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“No one has the right to insult another for their beliefs or to incite hatred and prejudice” and “freedom of expression has to be exercised with responsibility.”…
OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu
WASHINGTON (BP- Nina Shea)
â€” An unprecedented collaboration between the Obama administration and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC, formerly called the Organization of the Islamic Conference) to combat “Islamophobia” may lead to the de-legitimization of freedom of expression as a human right.
The administration is taking the lead in an international effort to “implement” a U.N. resolution against religious “stereotyping,” specifically as applied to Islam.
Many OIC states police private speech through Islamic blasphemy laws that the Saudi-based OIC has long worked to see applied universally. Under Muslim pressure, Western Europe now has laws against religious hate speech that serve as proxies for Islamic blasphemy codes.
Last March, U.S. diplomats maneuvered the adoption of Resolution 16/18 within the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC). Non-binding, this resolution expresses, among other things, concern about religious “stereotyping” and “negative profiling” but does not limit free speech. It was intended to â€” and did â€” replace the OIC’s decidedly dangerous resolution against “defamation of religions,” which protected religious institutions instead of individual freedoms.
But thanks to a puzzling U.S. diplomatic initiative that was unveiled in July, Resolution 16/18 is poised to become a springboard for a greatly reinvigorated international effort to criminalize speech against Islam, the very thing it was designed to quash.
Citing a need to “move to implementation” of Resolution 16/18, the Obama administration has inexplicably decided to launch a major international effort against Islamophobia in partnership with the OIC. This is being voluntarily assumed at American expense, outside the U.N. framework, and is not required by the resolution itself.
On July 15, a few days after the Norway massacre, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton co-chaired an OIC session in Istanbul on religious intolerance. It was there that she announced the initiative, inviting the OIC member-states’ foreign ministers and representatives to an inaugural meeting of the effort to be hosted by the U.S. government this fall in Washington. She envisions it as the first in a series of meetings to decide how best to implement Resolution 16/18.
In making the announcement, Clinton was firm in asserting that the U.S. does not want to see speech restrictions: “The resolution calls upon states to ‘counter offensive expression through education, interfaith dialogue, and public debate … but not to criminalize speech unless there is an incitement to imminent violence.’“ (This is the First Amendment standard set forth in the 1969 Supreme Court case of Brandenburg v. Ohio.)
With the United States providing this new world stage for presenting grievances of “Islamophobia” against the West, the OIC rallied around the initiative as the propaganda windfall that it is. The OIC promptly reasserted its demands for global blasphemy laws, once again sounding the call of its failed U.N. campaign for international laws against the so-called defamation of Islam. It has made plain its aim to use the upcoming conference to further pressure Western governments to regulate speech on behalf of Islam.
The OIC’s understanding of the upcoming meetings, as stated in the Saudi-based International Islamic News Agency, is that they will “aim at developing a legal basis for the U.N. Human Rights Council’s resolution which [will] help in enacting domestic laws for the countries involved in the issue, as well as formulating international laws preventing inciting hatred resulting from the continued defamation of religions.”
In an August 17 op-ed on the initiative, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu was enthusiastic. He expressed concern that “anti-Islam and anti-Muslim attitudes and activities, known as Islamophobia, are increasingly finding place in the agenda of ultra-right wing political parties and civil societies in the West in their anti-immigrant and anti-multiculturalism policies,” and that “their views are being promoted under the banner of freedom of expression.” This parallels the old Soviet-bloc attack on the First Amendment as an official sanctioning of racism.
Citing a familiar litany of examples â€” “the publication of offensive cartoons of the Prophet six years ago that sparked outrage across the Muslim world, the publicity around the film ‘Fitna’ and the more recent Qur’an burnings” -â€” Ihsanoglu was emphatic that “no one has the right to insult another for their beliefs or to incite hatred and prejudice” and that “freedom of expression has to be exercised with responsibility.”…
More “accurate, balanced reporting” needed:
WASHINGTON â€” In a bid to run correct news reporting about Muslims, two American universities have launched a project to teach journalists how to tackle Islam-related issues.
“In our increasingly polarized media landscape, having the facts about any topic is vital to good journalism,” said Howard Finberg, director of interactive learning at the Poynter Institute, reported Ahlul Bayt News Agency. “And this is especially important when covering topics such as religion.”
Titled “Covering Islam in America”, the project was co-launched earlier this week by Washington State University and the Poynter Institute’s News University. The course is designed to prepare reporters to run accurate information when reporting about Muslims and Islam-related issues. “We have no ax to grind, other than a desire to see accurate, balanced reporting of this topic, which has such broad impact on American society today,” said Lawrence Pintak, a former CBS News Middle East correspondent who developed the project.
The course covers a wide range of topics on Islam ranging from the Islamic teachings and the history of Muslim immigration to the role of women in Islam and the relationship between Islam and Christianity.”Our e-learning module on NewsU is an effective and accessible way for journalists to get the training they need to cover Islam and Muslims in America,” Finberg said.
In addition to the online course, a version with more readings and analysis called “Islam on Main Street” is offered through WSU’s Center for Distance Education. Sections about the diversity of religious expression, women and Islam, and Islam and the black community are also planned. Though it is mainly initiated for journalists, bloggers and students, the course is also useful to educators, government officials and anyone involved in the conversation about Islam in America.
Reporters will be instructed by top-notch journalists and academicians, who have a long experience in reporting about Islam and Muslims. “We turned to the scholars who know this subject inside out and helped them present their knowledge in a way accessible to general assignment reporters on deadline,” Pintak, said. In addition to Pintak, instructors also include Stephen Franklin, a formerÂ Chicago TribuneÂ Middle East correspondent, who spent years covering the Muslim world. Pintak said the online course offers the kind of education about the Muslim community that he wished he had received before he was assigned by CBS to Beirut 30 years ago. “I had been reporting on wars in Africa, so I knew how to dodge bullets. Of Islam, the dominant religion in the region, I knew essentially nothing,” Pintak said.
Hostile sentiments against US Muslims, estimated between six to eight million, have been on the rise since the 9/11 attacks. A US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith. Famed US academic Stephen Schwartz had criticized the Western media for failing to meet the challenge of reporting on Islam and Arab issues after the 9/11 attacks. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the US largest Jewish movement, had also accused US media and politicians of demonizing Islam and portraying Muslims as “satanic figures”, A recent British study accused the media and film industry of perpetuating Islamophobia and prejudice by demonizing Muslims and Arabs as violent, dangerous and threatening people.