The subject of defamation of religions, with a one-way focus on the protection of Islam from critical speech, is likely to be a recurrent theme during this year’s General Assembly debate. We can expect calls from many of the Islamist member states and from their allies for international criminalization of “defamation of religions” – meaning Islam.
In fact, this subject already came up during a bilateral meeting on September 24th between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. President Obama, who was also in New York in advance of his UN General Assembly speech, skipped the meeting with his Pakistani counterpart. He thought it was more important to tape an interview with “The View” than attend to the messy business of bilateral diplomacy with heads of state.
Instead of taking the offense against the Islamist attack on our core value of free expression, the Obama administration continues to take a defensive posture.
Thus, poor Hillary was delegated the unpleasant task of listening to Zardari’s rant against what Pakistan has labeled the “blasphemous” video posted on YouTube. “One or two insane persons should not be allowed to endanger world peace in the garb of freedom of expression,” he said, effectively blaming the video for the riots in Pakistan last week resulting in twenty-one deaths and more than two hundred people injured. This follows news over the weekend that a Pakistani cabinet minister has offered a $100,000 reward for the death of the person behind the video. He reportedly invited the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to be “partners in this noble deed.” Blasphemy, by the way, carries the death sentence or lengthy jail time in Pakistan. Christians are regularly persecuted.
According to a press release issued by the Pakistani government following the meeting, Clinton “reiterated the desire of US government to continue working with the Government and the people of Pakistan for further strengthening the bilateral relations and for the peace, stability and socio-economic development of the region.”
“We very much appreciate the strong response of your government,” Clinton was quoted as telling the Pakistani leader.
Exactly what “strong response” was our Secretary of State talking about? Standing by while mobs went on a murderous rampage last week and a government minister offered a reward for killing an individual exercising his right of free speech in the United States? Zardari’s intention to use his address to the United Nations General Assembly to call for international legislation to stop blasphemy?
We need, but will not get, a forceful response, delivered by President Obama from the United Nations General Assembly podium, in which he unequivocally affirms that this country will be guided first and foremost by the principles of the United States Constitution. This includes the First Amendment’s protection of free speech and the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs or the belief in no religion at all, without any favor or special accommodation granted to any particular religion or set of beliefs. Obama should also say, which he will not, that full respect for Islam in the West must be matched by equal respect for Christianity, Judaism and all other faiths, along with the freedom to openly worship religions other than Islam, in Muslim majority countries. If Muslim countries want to live under seventh century sharia law in governing their own people, that is their choice, but don’t expect us to go along.
It is long past the time to push back with words like these directed at the Muslim world, but Obama won’t do it. Instead, he evidently stands by his June 2009 Cairo apologia to the Muslim world and continues to decry “stereotyping” of Islam.
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