Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Defamation of religions


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

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.

As for almost all Muslim causes, this forceful move against insults to Islam suffered a severe setback because of the 9/11 attacks and the launch of the ‘war on terror’ whose targets were Al Qaeda, the Taliban and, soon, almost all militant Muslim groups.

Nevertheless, Pakistan, which still holds the OIC leadership in Geneva, has persisted in annually proposing and securing adoption of the resolution on Defamation of Religions in the Human Rights Council.

Three years ago, the US initiated a determined diplomatic campaign to prevent the adoption of this annual resolution. Its principal argument, apart from freedom of expression, was that religions cannot be defamed in legal terms. Under US pressure, support for the OIC resolution began to dwindle over the past few years — even within the OIC group. In 2010, Pakistan had to work overtime in Geneva to ensure a simple majority. Following the latest provocations — the US video and the French cartoons — support for the effort to criminalise ‘defamation’ of religions may secure renewed and wider support in the UN. To fast-track the process, the proposal to criminalise insults against Islam and other religions could be submitted for a legally binding decision by the UN Security Council. Pakistan is currently a non-permanent member of the Council. And, the Security Council has jurisdiction since, as President Zardari pointed out, such religious provocations “destroy the peace” and “endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression”. Although such a proposal may be vetoed by the Western permanent members in the Security Council, it will serve to underline the serious intent of the Muslim world and can generate some restraints in the West against anti-Islamic provocations.

Obviously, while seeking this objective, Muslim governments will need to ensure an equal degree of probity and respect towards other religions and beliefs within their own societies. Pakistan and several other Muslim countries have laws prohibiting incitement to religious hatred. Thus, the growing incidents of religious and sectarian discrimination and violence in Muslim countries, especially in Pakistan, are not only un-Islamic, they are also illegal. The destruction of one’s own property and lives in response to alien insults is also pretty senseless. Such acts reinforce the portrayal of Muslims as innately violent.

And, they erode the credibility of the case for criminalising the insults to Islam in non-Muslim countries.

It is depressing also that the US and its Western friends fail to understand or admit the root causes of Muslim anger. This is the consequence of the history of American policies which most Muslims find offensive: its pro-Israel positions in the Middle East, Mossadeq’s ouster, the blind eye to Kashmir, military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, post-9/11 discrimination against Muslims. This is self-evident to common people in the Muslim world; but it is not accepted by American policymakers and not understood by the general public.

Nor is there a willingness in Washington to admit past mistakes and rectify and rebalance failed policies. Obama’s weak effort in Cairo to appear even-handed towards the Palestinians was slapped down by Netanyahu, displaying Israel’s deep political influence in the US. There has been no US apology for the invasion of Iraq on false pretences; nor for Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, and no change in continuing to fight the futile war in Afghanistan which has also destabilised and alienated Pakistan.

It is in these circumstances that the narrative of Islamic extremists still has resonance in Muslim countries and the popularity of those who confront the US is rising.

The reaction in Washington to the killing of its ambassador in Libya and the violence in Cairo seemed to indicate a blithe belief that its “support” to the democracy movements in the Arab Spring would be sufficient to win it the goodwill and compliance of the new, democratically elected governments. What it did not recognise perhaps is that these elected governments closely reflect the composition, culture and sentiments of the majority of their peoples. They are thus religiously conservative, nationalist and, so far, psychologically independent of US power.

Under the circumstances, no one can discount the future spiral of fresh tensions between the West and the Muslim world. Unless conscious preventive measures are adopted, there could be new provocations in the West and further violent reactions in the Islamic countries.

What is slightly heartening is that both the recent anti-Islam insults in the US and France and the violent reactions to these in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Pakistan and elsewhere were the work of fringe groups, not mainstream political parties. If governments on both sides of the cultural and political divide can adopt responsible policies to contain provocations and violent reactions on religious issues, a serious dialogue could be undertaken on how best to bridge the deep divide between Islam and the West and address the root causes of today’s ‘clash of cultures’.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (46) Closed

Bob Oct 01, 2012 02:34am
Many many factual errors in this argument because I personally know of several cities that turned back into forest because of Muslim invasions in India. Only people who are blinded by blatant partisan education system can claim there was no Hindu holocaust in India because of Muslims. Also, would like to dispute your claim that Jazia wasn't used "today". Until Gaddafi was overthrown, he had this tax in place on [at least] Indian professionals who worked in Libya.
Mustafa Razavi Oct 01, 2012 02:07am
Cyrus Howell; "We are all here to live our lives and not to go out of our way to cause problems for others." Oh really? Is it a part of someone's normal routine to burn the Quran, murder Muslims (about 300 this month in India) or destroy mosques? that is a strange life you are living out. Having said that, you are right that most of the rest of the world is not involved in spewing hate against Islam, it is just the Zionists and their lackeys.
Tanvir Sep 30, 2012 03:10pm
You do have some points to make. But remember a fire never starts by itself. Someone or something starts the ignition. Was it wrong for the Indian Muslim to protest against the take over the Babari Mosque the Hindus by claiming that once it belonged to Hindus. Come to think of it, a mosque or a temple is always built by a community in an indisputable manner. If there is no community, Hindu or Muslim, to take care of a temple or a mosque, it belocngs to the community livin around it. So why was the Babari mosque taken away from the Muslim community still praying it? Just to ignite a fire in the Muslim community?
Sandip Oct 01, 2012 01:26am
Shirin, With all that laws, how many Hindu millionaires do you have in your country. What is the percentage of other religion people are in your army and other security services. How many of them have been prime minister or president. I rest my case.
shiva Sep 30, 2012 06:25am
"Obviously, while seeking this objective, Muslim governments will need to ensure an equal degree of probity and respect towards other religions and beliefs within their own societies". Just a single line in the whole article that shows some tilt towards the "others". Though its easier said than done. Cant imagine temples and churches coexisting side by side or religious festivals being celebrated freely in muslim countries!!
nirode mohanty Oct 01, 2012 01:32am
The film is disgusting, degenerating, disparaging and vulgar made by a criminal. But Muslims must also know that Jesus and Moses have been defamed and degraded several times at several places with no violence any places. Muslims have burnt Hindu temples, Hindu scriptures, and converted their temples to mosques for several centuries. Even a Muslim painter had vulgarized a Hindu goddess, with no violent reactions. Due to the film, a Hindu temple, a church and several Buddhists temples were torched. Muslims cannot have both ways.
Farhat Khan Sep 30, 2012 08:41pm
Religion is a small part of a larger cultural mosaic. Religion must be separated from the affairs of the State, otherwise you have pakistan.
Muhammad Ali Sep 30, 2012 01:39pm
Well said Ajay.... I 100% agree with you
h.mani Sep 30, 2012 01:59pm
I Sound like a broken record,how do you expect you,Islam or Pakistani to be seriously if your concept of justice is no insult to your Prophet,Quran and Islam,but you guys are free to do the same to Christians,Jews and Hindus.This hypocrisy has doomed all meaningful discussion between you & other people,you reserve the right to convert,break idols,burn others holy books,break ancient temples(I do not need to give example,I will be typing for ever,as you yourself know it)You have made insulting other religion a part of your teaching as standard in class room.West does not even bother to show you the mirror,as it serves no purpose,they just ignore your ranting,riot,mayhem,as your part of your way of life,you will now manly indulge in this destructive acts mainly to your countries and societies,they will come down hard on you if you try these tacts in West,do you see your guys acting wildly in West,No,so you have achieved nothing other than shooting yourself in foot.You just burned down a Hindu temple?Do we take you seriously?No.No one does.All your self rightiously leaders like Zardari will come empty handed,you do not take yourself seriously,how can others?
Rajinder Oct 01, 2012 12:06am
we all have to learn to live and let others live. The problems arise when one particular religion claims to have a monopoly on the Almighty, and berates other religions.
El Cid Sep 30, 2012 11:00pm
@Tahir:?Remember sticks and stones may break my bones...? ...but words can be merciless. They can twist the mind, burn the soul. Words are keener, more dangerous than sword, steel and spear, combined. Words have power. Words make the man. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest of hearts. Yogis, saints, and sages remind us that all the pain of human life is caused by words, as is the joy. Love and hate begin with words. ?WORDS are a pretext [...] ___RUMI
shochi Sep 30, 2012 10:10pm
Perhaps you should travel a little and visit us in Turkey
azharnaqvi Sep 30, 2012 09:21pm
Being a Muslim we can not even think about insulting any Prophet. Similarly, we can not for give anyone who dares so. Muslims need to be precised and united to counter such blasphemous acts. For me denial of the Holocaust is the best way to restrain these large-mouthed Jews.......They are real threat to global peace.
Farhat Khan Sep 30, 2012 08:50pm
Study your histroy and read the Agreement of Haroon Al Rasheed after the conquest of Byzanatine Empire. It was the most derogatory and humiliating document towards Christians. It was not that they were not rquired to enlist in the army , it was they were not allowed. Get your facts straight.
ahmed Sep 30, 2012 08:45pm
Sheer waste of time
Gerry D'Cunha Sep 30, 2012 09:39am
you have taken the words out of my mouth - muslims should show respect for other religion and they will get respect for their religion. Leave 'hatred' and you will get 'love'
Tom Alter Sep 30, 2012 08:42pm
That is only the latest incident by the religion of peace.
Tom Alter Sep 30, 2012 08:40pm
The Babari Mosque was an unused semi-ruined structure before it was demolished. It was not the centre of any Muslim community.
Avtar Sep 30, 2012 07:35pm
The whole subcontinent from Kandhar (Gandhara) to Burma was Buddhist or Hindu or pagan. It is the Muslims who have tried to convert forcibly and the Afghan Muslims still continue to do so. To give you another example, the mosque near Qutb Minar in Delhi has inscription on it that it is made from the Hindu temples in the vicinity!
Cyrus Howell Sep 30, 2012 02:11pm
Billions of Muslims? Isn't that approximately 1.6 billion. The fact is, the rest of the population of Earth does not care about Islam in any way. We are all here to live our lives and not to go out of our way to cause problems for others.
Jamil Dehlavi Sep 30, 2012 12:04pm
All gratuitous insults of any faith, or deeply held beliefs is silly, no doubt but all faiths, especially Islam, will have to learn to accept criticism and tolerance, which is conspicuous by its absence. The faith should be strong enough not to feel threatened by a mere cartoon or a badly made video, no matter how offensive the offence is. The faithfuls, especially Muslims should stop spending hours on the internet scouring for obscure videos to find an excuse to burn and kill. Having said that, most of the article by Mr Akram is reasonable
sanu Sep 30, 2012 08:15am
Muslims are angry babri mosque was demolished by the hindus. But in the last fifty years muslims have demolished thousands of hindu temples in Pakistan and Bangladesh. There is no problem then. Islam channels make derogatory remarks year after year against other religions, and there is no problem. Pakistani textbooks are full of hate literature, and still there is no problem.
Shirin Sep 30, 2012 04:46pm
That's because you are buying right wing fox news propaganda. Saudi Arabia is just one Arab country. Churches, synagogues, have co-existed alongside mosques in most Arab countries. Yes we fall far short...but it is easy to beat up on whoever the west is beating up on on. Just FYI, you can't go open mosques, temples, etc in Israel, and much of west, while preaching tolerance to others, are increasingly become intolerant when it comes to construction of mosques today... of temples tomorrow.
Maria Sep 30, 2012 06:56pm
Muslims will NEVER get the respect and acceptance from the rest of the world unless they start respecting other religions and the people following them. Their ideology is deeply rooted in extremism, fanticism, blind faith and total disregard for other religions and sects. They must remember that world does not help or respect those who don't help themselves. Hence, it is advisable for them to first set their own house in order before complaining or pointing fingers at others.
Maria Sep 30, 2012 06:44pm
The gap between Islam and other religions is too big. It cannot be bridged because Islam is a very rigid religion with too many ideological differences. Hence, the onus lies completely with the Muslims of the world to integrate themselves with rest of the world, else they will surely be left behind because lack of progressiveness and acceptance to change.
Guru Sep 30, 2012 09:17pm
The freedom to criticize religious beliefs is an amazing concept that only an advanced society like the US can understand. Blind faith never helped anyone. There are any number of new cults and belief systems as well as many ancient and established belief systems. Many of them have numerous followers. There are charlatans and fake religious leaders that start their own faiths with many blind followers. Many of these cults and religions have numerous flaws. Some of them are criminal. Some of them are simply businesses for their priests and leaders. They are set up like a scheme where once you are a follower you are stuck and cannot escape. Should we never be allowed to question any of them? Can someone give me a logical response?
Muhammad Omer Khan Sep 30, 2012 06:08pm
If you talk about Islamic law, it does not allow us to disrespect non Muslims. Yes people do it sometimes but they are dealt with always, the media all over the world exaggerates this to suggest that our country and other Muslim countries treat non Muslims in a cruel way. That is not true. Come to Pakistan, go to any Muslim country and see for yourself.
Ram Krishan Sharma Sep 30, 2012 09:43am
Muslims must show some respect to symbols of other religions as well . I read in today's Dawn that a Hindu temple in Karachi was desecrated by 9 muslims who attacked and destroyed the statues.
ansu Oct 01, 2012 02:18am
wake up man --and read history.
Muhammad Omer Khan Sep 30, 2012 05:47pm
Masterful reply shirin, amazing response. So so true. I feel our media degrades our government, our country and our people so much that it is unbearable, you would never hear anything against government policy on major issues on Indian channels, yet a private tv channel in Pakistan was foremost in trying to prove that Ajmal kasam was a Pakistani when the government was still skeptical about it, our media repeatedly calls for handing over people like A Q Khan to the US. They blackmail their own government successfully
jatin Sep 30, 2012 05:22pm
i am truly surprised that Dawn has published this rubbish.
Dinesh Sep 30, 2012 05:14pm
Freedom of religion is an archaic idea. All religious texts are full of insults against non believers. It is really asinine to ask non-believers not to insult and fight the believer (of any religion). It is ok for you to kill me, but I can't draw a cartoon? A muslim is allowed to blow up the Bamian Buddha's without any guilt (because it violates the tenets of their religion), yet they believe that a film criticizing them is not ok. A muslim asks for all kinds of rights in the countries they migrate to, yet Saudi and other Islamic countries routinely discriminate against non-muslims. I don't see any end in sight. Islamic world still operates like a gang that only looks after its own and has no qualms about the pain they cause to those who don't agree with them. One is free to believe and do what one likes, however you must be prepared to face the consequences.
Rao Sep 30, 2012 02:56pm
I Bet and know that there are millions of Muslims who are thoughtful and believe intellectual criticism is necessary in any walk of life including religion. But there are built in religious practices and teachings in Islam that prohibit such mind set. This precisely one of the reasons Muslim world has fallen behind for centuries in all walks of life.
Ajay Vikram Singh Sep 30, 2012 07:50am
I was disappointed most, when i saw at the bottom of the article that writer was a UN ambassador. It was quite shallow and superficial view on the whole issue. He used a non-existent concept "Islam vs West". Well, West as they call it a geopolitical and cultural entity, Where Islam is a religion. How can you compare them together. Does he mean to say there is no islam in West or in countries those are not politically islamic? or are they not right version of islam as they dont follow a narrow, imperialistic interpretation of Religion and God. You people have made the esoteric and spirituals aspects of Divine so profane and mundane. When they say Oneness of God, it only means The God in everyone and everywhere, in all colors, races, views and actions. Its been taken as a literal comic oath of believing in My idea of God. Democracy and freedom, stands for highest ideals of Divine, not only humanity. Those who do not have acceptance, both in mind as well in spirit of this highest wisdom of plurality of though and being, can not be religions in anyway whatsoever. Calling, social and political ideas as religious, and making God a commodity is the falling of very concept of divine. Yes, religion must stay away from all things political, and legal and social. You can not organize God and you cant get offended because someone doesn't like your idea of God.
Shirin Sep 30, 2012 04:13pm
The word Kafir is same as infidel or non-believer. If the word infidel is acceptable than so should the word kafir. Budparast means idolator. That is common to Judaism and Christianity. Jazia is a tax imposed on non-muslims, in protection of a muslim state. They were taxed higher because they were not required to enlist and go to war in defense of the state, where they could be fighting armies of their own faith. Yes, it has been misused, but the Islamic position was not derogatory by any means. The prophet, in the 7th century, knew how others treated their minorities and had no qualms about his own followers. Not denying that Muslims committed atrocities, without the doubt they did, and still are doing so, but the reason there is no history of holocaust of Hindus, Jews, and Christian minorities under Muslim rule, and no history of a Muslim Ashok is primarily because of Jazia. Of course then there was no concept of a country as we have now. People lived more tribal then. Today there is and jazya is not used in any Muslim country that I know of.
Farhat Khan Sep 30, 2012 04:07pm
agree ,agree, agree, a voice of reason
Farhat Khan Sep 30, 2012 04:00pm
Yea for President Obama
Tahir Sep 30, 2012 03:48pm
Don't you think there are enough real problems in the world? Who cares about a silly film, or a book burning? Remember sticks and stones may break my bones [...]
Shirin Sep 30, 2012 03:49pm
True Ajay. Very true. The writer adopted western position where Islam is geo-political, cultural, racial and religious as opposed to Christianity which is purely a religion.
Shirin Sep 30, 2012 03:43pm
And the reason you know about all this is because WE are pointing them out to you. clearly hate does not allow people to THINK! demolishing of Hindu temples is ILLEGAL in Pakistan. Making derogatory speeches about Hindu Gods is also illegal. Yes people do it but it is against the law. And Pakistani textbooks discussing partition are not just. But neither are YOUR text books. Nor is your national anthem. The difference is that our media is telling the world about our double standard, whereas your media is quiet. You can tell Pakistanis about the minority discrimination problem in Pakistan, but you can not do that in India without Hindus getting on your case. That is just a fact.
Shirin Sep 30, 2012 03:32pm
1.6 billion is a pretty big percentage of the world. And if US could just accept your position as its policy - "live our lives and not go out of our way to cause problems for others" there would have been no war in Afghanistan in the 80's and subsequently now, no war in Iraq, no bribery aka usaid to tyrants right and left. Really it seems like US has only two policies towards Muslims countries - bribery for autocrat regimes they like, and sanctions and war for ones they don't. Both of these position can not be described as "live our lives and not go out of our way to cause problems"
Tanvir Sep 30, 2012 03:31pm
Sorry. You can ask a Mulsim mob not to destroy non-Mulsim's properties and temples or any things dear to them. But you cannot ask Muslims to drop a basic covenant of their belief. Any one who does not belief in the Unity of God is a Kafir (identifying them as believing in more than one God). This excludes jews and Christians and may other religion who believe in the Unity of God. Similarly, if a non-Muslim community cannot fight in the defense of a Muslim state, then there is nothing wrong on imposing a protection tax (Jizya) on them for Muslims shedding their blood for their protection. But these days no Muslim country is really collecting any Jizya from any Non-Mulsim. It's a moot point. Jizya is a kid of a tax like the Non-US citizens pay for educating their children in US state colleges funded by taxes paid by the citizens. This education tax is almost 5-10 times more than the regular tuition.
Faisal Sep 30, 2012 03:13pm
A very immature and childish argument it is" muslims should show respect for other religion and they will get respect for their religion". The current wave of anger against the west and US arouse in response of blasphemy.. Not because of respect for Islam
Faisal Sep 30, 2012 03:09pm
A very good article.. The west and US has always tried to ignore Muslims for their own advantage. Muslim will definitely show respect to other religions only when Islam is not mocked.
Tanvir Sep 30, 2012 02:59pm
The reality speeks otherwise. The west would like to see all Muslim coutries as a defenseless bunch not able to respond to any Western agression, militarily or verbally. If Holocaust can be defended by laws in the West, then all other religions can also be protected in a similar fashion. The simple reason being that Jews have more powere and influence than other minorities living in the West.
wellwisher Sep 30, 2012 07:28am
Very well meaning article. However, muslims wll have to show respect for other religions before they ask for respect for their own religion from others. Concepts like 'Kafir', 'Butparasti', 'Jazia system' etc. in Islam are derogatory of other religions. Muslims will have to somehow resolve this contradiction in their conception of world religions.