Cliff May

In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten published a dozen cartoons satirizing terrorism in the name of Islam. That led to protests, riots, death threats, an assassination plot and the bombing of the Danish embassy in Pakistan.

All of this continues a trend begun more than a generation ago: In 1989, Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered any Muslim willing and able to murder British author Salman Rushdie whose novel, The Satanic Verses, Khomeini deemed blasphemous. Rushdie has required body guards ever since.

Had he been resident in any of the more than 50 states that hold membership in the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (formerly called the Organization of the Islamic Conference but the new name is so much friendlier), that probably would not have saved him. Last year, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, defended a Christian woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law for having said something some Muslims found offensive. One of Taseer’s own bodyguards shot him 27 times with an MP5 sub-machine. Many Pakistani clerics and religious scholars praised the killer and prohibited praying at Taseer’s funeral.

Not a single OIC member state seriously guarantees freedom of speech. Some, notably Saudi Arabia, also actively prohibit freedom of worship. Nevertheless, in association with the OIC, the U.S. State Department last month hosted, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended, a three-day, closed-door international conference in Washington on combating religious “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization.”

Behind those closed doors, the conference reinforced the OIC tenet that all religions are equal – though one is more equal than others. OIC members are concerned only about the “defamation” of Islam and, evidently, they do not view militant Muslims attacking reformist Muslims as defaming their faith.

Nina Shea, who serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, was able to attend parts of the conference. She argued that the Obama administration “erred” in portraying it as “as a meeting of minds between the OIC and America on freedoms of religion and speech.” On the contrary, the conference “immediately reignited OIC demands for the West to punish anti-Islamic speech” as Saudi clerics and Iranian mullahs interpret that term.

Shea noted, too, that speakers at the conference “gave a sweeping overview of American founding principles on religious freedom and how they have been breached time and again in American history by attacks against a broad variety of religious minority groups — including now against Muslims.” The audience was reassured that “the Obama administration is working diligently to prosecute American Islamophobes and is transforming the U.S. Justice Department into the conscience of the nation, though it could no doubt learn a thing or two from the assembled delegates …”

From which delegates exactly? The Saudis whose school textbooks describe Jews as apes and Christians as swine? Or those of the European Union which, in response to the violence incited over the Danish cartoons, has mandated religious hate-speech codes that shield Islamic militants from criticism but, as the attack against EFD’s speakers illustrates, do little to protect the rights of liberal Muslims, much less of non-Muslims?

Will the day come when Europeans and Americans again stand up on their hind legs and defend their freedoms, values and traditions? Or have we effectively given up the fight in an attempt to appease such groups as the OIC and Sharia4Belgium? If only Orwell were still with us: I bet he’d have some pungent answers to these questions.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.