The BBC News website reports (Obama reaches out to Muslim world) that President Obama has visited Turkey, as part of his sensible strategy to “reach out” to the Muslim world (something long overdue, I suspect). Unfortunately, reports indicate that Mr Obama also said Washington supported Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, quoting his as saying:
“Europe gains by diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith – it is not diminished by it,” he said to a round of applause from the audience. “And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe’s foundation once more.”
Well, firstly, President Obama really ought not to be speaking in those terms about membership of the EU (though I grant you he may have been misquoted) – after all he’s the President of the USA, not an EU politician. Secondly. I’m a little wary of a supposedly secular country with evidence of religious penetration of political life entering the EU. While I’m broadly in favour of ethnic diversity (certainly as I’ve experienced it in the UK), I’m unhappy enough with christian interference with politics within the EU without adding another religion to the pot.
One example of this is something I’ve blogged about recently – Turkish government intervention in the science press to suppress discussion of Darwin and evolution ( Censorship of science in Turkey) – an extraordinary tale of religiously motivated suppression.
The second example is the near-vetoing of the Danish candidate for NATO General Secretary, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Turkey represented the sole dissenting voice in Rasmussen’s election, and this was due to the rumpus over the Danish newspaper’s cartoon kerfuffle a few years ago. Mediawatchwatch has covered the impact on the NATO General Secretary election (Still no Motoon apology from NATO chief Rasmussen), and has a rather nice quote from Rasmussen:
Listen. In Denmark we do not apologise for having freedom of speech. […] You all know that a Danish Prime Minister cannot apologise on behalf of a newspaper
It required President Obama’s undoubtedly effective diplomatic talents to rescue the stalled NATO situation from this standoff. One is left wondering what paralysis would have afflicted the EU had Turkey been a member at the time the cartoon crisis broke.
There’s been an ongoing campaign by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to prevent “defamation” of Islam through the UN. This was most recently defeated at Durban II. However this fight to protect Islam from criticism carries on. In response to this, many secular groups have called on the UN tp reject the proposal, which would have far-reaching effects on freedom of speech. Reuters reports (U.N. urged to reject bar on defamation of religion) that
Some 200 secular, religious and media groups from around the world on Wednesday urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to reject a call from Islamic countries for a global fight against “defamation of religion.”
The groups, including some Muslim bodies, issued their appeal in a statement on the eve of a vote in the Council in Geneva on a resolution proposed by the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
Such a resolution, the statement said, “may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters and other independent voices,” and to restrict freedom of religion and of speech.
It’s important that this sort of resolution be firmly blocked. The concept of “defamation of religion” is so under-defined that it will be used to enforce all sorts of restrictions on the rights of free speech, and enable continued use of outdated blasphemy laws in some of the more repessive religiously motivated states.
For those of us resident in the UK, there’s a Number 10 Petition which you can sign if you are concerned. The petition proposer says:
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, a voting block within the United Nations, is currently attempting to use its power within that organisation to seek to have a binding resolution made attempting to force governments to criminalise freedom of expression. In pursuing this course of action it seeks to promote the idea that religion can be defamed and that criticism of religion should be outlawed.
This is a gross violation of the most basic and fundamental of Human Rights, that of freedom of speech. It must be countered by all governments wherever possible and properly identified for what it is, a blatant attempt to stifle debate and criticism of religion. Religions do not have rights, people do. Whilst this is being introduced by Islamic countries it is not specific to the religion of Islam.
The original non-binding resolution can be found on the UN web site