Comments by David G. Littman on a special Day at the UN Human Rights Council:
Act 2 of “Slapstick Jihad” by Egypt’s Counsellor Amr Roshdy Hassan at the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 23 September was a total flop. He reshuffled his ad hominem deck of cards — playing at Roy W. Brown (for a joint statement for IHEU, AWE and CFI) and then against DGL (reading a WUPJ statement by Reform Rabbi FranÃ§ois GaraÃ¯). No one present could have doubted his aims: to reduce speakers to silence on any subject related to the word “religion” or the mention of “˜Islam” in any negative acts that might incite to “˜Islamophobia”. His words should be noted as they speak volumes on the future struggle at the HRC between freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and cringing dhimmitude — especially as not one of the 43 Member States of the HRC protested at this flagrant travesty of free speech.
We are reproducing these two NGO statements in full, as for Act 1, and an exact transcript of what was said on 23 September on both occasions by Egypt’s delegate. [See here.] This time, his intimidation did not succeed and the Nigerian President Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, who only a few minutes before had ruled another statement “˜out of order”, allowed both speakers to conclude.
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UN Webcast links to these 2 statements and the 2 points of order
1) Roy W. Brown reading a joint statement for IHEU, AWE, CFI (@1Â½ mins.) before being stopped by the President on Egypt’s “˜point of order”. [Although RWB read all of his statement — as below — until he was stopped, strangely the first two paragraphs are missing from both the sound and sight on the webcast, which begins with the 3rd paragraph: “In this connection”¦”
2) Egyptian Counsellor Amr Roshdy Hassan’s slapstick jihad “˜point of order”, with the phrase: “Every statement is an incitement to hatred.” And his revealing reference to 9/11 — as simply”¦ “this incident”. (@1 min.)
3) RWB concludes his joint statement without being interrupted. (@1 min.)
4) DGL reading Rabbi FranÃ§ois GaraÃ¯”s statement in French (@1Â½ min)
http://webcast.un.org/ramgen/ondemand/conferences/unhrc/ninth/hrc080923am-eng.rm?start=00:40:54&end=00:42:31 [UN English translation of the French statement]
5) Egyptian delegate (ARH): “we cannot discus what is in religion”, or mention “the basic tenets of any religion” — he referred to Moses and Jesus. (1 min.)
6) DGL was allowed to finish his text (overtime) read for Rabbi GaraÃ¯, although Egypt had requested that his statement be ruled “˜out of order” (@ 2 min.)
http://webcast.un.org/ramgen/ondemand/conferences/unhrc/ninth/hrc080923am-eng.rm?start=00:44:26&end=00:46:19 [UN English translation of the French statement]
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UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL — 9th session (8–24 September)
Item 9: racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, related forms of intolerance”¦ Tuesday (a.m.) 23 September 2008
Statement by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the Association for World Education and Center for Inquiry. Speaker: IHEU Main Representative Roy W. Brown
[A passage in smaller type and brackets in the text was not pronounced by the speaker]
We were pleased to note the desire of Mr Githu Muigai, the new Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, to move the discussion from the idea “defamation of religions” which many agree has no place in human rights discourse, “to the legal concept of incitement to national, racial and religious hatred, hostility or violence”.
We also applaud his proposal to gather data on hate speech in order to make “fully informed, empirically sound and factually robust analysis about this phenomenon”. Racial discrimination and xenophobia are indeed a serious and widespread problem. It is essential when dealing with such a complex issue, involving education, language skills, economic opportunities, deprivation, media sensationalism, and opportunism, that proposed solutions be based on accurate information.
In this connection, the term “Islamophobia” is both misleading and unhelpful. It implies that any criticism of Islam is based on “irrational fear” and must lead automatically to hatred of Muslims.
The widespread use of the term “Islamophobia” may actually be exacerbating the problem by confusing the issue. Immigrants, and not only Muslims, do face discrimination, but this problem will not be solved by such catch-all, simplistic labelling. The accusation of “Islamophobia” is now widely used as an ad hominem weapon to silence opponents by equating any criticism of Islam with racism. Mr President, criticism of Islam, or of any other religion, is not racism: it is a human right.
There is now some evidence that the incidence of hostility to Muslims is being exaggerated. We cite for example, the United States government’s latest data on hate crimes  which show that [There were 147 reported cases of hate crimes against Muslims in 2006, and 362 reported cases against Jews. Yet the population of Muslims in United States (estimated at 9.5 million)  exceeds that of Jews by a ratio of three to two , so] Jews are on average more than three times more likely than Muslims to be the victims of hate crimes even in the United States, which in 2001 was the victim of the world’s worst ever terrorist attack, carried out by Muslims. Finally, Mr President, we wish to comment on two glaring omissions from the last report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mr. Doudou DiÃ¨ne [* the president first gavelled here, but the speaker did not hear him and continued]. He makes no mention of attacks on Christians, Bahais , Ahmadis  and others”¦[**speaker stopped here]
[The president announced a point of order by Egypt — not on the UNCHR webcast.]
Amr Roshdy Hassan (exact transcript from the webcast): “Mr. President, every time I listen to statements by this organization, I wonder what kind of ethics they are promoting. Every statement is an incitement of hatred. Every statement is promoting hatred. [stated with emphasis] What has September 11th to do with this discussion we”re discussing today — the item we”re discussing today? What is the value added of making a reference to this incident [the “˜incident” referred to here is clearly 9/11] unless the idea is to mention at the end that it was committed by Muslims? I don’t know what you are doing in this Council, are you promoting dialogue among nations and civilizations and religions, or are you provoking confrontation? How would it appear in the media — and then they come to criticize media in Muslim countries — how would it appear if this statement is published in the media? Others may come and say: let’s reciprocate; if they are insulting us and our religion, let’s reciprocate. Unless there is a value added from any statement, why is it delivered? At this stage, Mr. President, I will not ask for this statement to be ruled as out of order, I just wanted to flag this, so that the Council would know who are here to really defend human rights and who are here just to insult others. Thank you.”
Speaker: Thank you, Mr. President.
Finally, Mr. President, we wish to comment on two glaring omissions from the last report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mr Doudou Diene. He makes no mention of attacks on Christians, Bahais , Ahmadis  and others that have become commonplace in several Arab states, and in Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh . And whilst he mentions growing Antisemitism in Latin America and its historical roots in Europe, he makes no mention of it in the Muslim world, where according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center : “anti-Jewish sentiment is endemic”. These omissions again call into question the impartiality of that Special Rapporteur.
May we respectfully suggest that, rather than focussing exclusively on “Islamophobia”, States address the deep-rooted Antisemitism and general hatred of “the other” within their own societies?
Thank you, Sir.
5 See, as just one example: http://www.thepersecution.org/ai/aius0411bd.html
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The IHEU position on defamation of religion was strongly supported by the next statement, prepared by Rabbi Francois Garai, Main Representative of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. As he was unable to be present, his text was read by WUPJ”s representative to the UN David G. Littman. Egypt tried to have the statement ruled “˜out of order” on the grounds that “Nobody can discuss the basic tenets of any religion in this Council”. In other words, a Jewish Rabbi (unlike the Holy See) was not qualified to discuss the basic tenets of Judaism!
[see earlier “˜point of order” on the AWE statement by DGL) [http://www.iheu.org/node/3291]
UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL — 9th Session (8–24 September)
Item 9: Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia. Combating defamation of religions
Statement by WUPJ Representative David G. Littman [read for Rabbi FranÃ§ois GaraÃ¯]
[This is an English translation of the statement delivered in French: original text is below.]
Thank you, sir. I am reading this statement for Rabbi FranÃ§ois GaraÃ¯ at his request.
Do not confuse criticism and defamation of religion:
An appeal for freedom of thought
Everyone knows that, in their respective legal codes, religions have laws which are not in keeping with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We can refer to laws authorising hanging, stoning or burning at the stake. For centuries already, Christian and Jewish jurisprudence has led to these laws being considered obsolete. In Western Europe it is inconceivable that a Christian priest or a rabbi could call for holy war or reintroduce stoning, although they are mentioned in the Bible. Were this the case, universal disapproval would immediately condemn such statements both within civil society as well as in religious circles. But this unequivocal condemnation seems to be difficult to reach within certain religious circles of other faiths.
Within Judaism and Christianity, religious law derives from the Bible; in Islam it flows from the Koran and the Hadith. Traditional circles consider these texts as holy writ and absolute truth. [* interruption by the president on a “˜point of order”.]
The President gave the floor to Egypt for a point of order (Mr. Amr Roshdi Hassan):
“Mr President, I have to ask that this statement be ruled “˜out of order”. We are not here to discuss where Islam is derived from. Nobody can discuss the basic tenets of any religion in this Council. Nobody in this Council is in a position to decide if Moses — Peace be upon him — spread [?] the Red Sea or not. Nobody can discuss if Jesus is divine or human… Jesus also — Peace be upon him. The delegation sitting here [him] on behalf of Egypt is representing all Egyptians, Muslims, Christians and Jews. [There were about 90,000 Jews in Egypt in 1948; there number is barely 100 “˜seniors” today.] And on behalf of the three of them I say that the contents of religion or the origins of religion cannot be discussed in this Council. We can discuss religious freedom. We can ensure religious freedom but we cannot discuss what is in religion or what is not in religion or where religion came from or where religion is going. I am sorry. We cannot discuss this and I will have to insist. Thank you”
The President did not rule the statement “˜out of order” and the speaker continued:
Thank you, Mr. President. This is a statement by Rabbi Garai.
Traditional circles consider these texts as holy writ and absolute truth. Outside these circles, these religious traditions cannot be considered as an absolute norm.
Likewise, outside their respective domains, no philosophical doctrine or religious doctrine can be seen as absolute truth or claim impunity. Denying the existence of God, or calling into question a religious law is a criticism but cannot be considered as blasphemy. Blasphemy can only be imputable to a believer and in a legal environment which considers the religious code as the basis of law. This is not the case here in this assembly.
If the Council were to place one right above all value judgements or criticism, it would be seen as having qualities that the others do not have. It would be to give precedence over all other rights and, in this particular instance, over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is the actual foundation for this Council.
The United Nations and the Council cannot become the gravediggers of freedom of thought nor of freedom itself. Yesterday, books were burned, and history shows that this can lead to burning at the stake and the crematoria. Today we cannot impose silence on free and healthy criticism — that would be the death of the critical enquiry, and it would be the denial of the divine light which we share with all human beings, whoever they may be.
Thank you Mr. President.
* Adapted from an article published in the Tribune de GenÃ¨ve on 27 June 2008.
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[Original statement in French by Rabbi FranÃ§ois GaraÃ¯, read by DGL in French]
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Ne pas confondre critique et diffamation de religion:
Un appel pour la libertÃ© de penser
Chacun sait que, dans leurs codes respectifs, les religions ont des lois qui ne sont pas en harmonie avec la DÃ©claration universelle des droits humains. On peut citer celles autorisant la pendaison, la lapidation ou le bÃ»cher. Depuis plusieurs siÃ¨cles, la pratique jurisprudentielle chrÃ©tienne et juive les a rendues caduques. En Europe occidentale, il est impensable qu’un prÃªtre chrÃ©tien ou un rabbin prÃ´ne la guerre sainte ou la rÃ©introduction de la lapidation, pourtant prÃ©vues dans la Bible. Si tel devait Ãªtre le cas, une rÃ©probation gÃ©nÃ©rale condamnerait immÃ©diatement ces propos, aussi bien au sein de la sociÃ©tÃ© civile que dans les milieux religieux. Mais cette condamnation sans Ã©quivoque semble difficile Ã Ã©noncer au sein de certains milieux religieux d”autres confessions.
Dans le JudaÃ¯sme et dans le Christianisme la loi religieuse est dÃ©duite de la Bible, dans l’Islam elle dÃ©coule du Coran et des Hadith. Les milieux traditionalistes considÃ¨rent ces textes comme parole divine et vÃ©ritÃ© absolue. Hors de ces cercles, ces traditions religieuses ne peuvent pas Ãªtre considÃ©rÃ©es comme une norme absolue.
De mÃªme, hors de leurs espaces respectifs, nulle doctrine philosophique ou religieuse ne peut s’Ã©riger en absolu ou revendiquer l’impunitÃ©. Nier l”existence de Dieu ou mettre en question une loi religieuse est une critique mais ne relÃ¨ve pas de la catÃ©gorie du blasphÃ¨me. Ce dernier ne peut Ãªtre imputable qu”au croyant et dans un environnement lÃ©gal qui tient le code religieux comme fondement du droit. Tel n”est pas le cas au sein de cette assemblÃ©e.
Si le Conseil des droits humains venait Ã placer un droit au-dessus de tout jugement de valeur ou de toute critique, ce serait lui reconnaÃ®tre une qualitÃ© que les autres n’ont pas. Ce serait affirmer que ce droit a prÃ©sÃ©ance sur tous les autres droits et, dans le cas prÃ©sent, sur la DÃ©claration universelle des droits humains, fondement mÃªme de ce Conseil.
L’ONU et le Conseil des droits humains ne peuvent pas devenir les fossoyeurs de la libertÃ© de pensÃ©e ni ceux de la libertÃ© tout court. Hier on brÃ»lait les livres, et l”histoire a montrÃ© que cela pouvait mener vers le bÃ»cher ou les fours crÃ©matoires. Aujourd”hui on ne peut pas imposer un silence Ã la libre et saine critique, ce serait alors la mort de l”esprit. Ce serait nier cette lumiÃ¨re divine que nous partageons avec tous les humains, quels qu”ils soient.
Merci, Monsieur le PrÃ©sident.
*Adaptation d”un article publiÃ© dans le Tribune de GenÃ¨ve, le 27 juin 2008