The war against free speech is advancing rapidly: Associated Press reported Thursday that “Muslim countries have won a battle to prevent Islam from being criticised during debates by the UN Human Rights Council.” Council President Doru-Romulus Costea explained that religious issues can be “very complex, very sensitive and very intense…This council is not prepared to discuss religious matters in depth, consequently we should not do it.” Henceforth only religious scholars would be permitted to broach them.
“While Costea’s ban applies to all religions,” AP explained, “it was prompted by Muslim countries complaining about references to Islam.” The ban came after a heated session on Monday, when the representative of the Association for World Education (AWE), in a joint statement with the International Humanist and Ethical Union, denounced female genital mutilation, the penalty of stoning for adultery and child marriage as sanctioned by Islamic law. Egypt, Pakistan and Iran angrily protested, interrupting the AWE speaker, David Littman, with no less than 16 points of order, and succeeding in getting the Council’s proceedings suspended for over half an hour. In the course of this contentious discussion, the representatives from the Islamic countries made numerous revealing statements – statements that are well worth examining as Islamic nations and organizations call with increasing insistence for restrictions on free speech in the West.
Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, the representative from Pakistan, echoed the ever-echoing refrain of all Islamic apologists in the West, when he complained that Littman’s initiative on genital mutilation, stoning and child marriage amounted to an “out-of-context, selective discussion on the Sharia law.” He asked that Littman not be allowed to speak: “I would therefore request the president to exercise his judgment and authority and request the speaker not to touch issues which have already been debarred from discussion in this Council.” The representative from Slovenia then protested mildly against this attempt to silence Littman: “Any NGO representative,” he reminded Siddiqui, “has the right to make a statement within the merits of the agenda item under discussion. We see the statement being made pertaining within the purview of the agenda item and we don’t see grounds for any restricting censorship in that respect.”
The representative from Egypt thereupon responded: “I would humbly and kindly ask my colleague from Slovenia to reconsider.” He warned: “We will not take this lightly….This is not about NGOs and their participation in the Council. This is about the Sharia law.” Pakistan’s Siddiqui added: “I would like to state again that this is not the forum to discuss religious sensitivity.” Why not? Again sounding notes that are increasingly familiar in any discussion of the elements of Islam that jihadists and Sharia supremacists use to justify oppression, Siddiqui explained: “It will amount to spreading hatred against certain members of the Council. I mean, it has happened before also that selective discussions were raised in the Council to demonize a particular group.” He addressed Costea: “So we would again request you to please use your authority to bar any such discussion again, at the Council.”
After more discussion, a recess, and another warning from the representative from Egypt, Littman was finally allowed to proceed. After noting that “almost 90% of the female population in the north of Sudan undergo FGM which, in many cases, is practiced in its most extreme form known as infibulation,” Littman declared: “We believe that only a fatwa from Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Sayyed Tantawi – replacing the ambiguous fatwas of 1949, 1951 and 1981 – will change this barbaric, criminal practice, which is now growing even in Europe.”
At this point Egypt interrupted, complaining that “this is an attempt to raise a bad traditional practice to Islam. Sheikh Al-Azhar [Sayyed Tantawi] is the president of the largest and the biggest and the oldest Islamic university in the world.” He exclaimed: “My point is that Islam will not be crucified in this Council. That’s why we are challenging this ruling” – that is, Costea’s decision to allow Littman to deliver his address.
The representative from Germany asked: “Mr. President, I would kindly, through you, ask the Egyptian delegation and its representative if I did understand in his last intervention…he seemed to have said, and I quote, and I apologize if I did not understand this correctly – my understanding was, quote: “Islam will not be crucified in this Council”. And I would like this statement confirmed and if it is confirmed I would ask you, Mr. President, whether you consider this appropriate with regard to the question of mentioning religion and its symbols?” But Egypt ignored this question, and said: “I would ask to delete any references to the fatwa of Sheikh Al-Azhar [Grand Sheikh Sayyad Tantawi] and to delete all references to Sheikh Al-Azhar from this paragraph and from the official records of the meeting.”
Yet an Islamic legal manual endorsed by Al-Azhar states that circumcision is required “for both men and women” (‘Umdat al-Salik, e4.3). And Tantawi himself has said, according to Geneive Abdo, author of No God But God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam, that female circumcision is “a laudable practice that [does] honor to women.”
Littman continued, noting that “the stoning of women for alleged adultery still occurs regularly in Iran, Sudan and other countries. In Iran, they are buried up to their waists in pits and blunt stones are used thereby increasing their agony in death.” Soon thereafter he was interrupted by the Iranian delegate, who declared: “The statement and the references made by this speaker in this statement is false and has nothing to do with the realities in my country. I just wanted, for the record… he said that…‘the stoning of women for adultery still occurs regularly in Iran’ – it’s not true, it is completely false, and is out of the question.”
Yet as of September 2007, eight women in Iran were awaiting stoning for adultery charges.
In sum, then, what Littman was saying was accurate, and the Egyptian, Pakistani and Iranian representatives consistently characterized these truthful statements as insults to Islam, and moved to have them suppressed. Not only does this shameful episode bode ill for the human rights of women in the Islamic world; it also represents another victory in the war against free speech that Islamic supremacists have been pursuing with particular energy lately, calling on Western authorities to prosecute Dutch politician Geert Wilders for his film Fitna and Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard for his drawing of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, and in general to outlaw what they perceive as insults to Islam.
They have won at the UN Human Rights Council. That will not be the only battle of this war. But it remains to be seen whether any governing official in the West has the courage and the clear-sightedness to stand up to this challenge before it’s too late -- before we are required by law to stand by as mute witnesses to our own conquest and Islamization.