MPAC and Human Rights First Condemn Hate Speech, Promote Free Speech
Posted Sep 29, 2012

Human Rights First issued a press release which said in part:

“Human Rights First today joined the Muslim Public Affairs Council in urging governments to reject national and global blasphemy laws that inevitably violate the human rights of religious minorities and vulnerable segments of societies. As the United Nations General Assembly gathered in New York City this week, the concept of “defamation of religions” cropped up in a number of speeches, including as part of the focus of President Barack Obama’s Tuesday address in which he gave a full-throated defense of freedom of expression.

...  The groups note that U.N. member states should step up their commitments to fighting hate crimes and countering hateful discourse while continuing to support freedom of speech.  The organizations also strongly condemn any violence in response to speech.

Human Rights First worked successfully on previous U.N. resolutions that combat religious intolerance without including the dangerous concept of “defamation of religions,” which often provides cover for abusive national blasphemy laws. Blasphemy laws promote a stifling atmosphere in which governments can restrict the freedoms of expression, thought and religion, and persecute religious minorities. The groups note that these statutes are inconsistent with universal human rights standards that protect individuals rather than abstract ideas or religions.

In 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council and the General Assembly adopted groundbreaking resolutions to address violence, discrimination and incitement to religious hatred without reference to the controversial notion of “defamation of religions.” The move marked an important shift away from efforts at the U.N. to create an international blasphemy code, something that has for the past decade been supported by Organization for Islamic Cooperation. Human Rights First has long advocated the reversal of the defamation approach and has encouraged states to combat hatred without restricting speech. Several of the organization’s recommendations were included in the U.N. resolutions.

MPAC issued a press release which said in part:

Today, MPAC and Human Rights First released a joint statement condemning hate speech, opposing violence, and upholding freedom of expression.

“In the past few months, we have seen an increase in attacks against houses of worship and an increase in anti-Muslim speech,” said Salam Al-Marayati, MPAC’s President. “Standing with Human Rights First is an important step in allies coming together and standing up against these types of crimes. Hate speech has done nothing but poison our country and turn us against one another. At this time of unrest and unease, we, as a global community of concerned citizens, must come together to oppose hate and violence, while protecting freedom of speech.”

The joint statement outlines five important points that need to be taken to stop this growing culture of hate:

•Hate speech against Muslims must be taken seriously.
•Hatred must be fought through non-legal means, with responsible speech.
•Violence as a response to speech is unacceptable
•“Defamation of religions” or blasphemy laws do not protect individuals — they harm them.
•The United Nations must uphold freedom of expression.


Condemn Hate Speech, Fight Violence and Protect Freedom of Expression

A Joint Statement by Human Rights First and the Muslim Public Affairs Council

 Hate speech against Muslims must be taken seriously.

Hate speech that intends to degrade, intimidate or incite violence against someone based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or disability is harmful. In many parts of the world, there is a rise of hate speech against Muslims. Often, anti-Muslim prejudice is preceded by the malicious intent of dehumanizing Muslims and denigrating the prophet Muhammad or the Quran. We are also aware that hateful words can all too easily lead to physical attacks on Muslims and set off a cycle of violence.

 Hatred must be fought through non legal means, with responsible speech.

However harsh and difficult the marketplace of ideas may be at times, it is most effective to uphold one’s ideas through one’s right to free speech. The capacity of each individual to express his/her own views must not be threatened. The best way to counter hatred is to defy it through convincing arguments, good actions and free debate. Much can be done to fight hatred without restricting speech, and governments should condemn hatred and set the example. Any legislation that restricts free speech including religious symbols can be used to quell social and political dissent.

 Violence as a response to speech is unacceptable.

Violence in response to speech is never acceptable. The feeling of being offended by hateful speech can never justify a self-proclaimed right to express violent behavior or to cause bloodshed. Countless incidents show that when governments or religious movements seek to punish offenses, in the name of combating religious bigotry, violence then ensues and real violations of human rights are perpetrated against targeted individuals. It is important to note that the largest group of victims at the hands of Muslim extremists are Muslims, with their mosques and homes and schools used as primary targets of violence.

 “Defamation of religions” or blasphemy laws do not protect individuals—they harm them.

Human rights protect individuals, not abstract ideas or social norms. Religious symbols do not need the enforcement mechanisms of governments or international bodies to defend them. The reaction to hatred at times leads to other oppressive measures, such as blasphemy laws, inevitably violating human rights of religious minorities and vulnerable segments of societies. Governments and individuals frequently abuse national blasphemy laws to stifle dissent and debate, harass rivals, legitimize mob violence, and settle petty disputes. The loose and unclear language of these laws empowers majorities against dissenters and the state against individuals. They provide a context in which governments can restrict freedom of expression, thought and religion, and this can result in devastating consequences for those holding religious views that differ from the majority religion, as well as for adherents to minority faiths.

 The United Nations must uphold freedom of expression.

With the violent protests in the Middle East that led to bloodshed in September 2012, there is the imminent risk that groups or governments wish to reinvigorate the idea of adopting international legislation against insulting religion at the 2012 United Nations General Assembly. We warn against this and we oppose this way forward. Rather than criminalizing speech, U.N. member states should step up their commitments to fighting hate crimes, countering hateful discourse, opposing discrimination and promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue. Governments need to raise their voices in responsible speech as response to hate speech. They also need to develop practical steps to combat all forms of intolerance, including hatred against Muslims, without restricting speech.


A Defense of Free Speech by American and Canadian Muslims

Affirmation of Freedom of Expression and Belief in the Quran, Haris Aziz

American Muslims Must Protest “Blasphemy” Laws, Sheila Musaji

Blasphemy Laws Are Against Islam, Salam Al Marayati

Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions” 

MPAC Supports Effort to Combat Hatred Through Free Speech, Releases Critique of Global Blasphemy Law

“No Compulsion in Religion: A Faith-Based Critique of the ‘Defamation of Religions’ Concept.”