I’m a professional psychic
The Economist takes a slightly skeptical look at inter-faith conferences. Then it gets to a real issue.
As well as repeating certain familiar commonplaces and negotiating certain familiar taboos, participants in inter-faith gatherings do sometimes run into real questions, that make a difference to the world at large. One such is how, if at all, freedom of speech can be reconciled with the Muslim demand for a ban on public statements or cultural products that offend Islamic sensibilities. At this week’s meeting in Malaysia, that question was addressed in a way that frightened the relatively few participants whose understanding of civil rights was rooted in a Western, liberal world-view.
Don’t tell me, let me guess. The question was addressed by saying that a ban on public statements or cultural products that offend Islamic sensibilities is desperately needed and freedom of speech is, quite frankly, a colonialist orientalist misbeliever piece of crap. Just a wild guess.
Speaker after speaker called for some formal, internationally agreed restriction on the defamation of religion. “I can never accept that freedom of speech is morally right when it offends my faith,” said Prince Turki al-Faisal, a senior Saudi official.
Oh gee, will you look at that, I guessed right. What do you know.
Adding further to the tension—and an element of this week’s debates in Kuala Lumpur—is the increasingly well-co-ordinated campaign by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to redefine human rights in a way that explicitly outlaws the defamation of religion.
Why yes, that does rather add to the tension. I know it makes me quite tense. I would really rather not see the OIC succeed in requiring the entire world to shut up about its particular religion.