Free speech under attack

April 17th, 2009 by Jerry Kott

United Nations wants you to shut up

United Nations wants you to shut up

With all the brouhaha about the state of the economy, the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the political crisis in Czech Republic and so on, I almost missed one piece of disturbing news coming from the United Nations. In a recent resolution passed on March 26th, the UN Human Rights Council urges the member States (that includes our beloved Canada and one of the few countries with free speech actually guaranteed by Constitution, the USA) to provide legal “protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general.”

What’s wrong with that? Seemingly nothing, until… we look more closely at the language of the resolution, and the countries that proposed and sponsored it. Defamation of a belief system doesn’t make logical sense. I can defame a person’s reputation, sure… but a set of beliefs? Pakistan and the countries associated in Organization of the Islamic Conference are hardly beacons of democracy, tolerance, and free speech, yet now it appears they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to protecting human rights. Regardless of the ambiguous and (oxy)moronic term “defamation of religion”, the countries where stoning and death sentences are still common as punishment for blasphemy or apostasy now want to dictate to the religiously tolerant West how to criminalize speech that points to true violations of human rights in the name of religion.

One of the mandates of Masaryk Memorial Institute is the promotion of values of Canadian citizenship. During the forty years of communist rule in Czechoslovakia, MMI and Novy Domov worked tirelessly to inform the democratic world about the violations of human rights in communist countries, where simple statements doubting the enlightened rule of The Party could result in any sort of arbitrary punishment, starting from job demotion to years in prison. The Communist Party, despite its advertised “scientific atheism”, had internal code and external behaviour that reminded more a medieval religious sect than a political party. “Defamation of the State”, or “Undermining the authority of the Party” were favourite charges brought by the rulers against the dissidents. Now it appears that the United Nations would like our new homeland to adopt similar legislation.

Should we remain silent on this issue? I’d be really interested to know the opinions of devout Christians in the Czech & Slovak community. Is “defamation of religion” (any religion) something that people should live in fear of being accused of? I think not. It has been said before that the political correctness of our times is just a form of creeping tyranny of totalitarian state. I am certainly not in favour of hysteria when it comes to accepting so-called visible minorities (a term which in itself is of dubious value, bordering on racist), but I also believe that it is our duty, if for nothing else than our own troubled history of religious and political intolerance, to draw a line in sand. To stand up, call our MPs, discuss it on the web, talk about it with our friends of any shade of skin, to tell them where such sort of rhetoric and legislation leads…

Despite searching far and wide, I haven’t been able to find the actual text of the resolution on the UN web site. Below are some links relevant to the issue. And to those in the Czech community who may think that this has nothing to do with MMI or our community (I know there are some), I must say: think again.

And finally, here is a video of Lou Dobbs’ conversation on the issue with Christopher Hitchens, about a month before the resolution passed:



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