If the OIC succeeds in turning criticism of religion into 'defamation', freedom of expression will be eradicated.
- guardian.co.uk Friday 20 March 2009 19.00 GMT
Facts speak for themselves. Omid Reza Mir Sayafi, 29, a journalist and blogger, has taken his own life in Evin prison in Iran, where he was serving a two-year sentence for "insulting Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei", and awaiting further trial for "insulting sacred values", which would have meant more years in prison. He was a sensitive man, who blogged mainly about music and the arts, and imprisonment was a hellish experience for him; he was reported to be profoundly depressed and anxious.
Safayi is yet another victim of religion. If the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has its way, it will become impossible to make such a remark.
At the United Nations Council on Human Rights in Geneva, the OIC is trying again to have "defamation of religion" banned. The aim is a universal gag on free speech, blocking the right of anyone to criticise the too frequently negative effects of religion on individuals and society. The OIC has yet to appreciate that if it succeeds in its effort to protect Islam from legitimate challenges to its less attractive doctrines and practices – to say nothing of Islamism with its murderous extreme – the relentless antisemitism from its own side of the street will have to stop too.
If it succeeds in turning criticism of religion and its main beneficiaries into "defamation", we might not be free to express our condemnation of a sentence just handed down in Saudi Arabia against a 74-year-old woman, condemned to 45 lashes, three months in prison, and deportation to her native Jordan, for having two male visitors in her home who were not relatives.
And here is another thing we might not be able to discuss. The Pope's iteration of his church's doctrine on contraception, while on his way to visit Africa where 21 million people in sub-Saharan countries are infected with HIV, millions have died of Aids, and millions of Aids orphans live in frightful conditions of semi-slavery and destitution, has been rightly condemned by many around the world.
But the HIV/Aids tragedy of Africa is only the tip of an iceberg. Opposition to control of family size in the poorest part of the world condemns women to endless pregnancies if they are not – as many are – killed or incapacitated by childbearing in difficult circumstances. The difficulty of looking after numerous children in abject poverty is, on its own, a grinding oppression, to say nothing of the immense barriers to the opportunity for decent lives later on for the children. These brutal facts are as nothing to the Pope: in his view the blight of too many pregnancies, too many children, infant mortality, starvation, disease, poverty and immiseration is all part of the deity's plan. For anyone who goes by evidence, if there is a deity, this suggests that it devotes its spare time to pulling wings off flies.
The Pope's attitude to sex is mainly informed by having to deal with child-abusing priests (latest reports say that in the US complaints against abusive priests rose to 800 in 2008: that's more than a dozen a week), which is why his advice to them – abstinence – seems to be the only thing he can think to suggest to everyone else, and most of all as a guard against HIV infection. Plenty of people lack insight into the deep imperatives of human nature, so let us not blame the Pope for adding this particular deficit to his already rich repertoire of them: but let us ask whether a marrying clergy might not be part of the solution to sexually abusing priests, if there has to be a clergy at all. Best of all as a policy for the Pope and his church on matters of sex might be silence. To adapt Wittgenstein, "Wherof you know nothing, shut up."
The chief point is that Vatican policy on contraception is in every sense a hideous crime against humanity and ought to be treated as such.
And that takes us back to the OIC. The OIC dislikes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the very good reason that religion, not excluding their version of it, is a systematic violator of human rights, not least the rights of women – who are one half of the world, a fact the OIC does not notice, or if it does it applies religious arithmetic to solve the problem: one woman is worth half a man. The OIC is trying to change the Universal Declaration of Human Rights accordingly.
It has introduced its own version of "(Hu)Man Rights": it is an instructive read, and illustrates the importance of abating the nuisance of religion in today's world. How is this to be done consistently with the right to believe stupid things? By entrenching, and making effective, the principle that whereas you can believe as many stupid things as you like, you are not free to act on those beliefs in ways that harm others.http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/20/islam-unitednations