What is blasphemy

From David Littman’s article.

In an 18 February 1994 letter addressed to all delegates at the Commission on Human Rights, the Sudanese ambassador requested an immediate withdrawal of any reference – from the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan – in which certain inconsistences were indicated between the international human rights conventions and the provisions of Sudan’s Criminal Act of 1991. The ambassador alleged that the report “contained abusive, inconsiderate, blasphemous and offensive remarks about the Islamic faith.” A further Sudanese circular, entitled, “Attack on Islam,” claimed that portions of the report “represent a vicious attack on the religion of Islam and contain a call for the abolition of its Islamic Penal Legislation.”

The Rapporteur’s report indicated tensions between human rights and the UDHR, and some provisions of Sudanese law. The Sudanese ambassador to the UN demanded that this be withdrawn on the grounds that it was blasphemous. So the idea here is that it is blasphemous to say there are tensions between particular laws (if they are Islamic laws) and universal human rights – despite the fact that the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam itself says what the differences are. So the idea here is that the Cairo Declaration is allowed to announce a separate and different set of ‘rights’ or rather pseudo-rights or non-rights that are entirely subject to Shari’ah (Article 24: ‘All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah.’) but it is blasphemy for outsiders to point out the difference. The Cairo Declaration is allowed to declare, but the Rapporteur is not allowed to report. That’s asymmetrical. It’s bad. It’s wrong.

On that occasion the attempt failed.

In spite of death threats published in the government’s newspaper Horizon (16), Dr. Gaspar Biro continued investigations into the many human rights violations in Sudan, fully described in his later reports submitted to the UN General Assembly and to the UN Human Rights Commission. (17) He was supported by resolutions condemning the Government of Sudan.

But the next attempt didn’t.

On 18 April 1997, another “blasphemy” charge was levelled. This time the alleged offending words were from a quoted passage, contained in the report of Special Rapporteur on Racism, Mr. Maurice Glélé-Ahanhanzo from Benin (under “Islamist and Arab Anti-Semitism”). This new “blasphemy” charge succeeded after the representative of Indonesia intervened on the last day of the Commission – in the name of the OIC’s 56 Islamic States, on the initiative of Iran – claiming that Islam had been defamed and “blasphemy” committed against the holy Qur’an. This led to the 53-member-state Commission’s consensus decision 1997/125, obliging the Special Rapporteur to take a “corrective action.” Hence a very dangerous precedent: the censorship of a UN Special Rapporteur, in his capacity as an independent expert; and of his UN report on grounds of “blasphemy” – although the facts he quoted are exact.

So Islamist and Arab anti-Semitism gets a free pass because someone said it was blasphemous to mention it, even though the facts cited are correct. Terrific.

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