Last week, the attacks in India and the threat to New York City's subway system provided another stark reminder of the need for a united front against global terrorism. Yet instead of figuring out how to combat Islamic extremists, the United Nations is worried about offending them.
On November 24, 2008, the U.N. passed a draft resolution against the defamation of religion sponsored by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), where all U.N. members are being asked to pass domestic legislation against blasphemy. The resolution was originally introduced in 1999 by the OIC, asserting that "Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."
In reality, terrorism happens in Islam's name, or more accurately, in Islamism's name. Islamism is a 20th century product arising from the writings of sincere Muslims such as Hasan al-Banna and Syed Qutb. Frustrated by the fallen status of Muslims vis-à-vis the West, they offered a new version of Islam as a totalitarian socio-political alternative to democracy and Western license. Disparate followers from Osama bin Laden, Hezbollah and Hamas to the Jihadis that waged war on Mumbai last week are not deranged or crazy. Rather, they subscribe to a worldview that is antithetical to most Muslims and the West.
The OIC nations charge critics of Islamic extremism with "racism" and "Islamophobia" to deflect attention from the fact that such violence originates at the hand of Muslim clerics born and bred in their lands. This is because they realize they can't control Islamism, or they tacitly agree with its message.
These Muslim clerics also export this ideology to the West to radicalize Muslim immigrants abroad, and reform-minded Muslims are usually the first victims.
Kadra Noor was beaten up in 2007 for speaking out against "Islamic" female genital mutilation in Norway. In Sweden, cabinet minister Nyamko Sabuni proposed that honor killings be labeled a separate crime in the Swedish penal code and girls get mandatory gynecological exams to discourage female circumcision. She also told the Sunday Times that arranged marriages are not a part of Islam.
As a result, she was called an "Islamophobe" and instead of supporting her, 50 Islamic Swedish organizations petitioned against her appointment to the cabinet in an effort to suppress her growing influence in Swedish politics.
Pakistan, spokesman for the OIC, recently promoted a politician to minister of education after he defended the live burial of five girls in Balochistan as "tribal custom." It is not a stretch to argue that Pakistan is not an OIC member interested in reform.
The 2005 Danish cartoon controversy kick-started the OIC campaign to pass last month's resolution when it was cited as another example of increased discrimination against Muslims after 9/11. The "cartoon intifada" arose 5 months after the original printing of the images of Muhammad, but only weeks before the UNHCR was due to consider the OIC's resolution on "Combating Defamation of Religion."
Such a coincidence caused the National Secular Society to state in its Memorandum to the United Kingdom Parliament that "the Danish cartoon crisis was manufactured…to exploit sensitivities around racial discrimination and to promote (or even exaggerate) the notion of 'Islamophobia' in order to restrict possibilities for open discussion or criticism of Islam….[M]easures calling for legislation banning 'defamation of religion' …. aim to remove religion, especially Islam, from public scrutiny and public debate."
The OIC forgets that Muslims are already protected in the West. The U.S., for example, increases sentences on crimes ranging from assault and battery to murder if they are deemed "hate crimes," which includes crimes against a victim based on his or her religious identity.
So what is this 57-nation organization really pushing with this "anti-blasphemy" resolution at the U.N.?
In the Muslim world, anti-blasphemy laws are regularly used to suppress free speech by attacking fellow Muslims and non-Muslims who criticize the government or protest human rights violations. Such laws are also used as pretext against individuals in personal and business disputes. The mere allegation puts mobs before the accused before the police can arrive to investigate.
At the U.N., the OIC has manipulated the language of racism to make its anti-democratic agenda more attractive to "third world" nations recovering from their own genuine post-colonial struggles. Nations that voted in favor of the resolution or abstained were predominantly from Latin America or developing African nations.
A final version of the resolution is up for a vote this month. It would be a mistake for these U.N. members to fall for anti-colonial rhetoric once again. By aligning with Islamists, the U.N. would be supporting the stifling of free speech and the suppression of human rights, and crushing the goal of building tolerant democratic societies.
Supna Zaidi is the assistant director of Islamist Watch, a project at the Middle East Forum.