Friday, March 30, 2007

"...urging a global prohibition on the public defamation of religion..."

From the AP via the Huffington Post courtesy of AlterNet:

Islamic countries pushed through a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday urging a global prohibition on the public defamation of religion _ a response largely to the furor last year over caricatures published in a Danish newspaper of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

The statement proposed by the Organization of Islamic Conference addressed what it called a "campaign" against Muslim minorities and the Islamic religion around the world since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The resolution, which was opposed by a number of other non-Muslim countries, "expresses deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations."

It makes no mention of any other religion besides Islam, but urges countries "to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement and religious hatred, hostility, or violence."

Click here for more.

While I like trying to do something about the scapegoating of Muslims, I'm very troubled by this particular approach.

Back in the early 90s, when gay political activists were toying with the idea of targeting certain churches for their hateful AIDS pronouncements, my father, a fundamentalist Christian, told me that if you took the word "Christian" out of these activists' rhetoric and replaced it with the word "black," they would have absolutely no mainstream support. This is essentially the same kind of argument pushing forward this ill-considered UN resolution.

In order to give religion the same kind of status and respect as ethnicity, you have to completely ignore the fact that religion is inherently ideological. Yes, religion has some very strong cultural elements, and, to be sure, it is often deeply intertwined with ethnicity--in Texas, for instance, many Latinos are Catholic, and, obviously, most Arabs are Muslims. Furthermore, religion is deeply embedded in the individual identities of the faithful--attacking one's religion is often taken as attacking everybody who adheres to that religion. One ought to be respectful of people's religious affiliations, if only because it is polite to do so. But being a Christian or a Muslim is just not the same thing as being black or white. Nobody ever insists that everybody ought to be black; nobody ever insists that everybody ought to be white. No one believes that you are immoral or damned to Hell if you don't adhere to God's favorite ethnicity or race--well, okay, some people do, but they're marginalized idiots, and nobody's really listening to them.

Religions, especially Christianity and Islam, on the other hand, are exactly the opposite. Many religions aggressively insert themselves into the public sphere, often demanding that non-believers make themselves accountable to gods in which they do not believe. That is, religions tell people what to do and how to live their lives. That's blatantly political in nature, and, needless to say, political behavior is always in desperate need of heavy criticism. In other words, religion plays a dual role as both culture and ideology. It is generally unfair to defame culture, but it is honorable and desirable to defame ideology that is perceived as damaging or destructive. And because politics are so utterly subjective, it is often difficult to distinguish between attacks on culture and attacks on ideology when it comes to religion.

In short, if religion wants to join the political fray, religion simply has to deal with it. My take is that I need to be careful when criticizing religion, trying to avoid cheap shots and the like, but being brutal when it comes to ideology. But like I said, it's all very subjective, which is why this UN resolution is a really, really, really bad idea.

It's ironic that my dad, who seemed so angry that these activists were going after his own religion, always used to tell me when I was a kid that "if you play rough, you've got to expect to get hurt."