Monday, February 6

And another thing . . .

I know I just said I have nothing to add to the Danish cartoon controversy, but I just saw something and thought of another, which I would like to share because I don't think they are part of the broader discussion, at least in the U.S. I will post the two separately. Here is the first:

1. I just read my friend Daveed's piece on the Counterterrorism Blog, and he quotes the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights's response to the Organization of the Islamic Conference's (OIC) official complaint to her office about the cartoons. Per Daveed:

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour, replied to the OIC, "I find alarming any behaviors that disregard the beliefs of others." She launched investigations into "racism" and "disrespect for belief," and asked for "an official explanation" from the Danish government. However, despite being a professed defender of human rights, she showed no alarm at the OIC's disregard for the Danes' belief in and commitment to a free press.

I just want to know which "Human Right" (I capitalize these sacred terms so as not to raise the ire of Arbour's office) could possibly have been offended by the cartoons? The idea of a "right not to be offended" (with the offense, of course, determined by the self-identified victim) by another's "disrespect for belief" dilutes the idea of fundamental rights into meaninglessness. If this is a right, then how does it stack up against, say, the right to a free press in, let's say, Denmark? Surely the latter is the more basic "right."

The free exercise of religion is one thing, but to extend that freedom so far that it encompasses the actions of non-believers invites violent and irreconcilable conflict with those freedoms--speech and open debate--that are the sine qua non of post-Enlightenment Western culture. Muslims who move to Western countries do so with full knowledge of these norms; their acceptance of these norms is a price of admission. If they are unwilling to make this bargain (like these people, for example), they should be immediately deported, assuming they aren't already British citizens.

Yet the British police--who take a notoriously Draconian "zero-tolerance" approach to the carrying of toy guns--stand by as men dress like suicide bombers and call for the beheading of political cartoonists in London streets. Why the reticence? The poor dears are scared, you see. "Scotland Yard said a decision not to arrest protesters was taken because of public order fears. It confirmed that police had received more than 100 complaints from the public about the protesters' behaviour." Besides, it's so much easier to investigate unassuming authors when no allegation of crime has been made and prosecute 79-year old WWII veterans. (I don't approve of Mr. Satunton's vandalism, but the idea that the phrases "Don't forget the 1945 war" and "Free speech for England" deserve special criminal sanction might make the millions who died for those causes wish they hadn't bothered.)

As for Arbour's comment about "racism," I know that that is now a catch-all smear, but aren't the cartoons an alleged insult against religion rather than race? Aren't there tens of millions of African and Pakistani Muslims, as well as Arabs and near-Easterners in Turkey and the Balkans?

Arbour's response should have been to launch an investigation into free speech and the treatment of religious dissenters in the OIC's member States. Or, better yet, forget going through the motions of an unnecessary investigation, and tell the OIC to grow up.

I don't follow the UN Human Rights Commission too closely (certainly not on a week-to-week basis), but I've now come across a fair number of statements and actions undertaken by Louise Arbour, and I can't think of a single one I agree with. There are undoubtedly many Canadians bursting with pride at the thought that a Canadian is the head of such a high-profile agency--and one with such a benevolent-sounding name at the U.N. no less!--but, on the strength of actions like these, I am embarrassed at her representation of my country. Then again, Canadians take pride in Alan Thicke and Tommy Chong, so go figure.

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