One of the most popular attractions in Washington, D.C. is a building that graces Pennsylvania Avenue with an exterior engraved with the First Amendment to the Constitution and its guarantee of, among other liberties, freedom of speech.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have been well advised to hold her three-day meeting last week with the some of the most determined enemies of free expression – increasingly doing business as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – at the Newseum, rather a few blocks away in Foggy Bottom.
After all, at that shrine to our most fundamental civil rights, the delegates would have found an exhibit about freedom of speech which declares: “For better or worse, the First Amendment helps shelter the varied results of free expression even when they are considered by some to be offensive or distasteful.”
Unfortunately, such shelter is precisely what the Organization of Islamic Cooperation wishes to eliminate when it comes to expression about its faith that the OIC’s 57 member nations and other Islamists find “offensive or distasteful.”
Advancing that agenda is the OIC’s purpose in the so-called “Istanbul Process” that it launched with Mrs. Clinton last July in Turkey. As the Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea pointed out in a withering indictment of this diplomatic exercise published last week in the New York Post, “the gathering was folly.”
Ms. Shea provides several reasons for that conclusion. Reduced to their essence, it is folly for America to be legitimating – let alone engaging in – a search for ways to “bridge” the gap between our First Amendment rights, on the one hand, and the Islamists’ belief that any expression that “offends” their religion is a capital offense, on the other. To do so is to affront the Constitution and threaten the free and tolerant society it has made possible in this country.
The Obama administration started down this ill-advised road by cosponsoring in 2009 an OIC-drafted resolution in the UN Human Rights Council that condemned “defamation of religion” – read, Islam. That initiative helped advance the Islamists’ twelve-year campaign to “prohibit and criminalize” such defamation in accordance with the “blasphemy laws” that are part of the totalitarian doctrine they call shariah.
Then, as more and more of the Free World began awakening to the danger posed by such efforts to compel them to submit to shariah, Team Obama helped engineer a new document at the Human Rights Council. Adopted in March, Resolution 16/18 focused, instead of banning defamation, on getting the world’s nations to combat “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”
In Istanbul in July, Mrs. Clinton kicked off her “process” with a passing nod to free speech: “We…understand that, for 235 years, freedom of expression has been a universal right at the core of our democracy.” She went on, however, to declare: “So we are focused on promoting interfaith education and collaboration, enforcing anti-discrimination laws, protecting the rights of all people to worship as they choose, and to use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don't feel that they have the support to do what we abhor.”
In other words, the Obama administration believes it can silence those whose expressions are, in the words of the Newseum, “considered by some to be offensive or distasteful.” Or, in the words of the OIC, “Islamophobia.” It’s just that, instead of criminalizing such behavior, Team Obama will use “peer pressure and shaming.”
It gets worse. In the course of last week’s three-day, mostly closed-door confab at the State Department called to “implement” Resolution 16/18, the OIC focus seemed to be on how the United States and other non-Muslim, freedom-loving states would prevent “incitement.” Sec. Clinton asserted that we would only be obliged to counter incitement to “imminent violence.” But this is a classic slippery-slope, opening America to prohibitions on “hate speech” at the insistence of people who, irony of ironies, are more routinely engaged in incitement to imminent violence and religious intolerance than anyone else on the planet: the Islamists.
The appearance of U.S. submission to shariah was only exacerbated by the opening comments of the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Thomas Perez. As Ms. Shea put it:
“[Perez’s] opening keynote address gave a one-sided historical depiction of American bigotry against religious minorities, including Muslims, without explaining our relatively exemplary achievement of upholding individual freedoms of religion and speech in an overwhelmingly tolerant and pluralistic society. He told the participants, some representing the world’s most repressive states, that America can learn to protect religious tolerance from them.”
It is particularly troubling that Nina Shea has just been removed as a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom. That was the upshot of a compromise that saw Senator Dick Durban abandoning his stealthy bid to deny the reauthorization of the Commission, but only if Ms. Shea and nearly all of her colleagues lost their posts. Practically the only exception is Dr. Azizah al-Hibr, a woman who has espoused the creation of shariah courts in the United States.
If you haven’t been to – or, for that matter, been by – the Newseum lately, you might want to make a point of paying it a visit. See it before the diplomats decide that our pesky First Amendment condones “offensive or distasteful” expression that constitutes unacceptable “incitement,” and is no longer applicable.
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