Eklemeddin İhsanoğlu insists that “Everybody is entitled to criticize anybody or anything,” but he also says there must be a “red line” that places “insults” and mockery off-limits. Who draws that line? What if, for example, the criticism is found to be insulting?
And there is much more, including an attempt to bolster the “racism” angle by presenting “Islamophobia” as the new anti-Semitism (never mind the raging hatred of Jews that is encouraged and sustained by Islamic texts), and a glossing over of the countless bloody battles waged in Islamic history over theological disputes (obviously some “red lines” were crossed there, and then all bets were off). It’s tempting to say you can’t make this stuff up. But on the other hand, İhsanoğlu just did:
“Islamophobia worse than racial prejudice,” from Today’s Zaman, October 30:
The secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Eklemeddin İhsanoğlu, has told a Danish newspaper that Western institutions which deal with Islamophobia agree that hatred against Islam and Muslims is worse than racial discrimination.
“Incitement to religious hatred is a new form of racism, and Western institutions dealing with Islamophobia are unanimous in saying that the phenomenon of Islamophobia is worse than racial discrimination,” he stated in a recent written interview with the Danish Jyllands-Posten daily. İhsanoğlu stressed that discrimination is discrimination whether on religious or racial grounds. İhsanoğlu also clearly expressed that the OIC is neither against criticism of religion nor is it calling for a ban on any criticism of religion.
The full text of the written interview with the questions of Jyllands-Posten, a copy of which was also sent to Today’s Zaman, is as follows:
Can you explain why you believe that criticism of religion can be defined as racism?
First of all, let me be very clear on one point. We are neither against criticism of religion nor do we call for a ban on criticizing religion. The history of religions, including Islam, is a history of criticism and debate which has led to the formation of different sects and schools of thought. These debates have always been there at the academic, scholarly or theological level. As for debates which are conducted at the level of public opinion, we have no problem with any criticism, as long as they are objective, fair and conducted in a responsible manner.
The problems start when the religious beliefs of individuals belonging to any religion or venerated religious figures, i.e., prophets, whether Muhammad, Jesus or Moses, are ridiculed, denigrated or targeted with campaigns of insults with apparent or declared intent to incite hatred against the followers of this or that religion. I am quite surprised to see in the Danish press insinuations that I and the OIC are opponents of freedom of expression, endeavoring to stifle this freedom by calling for a ban on the criticism of religion. […]
But it all depends on your definition of “criticism.”
Can you give an example of the kind of criticism that should be defined as racism?
We believe that incitement to religious hatred is a new form of racism. Western institutions dealing with Islamophobia are unanimous in saying that the phenomenon of Islamophobia is worse than racial discrimination. In practical terms, in many instances it is difficult to determine what constitutes incitement to religious or racial hatred, which are both proscribed as against international human rights. For example, when a Muslim immigrant is discriminated against or physically attacked by extremists, the causes could be on either racial or religious grounds, or both. The daily attacks, either physical or verbal, against Muslims throughout the West are the proof of the negative effect of hate speech campaigns which have resulted in an eroding of the human rights of those Muslim victims.
We should not forget that anti-Semitism, which caused horrendous tragedies for European Jews last century, cannot be explained technically or lexically as discrimination based solely on race, since the Jews subject to the Holocaust were Europeans from different parts of the continent; it was also because of their religious affiliation. Within the same context, one should realize that the Palestinians, who have been suffering a grave tragedy for the last 60 years, are ethnically Semitic, but what happens to them is not defined as anti-Semitism. What I am saying is that discrimination is discrimination whether on religious or racial grounds. I believe we are facing a gross campaign of disinformation on the part of some extremist quarters in the West and some European politicians who have little understanding of the matter and try to exploit the issue for domestic political gain by creating unnecessary fear of “the other.”
Why should it not be possible to criticize a religion?
What follows is a massive conflation of insults (real or perceived) and incitement. This should be familiar, as many Islamic advocacy groups in the West persist in their efforts to classify any criticism of Islam or exposure of unpleasant aspects of Islamic law and belief as hate speech and incitement.
In my previous answers, I have tried to explain my views about this. If I may elaborate; the criticism of religion has been there for centuries. Trying to humiliate, insult others and jeopardize their basic human rights solely over their religious beliefs, particularly in the case of Islam, which is followed by 1.5 billion people, is understood as an act which falls outside the borders of critical dialogue or civilized criticism.
Narrowing down the discussion on the freedom of expression to demanding the freedom to be able to denigrate even the most sacred religious values is neither civilized nor intellectual. Yet, at the diplomatic level, we are not even focusing on this aspect. What we are saying is that incitement to hatred should not be allowed, particularly if this specific act constitutes a crime within the parameters of international human rights documents. Article 20 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requests governments to take measures at the national level against incitement to religious hatred.
What we are also advocating is that we should all abide not only by domestic laws and blasphemy laws, codes of conduct or ethics regulations, if they exist, but also by internationally agreed legal instruments.
According to The Washington Post, you recently said that there is a “red line” that should not be crossed. What do you mean by that? And what will happen if the “red line” is crossed?
I think there has always been, and there should be, a “red line” for any irresponsible attitude, whether it is on the individual or group level. Nobody can deny that in the exercising of any particular freedom, one should act with a sense of responsibility. We might differ on the point where freedom stops and responsibility starts. I would like to remind that all legal documents always strike a balance between freedoms and responsibility. With regard to the freedom of expression, the responsibility starts when there is an act of incitement to hatred proscribed by international law. It is important to recall that with the provision of freedom under human rights, it is only the freedom of expression which is linked with responsibility.
Read it all, preferably sitting down.