Religious Tolerance Forum Hosted By the King of Saudi Arabia
By: Gabriel Sawma
Saudi Arabia initiated inter-religious meeting at the United Nations this week. King Abdullah called his initiative a “Culture of Peace Summit,” to promote tolerance among the world’s major religions. Participants who gathered in New York on Wednesday and Thursday called for promoting mutual understanding and tolerance, through dialogue. Among those who attended are leaders from Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Britain, Spain and the Philippines, said Enrique Yeves, spokesman for U.N. General Assembly president Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann. President Bush joined the leaders this morning and gave a speech at the U.N General Assembly hall.
Other participants include U.N. Secretary General Ban Li-Moon and the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the bloc of Muslim nations spearheading a campaign at the U.N. to outlaw the “defamation” of religion.
Critics note that while King Abdullah hosted leaders from different Muslim sects in Saudi Arabia, his other initiatives have taken place outside the kingdom. Any inter-religious meeting inside Saudi Arabia could draw opposition from conservative clerics unhappy with the presence of Christian and, especially, Jewish religious leaders.
The underlining results of this Summit are to make non-Muslims accept Islam and the shari’a law as well as the Islamic banking system without any recognition by Muslims to other faiths. The whole focus of the Summit is to endorse a U.N. Resolution of anti-blasphemy law against Islam around the world.
In 1999, Pakistan and the Organization of the Islamic Conference introduced a measure to the U.N. Human Rights Council to spread shari’a law to the Western world and to intimidate anyone who criticizes Islam.
The measure was amended to include religions other than Islam, and it has passed every year since. In 2005, Yemen successfully brought a similar resolution before the General Assembly. The 192-nation Assembly is set to vote on it again.
In 2007, a non-binding Resolution 62/145 says: “It notes with deep concern the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath of 11 September 2001.” It also “stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred, against Islam and Muslims in particular.”
The resolution is really designed to permit countries with a dominant religion, such as Islam, to squelch any free-speech rights of religious minorities, according to Bill Saunders of the Family Research Council (FRC). “So for instance, in some Muslim countries, it’s considered blasphemy to just say what a Christian believes – because that is consistent with what Islam teaches,” Saunders explains. “Or, to try to switch from Islam to Christianity, that’s considered apostasy, and in those situations you can be punished by death.”
This also means that, it will be ILLEGAL to practice any other religion in an Islamic country other than Islam.
Critics say that Saudi Arabia’s policies are marked with oppression towards non-Muslims, which is in direct conflict with their attempt to promote religious tolerance abroad. By endorsing King Abdullah’s call for “religious tolerance” critics say, the U.N. General Assembly is “partaking” in religious oppression in Saudi Arabia.
Muslims of Egypt has been, for a long time, persecuting Christian Coptic minority, under the auspices of the strict Islamic rule of Hosni Mubarak. The Christian minority of Iraq are being persecuted by the Muslims, with immunity and Christian churches are bombed with explosives in Pakistan.
There is a widespread concern that the resolutions are being used to justify harsh blasphemy laws in countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan and Afghanistan.
In addition, every single constitution of the Middle East countries (except Lebanon and Turkey) has a provision stating that the laws of the land are based on the Islamic shari’a.
The U.S. government mission in Geneva, told the U.N. Human Rights Council that “defamation-related laws have been abused by governments and used to restrict human right” around the world, and sometimes Westerners have been caught in the web.
Felice Gaer, chairman of the U.S. Commission for International Religion Freedom (USCIRF) was travelling Monday and could not be reached for comments, wrote CNS News. But a spokeswoman pointed to recent remarks Gaer gave to Fox News: “We’d like to see a conference like this take place inside Saudi Arabia and the fact that it isn’t speaks volumes,” she said. “That’s true of the Madrid conference [in July] and true of the one at the U.N.”
Gaer voiced the view that “the conference was part of a Muslim campaign to promote a religious “defamation” resolution at the General Assembly,” said CNS News on November 11, 2008.
The European Union said the text proposed by Islamic countries was “one-sided” because it primarily focused on Islam. E.U. diplomats had said they wanted to stop the growing worldwide trend of using religious anti-defamation laws to limit free speech.
The European Center for Law and Justice filed a brief with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in June 2008 warning that such anti-defamation resolutions “are in direct violation of international law concerning the rights to freedom of religion and expression.
"Saudi Arabia calling on international religious tolerance is a little bit like the wolf calling for a sheep convention," responded Carl Moeller of Open Doors USA to Saudi Arabia's hosting a forum to promote interfaith dialogue.
In fact the U.N. “blasphemy resolution” has emboldened Islamic authorities and threatened Westerners:
- On Oct. 3 in Great Britain, three men were charged for plotting to kill the publisher of the novel “The Jewel of Medina,” which gives a factional account of the Prophet Muhammad and his child bride. FOXNews.com reported U.S. publisher Random House Inc., was going to release the book but stopped it from hitting shelves after it claimed that “credible and unrelated sources” said the book could incite violence by a “small, radical segments.”
- A British teacher was sentenced to 15 days in jail in Sudan for offending Islam by allowing students to name the class teddy bear Muhammad in November 2007.
- In February 2007 in Egypt an Internet blogger was sentenced to four years in prison fro writing a post that critiqued Islam.
- In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered after the release of his documentary about the abuse of Muslim women.
- On November 6, the Parliament of Kyrgystan adopted unanimously a new religious law targeting Christians and other religious minorities. It bans “proselytizing” and prohibits the conversion of Kyrgyz citizens to a different faith.
The pressure to protect religions from defamation has been growing ever since a Danish magazine published caricatures of Muhammad, provoking riots across the Islamic world in 2006 in which dozens of people were killed.
Gabriel Sawma, a lawyer dealing with International Law, mainly the European Union Law, the Middle East Law and Islamic Shari'a law. Professor of Middle East Constitutional Law, Islamic Shari'a, Arabic and Aramaic languages. Expert witness on Islamic marriage contracts, including the mahr contract; expert witness on U.S.-Middle East commercial contracts. Member of the Beirut Bar Association in Lebanon; The New York State Bar Association; Associate member of the American Bar Association. Author of “The Qur’an: Misinterpreted, Mistranslated, and Misread. The Aramaic Language of the Qur’an.” Author of an upcoming book on "Islamic marriage Contracts in U.S. Courts. http://www.syriacaramaicquran.com. Editor of International Law website: http://www.gabrielsawma.blogspot.com.