Defamation of religions by Munir Akram (The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN).

THE recent tragic events surrounding the profane and provocative video insulting Islam’s Prophet (PBUH) have again revived tensions between the Islamic world and America and revealed the wide cultural and political gulf between them.

This gulf was evident from the statement made at the UN General Assembly by the US president on Sept 25 and the response the next day from the presidents of Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan and Iran.

President Obama argued for absolute freedom of expression, asserting that he defended this right even for those who criticised him. He described the video as “disgusting” but condemned the violent reactions to it in the Muslim world especially the murder of the US ambassador in Libya. Obama opined that restraints on freedom of expression result in repression, particularly against minorities.

Rejecting these premises, President Morsi said: “Egypt respects freedom of expression … that is not used to incite hatred against anyone. …Insults against the Prophet of Islam … are not acceptable. We will not allow anyone to do this by word or deed.”

President Zardari expressed “strongest condemnation for acts of incitement of hate against the faith of billions of Muslims … and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)”. He called for criminalising such insults against religions.

In fact, 12 years ago, Pakistan, as chair of the Islamic (OIC) Group on human rights in Geneva, proposed a resolution in the Human Rights Commission entitled ‘Defamation of Islam’. It called for adoption of laws to prohibit insults against Islam and other religions and beliefs, just as denial of the Holocaust had been criminalised by several European countries. In negotiations with the West, the proposal’s title was amended to ‘Defamation of Religions’. It was adopted by a comfortable majority despite abstentions by several Western countries including the US.



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