Policing Defamation of Religion

The United Nations is voting on a new resolution “On Combating Defamation of Religions,” that was put forward by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of 57 states with large Islamic populations in order to stop the spread of Islamophobia and targeting religion in general.

Now, I see the well-meaning intentions behind this to fight back against hate speech and stand up for civility, respect and tolerance, but by having a law against it, these leaders are creating a more authoritative environment that is in fact less tolerant.


Blasphemy doesn’t just mean criticizing a religion and its followers, but extends to targeting those who follow different interpretations and beliefs that offend others. This vagueness, as Paula Schiffer refers to in her op-ed in the New York Times, is the scary part.

Mostly Muslims bear the brunt of dealing with criticism and offensive speech and they are acutely analyzed for their reaction to things like Qu’ran burnings, fiery documentaries, books, cartoons or military action etc.

There is this perception based on headline stories that all Muslims immediately go out and protest, set fire and send death threats, instead of shaking their head and going about their day and talking amongst each other about how pointless this hatred and ignorance is. Some braver and more passionate Muslims may speak out and look for opportunities for dialogue and community cooperation, but their participation is rarely highlighted or recognized as significant and the norm by the mainstream.

Freedom of speech and acceptance of expression needs to be respected in the Islamic world first, before they can attempt to control defamation against them. Unfortunately, some Muslims don’t believe that principle is Islamic and speech can be rightfully prevented by authority.

If we do not teach more Muslims that it’s not okay to face intolerance by being intolerant, but fighting irrational hatred with more irrational hatred, then the conflict between religions will be exacerbated. Teaching it with religious support and evidence will have a vastly more successful effect.

This resolution isn’t going to make people to be nicer to people;no piece of legislation can nor should do that. Obviously, legislation that protects people’s lives from bullying and harassment is necessary, but civility must be an independent, social movement in order to take hold and be legitimate.

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