They’re Getting Closer, and Closer…

So – is it a human right now not to have to be exposed to, or even run the risk of being exposed to, ‘any statement or act showing a lack of respect towards other people’s religion’? Has that been decided? Officially? I ask because the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is ‘concerned about a Danish newspaper’s caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed and has ‘appointed UN experts in the areas of religious freedom and racism to investigate the matter.’ Uh oh. Experts in the areas of religious freedom are investigating cartoons about the prophet? So – what is religious freedom then? Does it mean the ‘freedom’ of religious people to call the cops (or the UN) whenever anyone says anything they consider blasphemous or disrespectful? If so, what about the freedom of the blasphemers and disrespecters? Have we decided that that’s what religious freedom means – the unrestricted right (and freedom) to silence critics? If so, might that be a bad idea? It seems like a pretty crappy idea to me.

Jyllands-Posten seems to have found an answer to its question.

In September, Jyllands-Posten called for and printed the cartoons by various Danish illustrators, after reports that artists were refusing to illustrate works about Islam, out of fear of fundamentalist retribution. The newspaper said it printed the cartoons as a test of whether Muslim fundamentalists had begun affecting the freedom of expression in Denmark.

And what is the result of the test?

Muslims in Denmark and abroad have protested against the newspaper, calling the caricatures blasphemous and a deliberate attempt to provoke and insult their religious sensitivities. Arbour said she understood their concerns. ‘I would like to emphasise that I deplore any statement or act showing a lack of respect towards other people’s religion,’ she said…Arbour had appointed UN experts in the areas of religious freedom and racism to investigate the matter. ‘I’m confident that they will take action in an adequate manner,’ Arbour said in her letter to the 56 governments, which have requested the UN to address the issue with Denmark. A diplomat from one of the countries told the newspaper that the governments were pleased with Arbour’s answer.

They will ‘take action’? In ‘an adequate manner’? Meaning what? What kind of action? What kind of manner, what kind of adequate? A stern talking-to for the editors of Jyllands-Posten and the cartoonists by the nice experts in the area of religious freedom and racism? If so, what will they say? ‘Good afternoon: statements or acts that show a lack of respect towards other people’s religion are racist, in fact are racism itself, and you should be ashamed of yourselves, if not locked up, which of course we have no power to effect, much as we would like to. Don’t do it again. Bye-bye.’ Is that it? Or what? What is there that they can do, what ‘action’ can they ‘take’ that will not be a grotesque imposition of religious censorship on a secular newspaper?

Human rights are a crucial idea, and yet people can hijack them for the most grotesque purposes – in fact for the purpose of removing other people’s human rights. It’s like grievance that way – ‘my grievance is that you have too many rights and freedoms, and I want you to have fewer, in fact none, and I’m really pissed off that that’s not happening, or not quite fast enough.’

It’ll be Rowan Atkinson next.

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