“Stifling free speech — globally”

Canada’s speech-tribunal censorship, writ large? “A coalition of Islamic states is using the United Nations to enact international ‘anti-defamation’ rules”. Among entities to protected from such “defaming”: religions.

Susan Bunn Livingstone, a former U.S. State Department official who specialized in human rights issues and also spoke to the July 18 congressional gathering, said the developments at the UN are worrisome. “They are trying to internationalize the concept of blasphemy,” said Livingstone at the panel. She contrasted “the concept of injuring feelings versus what is actually happening on the ground — torture, imprisonment, abuse.” And, she added, “They are using this discourse of ‘defamation’ to carve out any attention we would bring to a country. Abstractions like states and ideologies and religions are seen as more important than individuals. This is a moral failure.”

The fact that the resolutions keep passing, and that UN officials now monitor countries’ compliance, could help the concept of “defamation of religions” become an international legal norm, said Livingstone, noting that when the International Court of Justice at The Hague decides what rises to the level of an “international customary law,” it looks not to unanimity among countries but to “general adherence.” “That’s why these UN resolutions are so troubling,” she said. “They’ve been passed for 10 years.”

(Luisa Ch. Savage, Maclean’s, Jul. 23, via Rick Sincere). More from the author at her Maclean’s blog, with hundreds of reader comments, and from Somin @ Volokh.


  • What is even more disturbing is the fact that, although the more recent resolutions are cast in terms of defamation of religion in general, it is quite clear that the true aim is to criminalize only criticism of Islam. Indeed, since the Qur’an and other Muslim texts are filled with “defamation” of other religions, even-handed enforcement would require banning the Qur’an and other Muslim publications, a consequence surely not intended by the sponsors.

  • Bill.
    I highly recommend you change your locks, start packin’ heat, and never take the same route to work. Oh, and don’t get crazy and try and draw some cartoons, either. I’d say I agree but for the repercussions.

  • And some people think those advocating withdrawl from the UN are the kooks…

    The UN is a dictators club. Why in the world does anyone think anything good will come of such a group? It truly boggles the mind.

  • But let’s not single out Muslims as the only religio-ethnic group pushing for illegalization of words they don’t like. “Holocaust denial” is a crime in some European nations, and there are Jewish groups on record as supporting these measures.

  • While I don’t necessarily support such laws, “Holocaust denial” is a very, VERY different thing from religious slurs.

    The Holocaust is one of the most thoroughly documented genocide attempts in the history of man (which is saying something), and as such, is a factual, historical event.

    A “religious slur” is something defined entirely by the religion taking offense, and is thus impossible to avoid (among other problems) – I hereby found my religion, which officially takes offense at any utterance by any human being other than myself (for just one quite silly example).

    That’s not to say that Muslims are the only one, necessarily (though they are the overwhelming majority of this category), but the example you chose was very, very poor.