December 27, 2011

On Religious Freedom

The concept of the natural rights of man has been recognized for some time. In some of the earliest known writings on the topic the Stoics of ancient Greece described slavery as an unnatural, or external condition of man. The philosophy of sui juris, or the freedom of the human soul was espoused in many writings of the day.

It is a mistake to imagine that slavery pervades a man's whole being; the better part of him is exempt from it: the body indeed is subjected and in the power of a master, but the mind is independent, and indeed is so free and wild, that it cannot be restrained even by this prison of the body, wherein it is confined.

-- Seneca the Younger, De beneficiis, III, 20.

The worst speculative Sceptic ever I knew, was a much better Man than the best superstitious Devotee & Bigot.

-- David Hume in a letter to Gilbert Elliot of Minto, March 10, 1751

Those were the first few words of the first missive offered for this blog. That was on 2008.12.10, and the post was titled THE RIGHTS OF MAN (With Apologies to Thomas Paine) and the topic was the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Just a few months prior to this blog's d├ębut a Saudi led coalition of 56 Islamic nations managed to reverse Eleanor Roosevelt’s signature achievement of 60 years prior. They accomplished this by inserting language effectively criminalizing blasphemy under the guise of "religious anti-defamation". It was just this kind of religious intolerance that was the focus of Mrs. Roosevelt’s drive for human rights, yet every effort to override this movement was stymied.

Now just a short few years later we see attitudes swinging more in Mrs. Roosevelt’s favor. On 2011.03.24 Reuters reported on the groundbreaking consensus that had been reached by UN member nations to abandon the blasphemy language inserted in 2008. A new three-page resolution recognizing that there is "intolerance, discrimination and violence" aimed at individuals in all regions of the world emerged after discussions between U.S. and Pakistani diplomats.

Washington, DC – Today in Geneva, members of the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a groundbreaking resolution that seeks to address violence, discrimination and incitement to religious hatred without reference to the controversial notion of “defamation of religions.” Human Rights First said the move marks an important shift away from efforts at the UN to create an international blasphemy code, something that has for the past decade been supported by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

The move by the UN Human Rights Council is important because we can now expect to see a shift from protection of religion to the protection of individual rights. And yes, change will come slowly. The resolution is a good start but recent events [HERE, HERE, HERE] remind us that the Islamic world is unlikely to make any rapid changes.

The cult of Muhammad ibn Abdullah is as firmly entrenched in the Muslin world as the cult of Jesus of Nazareth once was in Christian regions. Over time the greater freedoms allowed in the west promoted increased tolerance and a more secular society, gradually pushing onerous laws out of the books. Christians became a less authoritarian sect, but the Muslims were just on the rise.

Unfortunately when the adherents of one sect or cult feel threatened by encroachment of another we see protectionist laws resurface. The growth of Islam and the threat of terrorism has done exactly that to the west.  

Witness the unnecessary "Anti-Shariah" law now on the books in Oklahoma, and those proposed in several other states. This type of futile reaction tends to strengthen the will of those promoting religious intolerance elsewhere. Fortunately there are cooler heads and the effects of our home grown intolerance is somewhat muted.

In spite of the reactionism here and the intransigence of Muslim states, we are seeing changing attitudes elsewhere. Likely this is due to ever greater and uncomfortable encroachment of religion into public dialogue, as well as news stories such as those illustrated above.  

The change in the UN resolution comes as many of the globe’s borderline religionist states, led by  more secular nations, are leaning toward greater tolerance and political moderation. Initially Argentina, the Bahamas, Barbados, Fiji, the Republic of Korea, the Solomon Islands, Mexico, Uruguay and Zambia all voted in favor of the anti-defamation resolution in 2008, yet in this most recent move those same nations all switched sides.

In a recent Human Rights First report scores of cases were identified providing actual examples of the dangers of enacting a global blasphemy law. More than 70 cases were identified in 15 countries where the enforcement of such laws resulted in death sentences, long prison terms or arbitrary detentions, all based upon suspect accusations. A person accusing another of blasphemy cannot even recount the offense without also being accused of the sin, leaving a court to accept the accuser’s statement with no evidence that the accused might be able to refute.

Fundamentalist citizenry enabled by these laws have been documented attacking, assaulting, and sometimes murdering those accused; often with no evidence other than the accusation. The assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by his own body guard, and the murder of Pakistani Minister Shabhaz Bhatti were identified as results of blasphemy accusations, as were outbreaks of mob violence in Indonesia. 

The tides, hopefully, are turning. On Monday, 2011.12.19, as the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly came to an end, it adopted two resolutions on the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief. One of these called for the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief and the other for combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on that person's religion, belief, or lack of belief.

It is a small start, but perhaps this will be the beginning of something grand. We can hope.

More reading on this topic at the links below:



Old NFO said...

Good post and thanks for the education!