali and her supporters established the AHA Foundation

Through education, outreach and the dissemination of knowledge, the Foundation aims to combat several types of crimes against women, including female genital mutilation, forced marriages, honor violence, and honor killings.

 

Is it really in the best interests of humanity for an international peace-keeping organization such as the United Nations to issue measures in support of silencing intellectual examination of religious beliefs that support assassination of someone simply because they disapprove of, and question, religion?

It seems perhaps a measure denouncing such religions would better serve humanity. 

 

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Defamation of religion???
i saw Ms. Ali on PBS a while back, and she was a VERY impressive person.

this is a great post rick, and if you want to read something in a similar vein just posted a couple hours ago (synchronicity?) have a look at:

http://open.salon.com/blog/natalie_b/2009/04/01/islam_-_another_perspective
This U.N. thing seems terribly dangerous. Altogether too much already avoids criticism on the basis of being religion. And Islam uses this "don't blaspheme" too much already.
Thanks to all of you for your comments. I couldn't believe this when I first heard about a while back, but have been surprised that apparently so little attention has been paid to it.

This is precisely the kind of tip-toeing around religion that allows it to be such a toxic force in society. Instead of trying to squelch examination of religion, we should be encouraging such.
I am not a rabid athiest or hater of religion (nor do I follow any organized religion), but I don't believe you can injure an abstract collection of institutionalized beliefs. We should be skeptical and critical of religious institutions and true believers.

However, you can take it too far. Persecuting people for their beliefs is wrong. It is possible to defame religious people by spouting nonsense (for example, arguing that Jews are a separate species taught at an early age to eat Muslim babies), and such defamation should be strongly discouraged.

In a perfect world, we could have an open, civil forum to reason out the nonsensical slander from the legitimate criticism. Alas, in THIS world, people seem incapable of discussing their beliefs in a civil manner.

I agree that this U.N. measure is a big step in the wrong direction.
E.,

I think you are right. It is interesting, too, that your example is based on one religion against another.

You write, “Persecuting people for their beliefs is wrong.”

I think this measure enhances the likelihood of that happening.
Another example of the Left's multiculturalist, "Individual rights for us, group identity for them," racism. I read Ms. Ali's book in Iraq. Back home the human rights crowd reviled her as a tool of the neo-cons.
Yeah, Rick, you are probably right. Unfortunately.
Shmadoff,

I’m not clear on your meanings. Would you be willing to elucidate?

For instance, where do you see the “racism” to which you refer?

And, while I resent the neo-cons as much, if not more, than the next person, I am able to distinguish between their BS and the true activism of an ex-Muslim who recognizes the shortcomings of not only that particular religion, but of religion in general.

And where is “back home”?

I’m interested, if you’re willing to expound.
Religions are doing a pretty good job of defaming themselves. Priests molesting children, and church leaders covering it up -- that defames that religion. Excommunicating a 9-year-old rape victim and her mother for aborting her pregnancy, while permitting the stepfather who raped her to continue in that religion -- that defames that religion. Imams issuing a death sentence against someone for simply criticizing that religion, that defames that religion. Huckster priests speaking in tongues on TV and picking the pockets of the poor -- that defames that religion. Voting like a school of fish and blind obedience to the worst president in US history --that defames that religion.
Rick Lucke
April 02, 2009 01:50 AM

http://www.slate.com/id/2141276/

Please read this Rick.
Tom,

LOL! I wonder if any of the anti-blasphemy laws in other countries could ever be pressed against such religious organizations on the grounds you present here.



Shmadoff,

Thanks for the link; I read the article. Hitchens usually puts an interesting twist on things. I think I have a clearer picture of what you are saying. I’m still a little unclear about this statement on your part, though:

” Another example of the Left's multiculturalist, "Individual rights for us, group identity for them," racism.”

It’s late, and maybe I’m just too weary to get your point, there. I’m not seeing “the Left's multiculturalist, ‘Individual rights for us, group identity for them,’ racism”, to which you refer.

“Racism”?

Hitchens writes, “This is not the only example that I know of a supposedly liberal society collaborating in its own destruction …”

So, I see two points there; one is the use of the word “supposedly”, and the other is the suggestion (as I read it) that Liberals (even in the U.S., perhaps?) are collaborating in their own destruction through allowing this sort of right-wing fundamentalist religiosity to flourish.

I, for one, consistently find myself wishing the "Left" here in America would get a little tougher in dealing with the rightie-fundies here, too.
I'm a little late getting to this but am always grateful to you for your willingness to post articles about religion.

I will state that there can be defamation towards religion - when and only when someone is spurting an absolute falsehood. For example, being raised Jewish in Texas, I often would hear things along the lines of "Jews use the blood of Gentiles in their matzos" or "Jews run the world", ad naseum. Later living in Denver, there had been a spate of cat-killings and instantly the media started saying that it was due to the Pagans in the area (turned out to be Coyotes).

Are these not examples of defamation of religion? Ever research "blood libel against the Jews"?

To quote you: The act of defaming some-BODY or some-THING requires that the defamed entity can be proven to exist, or to be true, that it has been harmed by what has been said, and most importantly, that the defaming statement can be proven to be false.

People get killed because of the examples I gave above. You nor I may prove that a person's religion is real but this in no way means that people who practice those religions do not exist and that these same people can be harmed when people believe these otherwise false statements. We may not believe in a Jewish God but this does not mean that Jews do not exist. Defamation against them is old as that religion.

I have tremendous respect for Ayaan Hirsi Ali (remember, it was her film, "Submission" which led to the murder of Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh by a radical Muslim). I greatly support her work towards women's rights in Islam and sincerely appreciate her vocalizing her experiences and working to right injustices.

So.... is the UN stating that she is defaming Islam? Is this the claim you or the UN is making or are they accurately defining defamation by the way you had stated and are working at preventing future atrocities by admitting that real harm can be done when hate-mongers spout vile nonsense? As we saw with the shooting at the Unitarian church in Tennessee, words carry weight.

Sorry, I had initially rated your post but took back that point. You have not determined what the UN considers "defamation" nor any other reason for the UN's action other than a need to make a point against the absurdity and evil of religion. It appears you are using this argument to build a straw man in order to lobby an attack against religion, which is a pity. This was not objective nor did you consider any other possibilities for the UN's statement before you weighed in. I normally love your posts regarding religion. This didn't do justice to your other pieces.

Please don't hate me for my 2 cents.
-- RL
RL,

I’m pleased that you take a regular interest in my posts. I hope you will continue to do so. Also, rest easy that I welcome the kind of input you have contributed at this point. Also, because your comment raises a number of issues, I will attempt to address them all, and if, in so doing, anything I write presents as abrasive or insulting, I don’t intend to insult, but you’ve opened a number of worm cans regarding this issue, and due to that fact, combined with my lack of time today, my editing may not be as politically correct as we might like, but I try.
;~)

I think you have misinterpreted, here, though. The particular wording of the United Nations measure is dangerously misleading, and will undoubtedly lead to much confusion, and confusion rarely leads to resolution of issues. The wording of the measure creates potential for an avalanche, not a mere slippery slope, of misinterpretation and misguided thinking in general.

I will try to clarify why this is so. There is also a good article here that might be helpful. You should read it.

Here are some excerpts from that article regarding the problems with this U.N. measure:

"It provides international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws, and there are a number of people who are in prison today because they have been accused of committing blasphemy," said Bennett Graham, international program director with the Becket Fund, a think tank aimed at promoting religious liberty.

"Those arrests are made legitimate by the UN body's (effective) stamp of approval."

Passage of the resolution is part of a 10-year action plan the 57-state Organization of Islamic Conference launched in 2005 to ensure "renaissance" of the "Muslim Ummah" or community.

[…]

Canada and other Western countries emphasize the distinction between granting an "idea" rights - and defending the right of people not to be discriminated against.



And just in case you have not done so, already, follow the other links in my post.


You write, “I will state that there can be defamation towards religion - when and only when someone is spurting an absolute falsehood. For example, being raised Jewish in Texas, I often would hear things along the lines of "Jews use the blood of Gentiles in their matzos" or "Jews run the world", ad naseum.”

Then you add, “Are these not examples of defamation of religion?”

The short answer to your question is “No, they are not examples of defamation of religion. They are examples of hatred and bigotry against people, which is based in ignorance, and a lack of the very kind of questioning of beliefs I am defending here, a questioning which the U.N. measure tends to jeopardize.”

In your examples above, it is not a religion that is defamed, but the people to whom the speakers refer. Religion represents a belief system, not people, and one of the problems with religion is that, as a belief system, it too often leads people to precisely the kind of ignorance and unquestioned “faith” to which I refer. People may or may not believe a religion, and their belief or disbelief should not affect their treatment from others, but it is the protection of an idea that is at issue here, not protection of people. To say that anyone might “use the blood of Gentiles in their matzos” might defame that person if you can prove the statement to be false, most especially if the person is demonstrably injured by the falsehood. But there isn’t an idea that is being attacked in that particular defamation; it is a person that is being attacked by accusation of particular behaviors, not of particular beliefs.

(It might also be instructive to note that your particular examples demonstrate behaviors of an adherent of one religious brand against an adherent of another brand. Are you committing defamation of a religion with your view? Are you committing blasphemy? Of course not; you are condemning a specific biased behavior.)

You suggest that I am setting up a “straw man argument”; I feel compelled to point out that it is actually your own argument that more closely fits that category of fallacy.

Your examples do not represent “defamation of religion”, but rather “hatred of people”, thus you have not addressed my point, but rather a different point that I was not making and which you have equated with my point; that is the essence of a “straw man argument”. I don’t accuse you of doing this with malice or intent, but I think you have misunderstood my point in this post. The misunderstanding stems from confusing bigotry against people with defamation of an idea.

This is the major distinction in our discussion; “defamation of an idea” versus “hatred of and bias against people”. In your examples, people are being categorized, and misrepresentations being told about them; it is essentially the same as bias against any singled-out group of people, regardless of the particular label used to categorize them.

To further illustrate this point, consider that within a single religion, you can have different groups, such as fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists. Those two groups have differing ideas about their religion, about their beliefs; is one defaming the other?

Bias against a group of people is wrong, but it does not defame an idea or a belief. Bias is, in fact, a belief, itself; should we not be allowed to question its validity? The idea that disagreeing with and/or questioning a religion can be considered “defamation” opens the door to all kinds of oppression, censorship, and tyrannical abuse of people.



Moving forward, now, in order to defame an actual religion, one must be able to make a claim that is demonstrably false regarding the ideas of a given religion. The only way one can do that is to prove that the claims made within the religion are true, which, of course, cannot be accomplished. And then, beyond that, one must be able to prove that what has been said/written to supposedly “defame” the idea, has done harm to the religion (the idea), which, of course, also cannot be proven.



On a more philosophical level, do you not see the double-standard inferred through this United Nations measure?

You ask about the motivation behind the U.N.’s measure; it is primarily sponsored and supported by Islamic fundamentalists within that organization. (See the article excerpts and links)

On one hand we have a religion that issues death warrants against people for writing works of fiction, or drawing cartoons, or speaking out against oppression and abuse of other human beings, and on the other hand that same religion (belief system) is deemed worthy of protection from those who would question its beliefs and more importantly its promoted behaviors within society, and from those upon whom it imposes death warrants.

A perfect example is the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for whom, and for whose work, you profess to “have tremendous respect”. You also write that you “…greatly support her work towards women's rights in Islam and sincerely appreciate her vocalizing her experiences and working to right injustices.” Well, it is precisely her work and that of others like her against whom the approach espoused in this U.N. measure would most likely have a negative effect, which is precisely my point in this post.

I’m short on time and this could go on and on, so I’ll stop here, but I hope this has clarified this issue further for you. If you have more input, please, input it.
;~)
This is so typical of the world today. All the pussy-footing around religious beliefs is ludicrous. As you point out, it's also directly harmful to those brave enough to stand up and point out the Emperor's lack of clothes.

Given this, should the recent laws against women's rights in Afghanistan, with a religious pretext, really surprise us?
Hi, erika,

Yes, it seems that any and every other “idea” on the planet is open to criticism, even many good ideas, but woe is he who questions the seriously flawed nature of religion.

You ask, “Given this, should the recent laws against women's rights in Afghanistan, with a religious pretext, really surprise us?”

I have to answer, “No” to that question, and point out that laws, or in this case, “measures” (non-binging, at least), against reason should not surprise us, either. Something’s gotta give …
Thanks for bringing this up Rick!

If speaking out against human rights violations is considered a form of religious defamation, someone has truly been blinded by the light. That being said, many religions still treat women as second class citizens. What's really needed here is separation of church and state. The UN has lot more pressing issues to deal with. Why not leave this one for the religious leaders.
Phaedo and Spin Doc, thanks for the comments.

Paedo,

You’re certainly right about “organized religion plus stupid, plus law, plus anger, really bad combination”. You’re probable right about not denouncing, too, but this kind of measure is definitely not a good move.

Spin Doc,

You write, “What's really needed here is separation of church and state. The UN has lot more pressing issues to deal with.”

I could not agree more. I thought this was so strange when I first heard about it that I had to go find the actual document online. It’s for real.
Ah, now I remember it was this post I stumbled upon that I liked.

I do agree with you here. But I don't necessarily favorite people because we agree.

I hope people like to have their brains tweaked and re-think things.

That's why you were made a favorite.

Thanks for the insight here...
Jay,

Thanks for taking time to comment.

You write, “But I don't necessarily favorite people because we agree. I hope people like to have their brains tweaked and re-think things.”

I agree with both points. Sometimes I have made someone a favorite simply because of the specific manner in which we disagree.

Carry on …
I think a young man in Afghanistan was jailed for blasphemy very recently.
Seems like this would be a cover for it.
I like the discussion though, how do you separate speech from violence?
Hi, ali,

Thanks for the comment. You ask, “…how do you separate speech from violence?”

I’m not quite clear on your meaning, but my immediate thought is that you separate speech from violence by considering the respective results of each.