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The resolution on Islamophobia adopted by the UN proposed by Pakistan is a mistake

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The UN has adopted a resolution proposed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Pakistan to designate March 15 the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. This sounds innocent or even beneficial. But the reverse is true. Pakistan is a country with a dramatic track record for guaranteeing religious freedom for all citizens (including the freedom to change religion). To start with the latter, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrined religious freedom in Article 18 as, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”

The pain point for conservative and reactionary regimes begins after “this right includes.” Because after that, it says that you can also distance yourself from religion. You can change your religion. And in countries like Pakistan, while they want to make it possible that you can choose Islam (a Christian has the freedom to convert to Islam), they do not want you to be able to exchange Islam for Christianity or worse (atheism).

In Pakistan and other countries where a reactionary form of Islam is sought to prevail, three offenses are used for this purpose 1. blasphemy, 2. heresy, 3. apostasy (change of faith). These things are criminalized, sometimes with draconian penalties such as the death penalty. Criminalizing all three of these things violates human rights, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration, because 1. which god you want to embrace or reject is up to the individual, 2. which view of the faith is the right one the believer may decide for himself, 3. whether you want to fall away from the faith and which faith you want to adopt after that is entirely up to the believer to decide.

Pakistan has been trying for years to divert attention from its misdeeds when it comes to guaranteeing religious freedom for its citizens by pretending in the United Nations that “Islamophobia” would be the big problem. What exactly that is, is deliberately kept vague. One shuttles back and forth between “hatred of Muslims” and pathological aversion or fear (“phobia”) of Islam.

Now, of course, “Muslim hatred” is reprehensible. Just as “Christian hatred would be reprehensible. Or “atheist hatred.” Or “socialist hatred.” But an unproven proposition is that there would be a special problem with “Muslim hatred” that would not exist with other groups. Yet Pakistan has been trying to stoke that fire for years, and on March 15 they got a foot in the door at the UN. The United Nations passed a resolution to declare March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia. The resolution had been submitted by Pakistan and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, including several Islamic countries. The date of March 15 was chosen because the terrorist Brenton Tarrant murdered 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand three years ago.

We must hope that many people will see through that neither Pakistan nor the OIC is a credible spokesperson for non-discrimination, respect, acceptance of religious diversity, or other liberal values. Pakistan and the OIC are trying to spread a form of reactionary Islam and divert attention from their poor record regarding human rights.

Paul Cliteur is professor of Jurisprudence, Leiden University. He edited Cliteur, Paul, and Herrenberg, Tom, eds., The Fall and Rise of Blasphemy Law, Leiden University Press, Leiden 2016: https://ap.lc/ipEBQ

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