by Deborah Weiss
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has long been on the forefront of the Islamist mission to establish the equivalent of Islamic blasphemy laws in the West. Now, during its 12th Islamic Summit held in Cairo February 7-8, 2013, the OIC set forth new and creative ways to silence, and ultimately criminalize criticism of Islam.
The OIC is a 57-member state organization that claims to represent 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe. As the second largest international organization in the world, behind only the UN, and as the largest Islamic organization in the world, it is obviously quite powerful. Though it is arguably the largest voting block in the UN, most people have never heard of it.
One of the OIC’s primary aims for at least the last fourteen years has been the international criminalization of speech that is critical of any Islam-related topic, including Islamic terrorism, Islamic persecution of religious minorities and human rights violations committed in the name of Islam.
Since 1999, the OIC has set forth UN resolutions that would “combat defamation of religions.” These resolutions condemned criticism of religion, but in the OIC’s interpretation, it applied only to Islam. True statements of fact constituted no exception.
Support for the resolutions declined once the United States and other Western countries caught wind of the true meaning of “defamation of religions” and its inevitable chilling effect on freedom of expression.
In 2011, at the State Department’s request, the OIC drafted an alternative resolution that was intended to retain freedom of expression and still address the OIC’s concerns about alleged Islamophobia. The result was Resolution 16/18 to Combat Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief.
The US State Department and numerous Christian organizations were elated, believing that the OIC had abandoned its mission to protect Islam from so-called “defamation,” and instead replaced it with the goal of protecting persecuted religious minorities from discrimination and violence. In other words, many assumed a paradigm shift away from providing legal protections to a religion and toward legal protections for people.
But the OIC had some very creative interpretations of the language embodied in the new resolution. By its manipulation of words such as intolerance and incitement, giving new meanings to what many thought was plain English, the OIC made it clear that it had not dropped its ultimate goal of protecting Islam from “defamation.”
Almost immediately upon its passage and the passage of a similar resolution in the General Assembly, the OIC set out on the unconventional task of “implementing” Resolution 16/18, contrary to the norm of leaving UN resolutions in the realm of the theoretical.
Unfortunately, the U.S. State Department acted as a willing accomplice in this effort, holding the second “Istanbul Conference” in December of 2011. But, in its implementation phase, rather than moving toward the preservation of free expression, the OIC successfully moved the process in the opposite direction: toward speech restrictive policies.
The OIC’s task is easier in the EU countries, most of which already have some sort of hate speech restrictions. They vary from country to country. Some are cast as laws against the “denigration of religions”; some are “hate speech” laws; some are “public order” laws and some are “incitement to religious hatred” laws. Additionally, the penalties can range from civil fines to jail time depending on the country. The U.S. is the last hold out on retaining true freedom when it comes to matters of speech.
This past February, the OIC held an Islamic Summit, a high-level meeting held every three years. It is the OIC’s largest meeting. Heads of State and high ranking officials from member states attend. The purpose of the meeting is to provide guidance pertinent to the realization of the objectives provided for in the OIC Charter and to consider other issues of importance to member states and the Islamic Ummah. This year’s theme for the agenda was “The Muslim World: New Challenges and Expanding Opportunities.”
Though the summit focused largely on Syria, Mali, and the “Palestinian issue,” the OIC also made it clear that it would ramp up its efforts to defeat “Islamophobia.”
The OIC is fastidiously working on the creation of legal instruments to address and combat “Islamophobia.” Renewing its commitment to mobilize the West to comply with Islamic blasphemy laws, the OIC vowed to push for nation states to enact laws that will criminalize the “denigration of religions” during in its next Istanbul conference, anticipated to take place this June.
Further, it is requesting that the UN start an international mechanism that could serve as an “early warning system” against instances of discrimination and intolerance on religious grounds.
Specifically, the OIC is proposing the creation of an observatory at the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, presumably analogous to the Observatory on Islamophobia that the OIC already maintains. The difference would be that the new observatory would be overseen by an internationally sanctioned entity (the UN) and would expand to all religions.
It is fair to say that since Islamist organizations have coordinated campaigns across the world that encourage and solicit reports of either real, feigned, staged or imagined incidents of “Islamophobia,” the new “empirical data” that such an observatory would collect, would still be drastically skewed. No other religion has a worldwide campaign instructing its members to report unpleasant truths as “bigotry” or to complain about slights as minor as “hostile looks.”
Additionally, the OIC is continuing to use the language embodied in pre-existing legal instruments in order to make it harder for Western countries to object. For example, Resolution 16/18 mirrors some of the language in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). ICCPR, Article 20 states “the advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” The U.S. rightly signed a reservation to this clause, effectively opting out, insisting that Americans retain the right to exercise their First Amendment freedom of speech.
Further, though Article 20 makes such speech illegal, it leaves the definition of these terms open to interpretation and does not specify that the illegality must be criminal in nature. Despite this, Rizwan Saeed Sheikh, spokesman for the OIC Secretary General, insists that pursuant to Article 20 the “denigration of symbols or persons sacred to any religion is a criminal offense.”
Such claims are indicative of the legal and linguistic gymnastics that the OIC will use to achieve its goal to “combat defamation of Islam” and to export Islamic blasphemy laws, labeling them as something aesthetically easier to swallow.
At the Summit, OIC members also unanimously elected Iyad Madani to the post of OIC Secretary General. His term is to commence in 2014 when current Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu’s term expires. This is the first time that the OIC will be headed by a Saudi.
Though the current OIC regime is comprised of sticklers for Islamic blasphemy laws and staunch advocates for the obliteration of Israel, it is likely that the OIC will become even more extreme under Madani. Compared to the Wahabbis in Saudi Arabia, Ihsanoglu and gang can be considered reformers pushing “Islam lite.” The election of a former Saudi Minister to head the largest Islamic organization in the world and lead the UN’s most powerful voting bloc is a bad omen of what’s to come. Indeed, it would come as no surprise if under its new leadership, the OIC’s old leadership would be labeled “Islamophobic.”
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.