A report by David G. Littman, Representative of the World Union of Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) to the United Nations Office in Geneva:
The three week 6th session of the UN Human Rights Council at the Palais des Nations, Geneva (September 10-28, 2007) is demonstrating that the Council is not “restoring credibility”¦ on Human Rights” — as Kofi Annan’s High-Level Panel in 2004 had hoped, but — as we predicted from the start — may soon “˜out-Commission the Commission”.
The 1st week ended with Mr. Doudou DiÃ¨ne — the Senegalese UN Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance — presenting his report (A/HRC/6/6) on “˜defamation of religions”. He writes of “the increasing trend in defamation of religions and the factors that explain it, particularly in the context where human rights violations are justified as measures to combat terrorism, to protect national security and preserve national identity.”(“¦) His report –¦ also analyses specific forms of religion-based discrimination, including Islamophobia and its manifestations — in particular following the events of 11 September 2001…”. He refers several times to that horrible climacteric in world affairs simply as “the events”, and nowhere does he even mention the term “Jihad” or “Jihadist terrorism”. In his Report of 21 pages, Mr. DiÃ¨ne refers briefly to antisemitism (1Â½ pages), “Chistianophobia” (1 page), and to “Islamophobia” and “defamation of religions” (mainly Islam), at great length( 7Â½ pages).
In presenting his Report, he mentioned three recent developments that illustrate, as he wrote, the gravity of “Islamophobia”: first, a manifestation outside the European Union Parliament in Brussels on 11 September 2007 against the “Islamization of Europe” that took place despite the mayor’s refusal to provide an authorisation to allow it; second, the “intellectual and ideological theorisation of Islamophobia by Norman Podhoretz (editor-in-chief of the influential review “Commentary” and advisor to a U.S. presidential candidate) in his latest book: World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism”; third, increasing restrictions on the construction of mosques in Europe. He also stigmatised the campaign by the Swiss UDC political party to stop further building of minarets, and a caricature of a “black sheep–“ representing foreign criminals — being kicked out of Switzerland by a white sheep, with two others watching.
Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan — making several statements on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) — reiterated the usual formulae that: “Denunciations of terrorisms and extremisms have been made by opinion leaders of the Muslim world. A matching response has not been forthcoming.” He added that: “Equating certain religions with terrorism would have far reaching consequences for its followers. Even terrorist acts carried out by non state actors, in the name of religion, should be de-linked from religion to ensure freedom of religion or belief.”
It is a fact that neither he or any other member state of the OIC — nor any Muslim clerics — have condemned the reiterated calls of non-state actors to kill in the name of Allah and of Islam; and all our efforts to add a single phrase to this effect in the Commission resolution on “Combating defamation of religions” that the OIC has sponsored annually since 1999 have proved futile. He also declared that: “the OIC has been cautioning that Muslims are being demonized and dehumanised as Jews were in the interwar period in the last century.” Such an absurd allegation totally ignores the fact that the demonization of the Jews is inherent in sacred Islam texts and continues to be propagated today by Islamic leaders throughout the world. Ambassador Khan also referred to “recent acts of defamation in the shape of blasphemous sketches in Sweden and posters in Switzerland.”
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Speaking on behalf of the Association for World Education, the Association of World Citizen and the World Union for Progressive Judaism during the “interactive dialogue” with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief (September 13), we asked Ms. Asma Jahangir the following questions, but none of them received an answer in the eight minutes at her disposal to “˜react” to the many comments and questions from States and NGOs:
Female Genital Mutilation / Calls to kill in the name of God or Religion /
We warmly welcome the very comprehensive report (A/HRC/6/5) of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief.
As time is of the essence, we shall be brief. We have 3 questions to ask in three minutes:
Regarding vulnerable groups, particularly women, your Â§ 28 refers to “some harmful practices such as genital mutilation [which] are perpetrated in the name of religion or imputed to religion.” In this context, our statement to the 4th session 6 months ago and our written statement on this barbaric crime is very pertinent. (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2005/NGO/27).
Reports show that there are over 300 million victims alive today, and roughly 3 million girls are mutilated each year in 32 countries, of which 29 are Member States of the OIC. After the recent mediatised death of two young girls in Egypt — a country where the FGM toll is 97% according to UNICEF, despite a 1997 State law condemning it — would it not be the moment for the Grand Sheikh Sayyed Tantawi to issue an unambiguous fatwa that would effectively take religious precedence over the previous, ambiguous Al Azhar fatwas of 1949, 1951, and January 29, 1981 — that encourages parents “to do their duty?”
Our second question refers to your Â§44 where you state that “terrorist acts which are carried out by non-State actors in the name of religion ought to be de-linked from religion, so that the actions are not associated with freedom of religion or belief.”
In an academic presentation exactly one year ago at Regensburg University, Pope Benedict correctly used the terms “jihad” and “holy war” when he declared that: “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.” Our joint written statement Appeal to condemn calls to kill in the name of God (A/HRC/6/NGO/5) [http://www.iheu.org/system/files/IHEU+to+HRC+Killing+in+the+name+of+God.pdf] also contains our recent Appeal to the Secretary-General and the HCHR on 9 August. It too called upon the UN, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and others: “to condemn unequivocally all those who kill or incite to kill in the name of God or religion — and especially to include this phrase in the Council’s resolution: Combating defamation of religions. Surely, this teaching of hate in the path of Jihad, leading to endless “˜Jihadist Martyrdom” bombings worldwide should not be ignored? And, we would add, the term “˜suicide” for such Jihadist bombers carried out “˜in the path of Jihad” is inappropriate.
On February 7, 2007, in a letter to you, Madame, and to Mr. Doudo DiÃ¨ne, the Special Rapporteur on Racism (copy to the High Commissioner for Human Rights) we gave details of the repeated revival of the 1840 “Damascus Affair” Blood Libel Accusation — aired on TelLiban, a week earlier (January 30, 2007). We would like to know what you feel should be done about such a shameful, constant propagation of a Judeophobic / antisemitic culture of hate throughout the Arab world — in the media and also in school books, including Iran — which is in total contradiction with all the International Covenants signed by these States, and is preparing their youth for endless wars? Can you explain why this religious Judeophobic hate is not regularly condemned at the United Nations by all the Special Rapporteurs who should be directly concerned by this grim phenomenon — and also by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, representing the culprit States directly concerned?
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Speaking on behalf of the Association for World Education, the Association of World Citizens, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and the World Union for Progressive Judaism, during the debate after the Address by the High Commissioner for Human Rights (September 14), we asked Ms. Louise Arbour questions on her Report:
NGO rights /Iran President’s threats and Child marriage and stoning of women /
OIC aims/ Calls to kill in God’s Name
In the High Commissioner’s address we detected a real anxiety for the credibility of the UN human rights system (“We are acutely aware that the credibility of the UN human rights system hinges upon satisfactory implementation of the review.”) In a written statement to the last Commission on a future Council, we stressed the crucial need for maintaining the precious, hard-earned rights of NGOs and we all wonder, eighteen months later whether they will survive these reviews. (E/CN.4/2006/NGO/1): http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G06/106/82/PDF/G0610682.pdf?OpenElement
Madame, you referred to your recent Teheran visit when you addressed the Non-Aligned Movement ministerial meeting on Human Rights and Cultural Diversity. We hope that you raised a key issue which was addressed in our January 29, 2007 to the UN Secretary-General and to you regarding the reiterated calls by President Ahmadinejad for Israel’s elimination as a State, which is a call in clear defiance of the UN Charter that states in its Chapter 1, article 2 : 4 that such threats are “inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
You also refer to Iranian women’s rights defenders in the context of respect for fundamental human rights. We would ask: how can one “seek greater understanding and consensus on the issues, particularly as we prepare to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, when a religious law, introduced in 1979 — and renewed in 2000, just as Iran proposed the “Dialogue of Civilizations” Year at the UN — still allows the marriage of girls at only 9 years old and justifies the stoning of women for alleged adultery?
As for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Final CommuniquÃ© of the OIC”s Third Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit, held in Mecca from December 7-8, 2005, provides a clear message on the true vision of the OIC and its Member States:
“The Conference called for considering the possibility of establishing an independent permanent body to promote human rights in Member States as well as the possibility in preparing an Islamic Charter on Human Rights in accordance with the provisions of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam* and interact with the United Nations and other relevant international bodies.” [See, II. In the Political Field, Â§13].
[* The 1990 “˜Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam” — inexplicitly reprinted in the 1997 UN”s Compilation of International Instruments vol. II, Regional Instrument — was analysed by David G. Littman in “˜Universal Human Rights & “Human Rights in Islam– (Midstream 45, no.2, Feb./March 1999,: 2-7; republished in (ed. Robert Spencer) The Myth of Islamic Tolerance. How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims (Prometheus Books, 2005), Ch. 27: 317- 332.]
[On a “˜point of order” Egypt’s delegate intervened to stop the speaker, unsuccessfully.]
In regard to your Annual Report covering “˜combating defamation of religions” (A/HRC/6/4)
http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/6session/A.HRC.6.4.pdf , on August 9, 2007, we appealed to you and the UN Secretary-General to encourage the United Nations and the OIC to condemn all calls to kill in the name of God or religion, and reiterated our vibrant Appeal for this phrase to be included in the Council resolution. It is reproduced with fuller details in our joint written statement to this Council (A/HRC/6/NGO/5). If neither the UN nor the OIC is willing to act, then silence on such an issue would speak volumes. We shall sound the tocsin today with the ringing words of the17th century English poet John Donne: “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
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In the interactive debate following the presentation of the special Rapporteur, Doudou Diene’s report on Islamophobia, Roy W. Brown, the main representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) was prevented from delivering a three minute oral statement on behalf of 4 NGOs (IHEU / AWE / AWC / WUPJ) . Only four NGOs were able to speak in the reduced total of 10 minutes allotted to NGOs. NGO participation at the HRC is becoming more myth than reality. IHEU’s representative has written formally to the president of the Council asking the right to submit written statements when denied the chance to speak.
This censorship of NGOs during a key interactive dialogue could well have been foreseen by certain States — many from the 57 member states of the OIC — who used up much of the limited time available for the debate by repeating what others had already said, so limiting the time available for NGO participation. We cannot exclude the possibility that this was deliberate on the part of some states.
The joint statement that the IHEU would have made — on behalf of four NGOs representing 200 communities or associations with a total of over 6 million individual members — refers to two major omissions from the Special Rapporteur’s analysis of “Islamophobia”. It is given below in full, although there is a chance that Mr. Brown may be able to make his key presentation on September 21 under the item 9 (racism and the “Durban Conference”). [http://www.iheu.org/node/2806]
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Human Rights Council, Sixth Session 10-28 September 2007 Agenda Item 9. Report on Islamophobia by the Special Rapporteur on Racism, Mr. Doudou DiÃ¨ne
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Joint statement with the Association for World Education, Association of World Citizens and World Union of Progressive Judaism by IHEU main representative, Roy W. Brown, on 14 September 2007 (not delivered; perhaps on September 21)
The report on Islamophobia by the Special Rapporteur on Racism [A/HRC/6/6] [http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G07/137/32/PDF/G0713732.pdf?OpenElement]
is seriously flawed in two important respects:
First, he fails to distinguish between, on the one hand, Islamophobia, which he defines as “baseless hostility and fear vis-Ã -vis Islam”, and on the other, genuine concerns regarding the rise of Islamic extremism. Secondly, he fails to recognise that there are important differences between the Islamic worldview and that of modern Europe that contribute significantly to the problem.
Rather than dismissing Europe’s defence of its identity (which he describes as “˜based on intangible “values– in scare quotes) he should recognise that these values are neither intangible nor exclusively “European”, but universal. They include, inter alia, the dignity and autonomy of the individual, equality of the sexes, democracy, and human rights – surely the very rights that this Council should be seeking to defend. That these differences do exist and are far from intangible is evidenced, for example, by the OIC”s promotion of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam as an alternative to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Yet rather than recognising the existence of such differences, the Special Rapporteur condemns as Islamophobic those who portray Islamic values as “fundamentally opposed to those of Western civilisation”. Why does he ignore the fact that there are an increasing number of Islamic leaders who present Islam in precisely this way? It is not “Islamophobia” to oppose such views. It is rather a necessary and legitimate expression of concern.
Furthermore, and in common with the OIC and its repeated calls to combat defamation of religion, the Special Rapporteur also fails to distinguish between opposition to Islamic extremism and hostility towards Muslims. Opposition to Islamic extremism is both necessary and legitimate. Hostility towards Muslims is neither. To imply they are the same thing is to obscure an important step in understanding the problem.
What little, and regrettable, hostility towards Islam there may be among indigenous Europeans did not arise in a vacuum, but is largely a reaction to Islamic extremism. More and more European mosques are promoting hard-line Islamic ideology*, including demonisation of Jews, infidels and homosexuals, and contempt for Western culture and civilisation.
Mr President, in his report the Special Rapporteur fails to address in any meaningful way the problem of Islamic extremism and its contribution towards the rise of religious hatred. In our view, he has rendered a disservice to the Council and to the cause of tolerance which he espouses.
* Cf. Channel 4 Dispatches, “Undercover Mosque” 15 Jan 2007, and The Times, “Hardline Takeover of British Mosques”, 7 September 2007: www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article2402973.ece