The success of an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) resolution on countering religious hatred during a UN’s Human Rights Council vote this week has lent credence to the position that religions should be respected. But the resolution, which was presented by Pakistan on behalf of the 57-member OIC, was far from unanimous, as the US and the European Union said the resolution aims to constrain human rights and freedom of expression.
However, it is worth noting that several EU member states have, in their individual capacities, spoken out against religious hatred, including Sweden, where the desecration of the Quran last month set in motion the events that led up to the resolution. The delegates opposed to the resolution all condemned the desecration of the Quran, and mainly objected to the technical argument that the resolution is more focused on religious symbols and objects than human rights. Taken positively, this would imply there is still room for negotiating more widely acceptable language at a later meeting, since all parties appear to be in agreement that the act was deplorable, and the dispute is only over how to keep it from happening. The resolution itself calls for the UN’s rights body to publish reports on religious hatred and for states to review their laws and take appropriate action to address shortcomings and loopholes that may hinder restrictions or prosecution of hateful acts.
One positive development is that the frequency of such incidents has led to some critics in the West calling for actions such as burning the Quran and other religious symbols and objects to be classified as hate speech, since the act would qualify as one targeting ethnicity or race. At the same time, they say honest debate that is not done with the intention of causing hurt or insult should be protected under free speech laws. While this may not be acceptable to many in the Muslim world, it may serve as a starting point towards bringing the West around on what constitutes our religious sensitivities, and why.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2023.