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A Brief History of the Transatlantic Counterjihad | Part 3 OSCE

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This is the third of an eight-part history of the Transatlantic Counterjihad. Links to the first two parts are at the bottom of this post.

The section on Counterjihad participation at OSCE “Human Dimension” meetings has been split into two posts. 

The OSCE provides a rare opportunity for anti-sharia activists to be heard in a respected public forum. At several OSCE events over the past two years, Henrik Ræder Clausen has represented the International Civil Liberties Alliance, and Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff has represented Bürgerbewegung Pax Europa.

A Brief History of the Transatlantic Counterjihad  by the Counterjihad Collective

 Part 3 | The Transatlantic Counterjihad at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

One of the most important venues for Counterjihad NGOs to present their material has been at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The Transatlantic Counterjihad movement has represented several NGOs at OSCE roundtables and conferences. At these events it is possible to raise issues of importance, counter misuse of human right laws and conventions, submit papers to the official OSCE archives and forge alliances with other NGOs as well as representatives from the participating states.

General notes on making use of OSCE events | Participating in plenaries, round tables and side events

Presence at the conferences is of paramount importance. As a NGO representative, one not only gets to follow the discussions and talk to various representatives, there is also plenty of opportunity to get floor time, including at the large plenaries. Here one may raise issues of importance (must be on topic for the given conference, of course), comment on the importance of issues raised by others, and deflect unjust criticism against oneself or others. Conferences take place on a regular basis in Vienna, Austria and Warsaw, Poland. There is no participation fee for NGO representatives.

NGO Round Table Discussions

OSCE seats

Alliances work particularly well in the open-ended round table discussions. If an issue or a point of view is raised by one representative, then supported by others, it will have a much greater impact than if merely mentioned, then forgotten. The official summaries of these meetings will also reflect what issues were highest on the agenda, and since the conclusions reflect a rough consensus of the round table, it is very feasible to prevent dangerous ideas from reaching the summaries.

OSCE Plenary Sessions

The most important — and the largest — events at OSCE conferences are the plenary sessions. There will usually be roughly a hundred representatives of participating countries and NGOs, all competing for floor time and the right to comment. NGO representatives participate with country representatives on almost equal footing, the main difference being that state representatives have a Right of Response against criticism, which NGO representatives do not.

When preparing to speak at a plenary session, one must pick an issue on which to speak, then prepare a concise statement on it. The next step is to be early at the conference hall, get on the list of speakers, and find a seat with access to a microphone. There is a time limit of three or even two minutes per speaker, and violating that limit is generally frowned upon. Being concise is crucial, and quite useful as well. Three sharp points delivered in 90 seconds can make a much clearer impact than ten points pushed into three or four minutes of speaking time. A prepared, written statement can be handed over for the translators to use, that the statement gets translated into various non-English languages. English remains the main language of OSCE events, and since all presentations are translated to English or from English to other languages. Foreign language skills are not required to work effectively at OSCE events.

Apart from what one brings to the table, following the debate and making comments is equally useful. Not all participating states are equally ripe democracies, and some representatives may deliver unfair criticism (in particular of states) that deserve to be countered. As long as one has the audacity to get onto the speakers’ list, one can comment on any issue taken up in the plenary.

A peculiar effect is that the European Union and associated countries usually seek to speak in unified statements delivered by the current EU chairmanship. That is supposed to increase the impact made, but in practice that single statement tends to be quite toothless and drowned out by the myriad of other voices present, while also erasing the natural diversity of the European countries. For good or ill, this gives even more scope for NGOs to speak their opinions — an opportunity to be used, or important things will remain unsaid.

NGO Side Events Opportunities

Side events are smaller meetings where NGOs and others present issues of concern needing more time than plenary sessions permit. Any NGO can register to host such events as long as rooms are available at the conference venues, and such events are listed in the official OSCE agendas for the conferences. Attendance is usually fairly moderate, though announcing the serving of refreshments is often used to attract a larger audience. The side events are run entirely by the NGOs themselves, and can for example be video-recorded and presented to the outside world later.

Submitting Papers to OSCE Archives

Another major activity at OSCE consists of submitting papers to the official OSCE archives. There are guidelines to follow, both in style and in size, and it is recommended to keep papers to three pages, though more is accepted. In these papers it is possible to elaborate on issues presented briefly in the plenary sessions, add details, quotes and sources, and after the conference the papers will be available on the OSCE website for interested parties to access.

Presenting printed material

Usually tables or stands are provided where NGOs can place written material, to be taken home by interested participants for further study. These can be flyers or more extensive reports in the form of books. The practical circumstances vary, but if printed material exists, the OSCE events are good opportunities to get it into hands of relevant readers.

Transatlantic Counterjihad contributions at OSCE

OSCE — Nov 5 2009The Transatlantic Counterjihad activists took up work at OSCE in 2009, participating in several conferences, submitting papers and taking the floor as often as possible. They gained valuable experience and spoke on crucial issues, at times causing remarkable responses. While the direct benefit is difficult to quantify, it was their opinion that going was very well worth the time and effort, and they will continue working through OSCE as much as is practically possible.

Hofburg, Vienna, 9-10 July 2009 | Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion or Belief

This particular conference is held infrequently, the previous one being back in 2003. The official summary of the conference outlines how the main events proceeded, attempts to enumerate the ideas and concepts presented in the sessions and some comments about how broad the support was. The summary, as well as a detailed agenda, is available at the OSCE web site: www.osce.org/odihr/41823

An NGO roundtable meeting was held as a precursor to the conference itself. The meeting was chaired by Roy Jenkins and featured 136 NGO representatives. Among other topics discussed was freedom of expression versus freedom of belief, and some representatives argued that some regulations were needed to protect religion from free expression and criticism, also in light of the famous Muhammad cartoons and the unrest they had triggered. ICLA took the floor and said:

In reference to the distinguished speaker suggesting a balancing of freedom of expression and respect for religion, let me make this clarification: I am Danish and know the caricatures very well. The ICLA categorically rejects that there should be any need to create a ‘balance’ between religion and freedom of expression. Healthy religions should not need any protection against free speech and criticism, and should have no problem tolerating caricature or criticism.

As for the proposed recommendation that public schools should be mandated to teach ‘Tolerance’, this is an idea that properly belongs to states like the Soviet Union. Not only would such mandatory teaching of children be exploited for manipulative purposes, it would also lead to the actual problems being glossed over instead of confronted honestly and genuinely resolved. ICLA does not consider this workable in any way.

This point of view was supported by several other NGO representatives, and the idea of granting religions protection under the law did not make it into the final document of NGO recommendations.

Next: Part III(b), The Transatlantic Counterjihad at OSCE (continued)

Speaking in plenary sessions:

Session I: From Commitments to Implementation: Freedom of Religion or Belief in the OSCE Area

At the beginning of the main session, speakers representing several NGOs made reference to a recent murder in Dresden, Germany, in which a woman of Egyptian descent had been stabbed by a Russian immigrant. They voiced the opinion that OSCE participant countries should be much more assertive in countering any form of racism or anti-Islamic activities. The representative of COJEP (originally rooted in Millî Görüs) reiterated the call for governments to stop racism and anti-Islamic activities everywhere.

More on-topic, several speakers commented on the increase in vandalism against Jewish and Christian buildings, in particular the destruction of some 150 Christian buildings in Kosovo.

Benjamin Bull of the Alliance Defence Fund raised several issues for Christian organisations:

The misapplication of hate speech laws to stifle any religious expression.

The misapplication of anti-discrimination laws to force religious organisations to hire staff with beliefs and viewpoints contrary to that of the organisation.

Revoking tax benefits on basis of the above, or banning Christian organisations from university campuses, thus severely hampering the activities of these organisations.


ICLA fought for — and won — the opportunity to make this comment:

Referring to several speakers, ICLA agrees that the increasing frequency of vandalism against Christian and Jewish interests is a problem. Examples of these incidents are frequent, from relatively benign harassment over desecration to the extensive destruction of cultural heritage in Kosovo, as the Serbian speaker noted. This is a severe problem in upholding genuine freedom of religion. ICLA recommends that OSCE participating states act to protect citizens against such acts of intimidation.

On the other hand, ICLA firmly believes that religions do not need or deserve protection against free speech and criticism.

On a supplementary note: In spite of this being off-topic for this conference, speakers have made reference to the recent brutal murder in Dresden. We have full confidence in the German legal system to handle this criminal act, and emphasize that such events, not matter now evil, should not be used as a pretext for assaulting freedom of expression or implementing draconian legislation.


After the session, the official representative of Denmark approached us, thanking for the fine statement. It is notable, however, that the government representatives paid to be there are not making clear statements defending our civil liberties. Such problems are key reasons that good NGOs need to participate at OSCE, or bad OSCE recommendations may eventually lead to bad national law.

Using printed material

At the conference, the Karl Martell Network representative brought 100 copies of Sam Solomon’s A Proposed Charter for Muslim Understanding. The Charter is a concise proposal for ironing out material differences between the Islamic and the Christian worlds. It was picked up by many, including representatives of the Holy See.

During the break Turkish representatives approached us, lamenting that the Charter text implied that there is some kind of connection between Islam and terrorism, a linkage they found absolutely reprehensible. While terrorism certainly is reprehensible as such, the fact that thousands of terrorists use Islam as a justification for their deeds does need to be addressed, and it should be no problem for moderate Muslims to unconditionally condemn terrorism, be it in the name of Islam or otherwise. The representatives apparently did not find our points of view convincing, so in the next plenary session they talked extensively against the ‘Islamophobic’ Charter and the inappropriateness of talking of any link between Islam and terrorism. Predictably, many more picked up the Charter to see for themselves, and by the end of the day, the stock of printed Charters was almost depleted.

Submitting papers

At the same conference, ICLA submitted a paper about the dangers of Islamic enclaves in the West, where Sharia law is being quietly introduced, the rights of women suppressed, and freedom of belief and expression undermined. This caused COJEP to immediately issue a press release condemning the ‘Islamophobic’ nature of the document. The document is available in the OSCE archive.

At the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Warsaw, 28 September 2009 - 9 October 2009, several more papers were submitted by the Counterjihad activists. For working session 12-13, Freedom of expression, free media and information, a paper entitled “Freedom of Expression: New challenges, new responses” was submitted. It took up issues of intimidation, misuse of “hate speech” legislation and in particular “Libel tourism”. Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the main opponent of “Libel tourism”, was very helpful addressing this issue at OSCE. The recommendation that libel laws in Britain (specifically England and Wales) be reformed was included in the summary document from the conference, available inan OSCE document.

OSCE Warsaw

Freedom House has had libel tourism on the agenda for several years, and it was brought up at a side event “Freedom on the Internet”. That led to a heated debate with an English lawyer who did not like the pressure to change their libel laws, in spite of the abuse the laws were open to.

The consolidated pressure, however, led the British government to introduce the needed reforms less than half a year later. See the report from The Guardian.

The moves against libel tourism were applauded by the OSCE media freedom representative.

Doing something really controversial:

Speaking out against religiously sanctioned domestic violence


These participations and contributions may rattle a few nerves among those not committed to free speech and civil liberties as known in the West, but the OSCE also presents opportunities to bring seriously controversial material on the table. At the conference Gender Equality, 5-6 November 2009 (Warsaw), religiously sanctioned violence against women was taken up in the plenary session. By quoting scripture (Quran 4:34) used as justification to beat disobedient wives, the Counterjihad representative caused the room to enter pin-drop silence. The exact intervention was:

Thank you for a very powerful presentation. You mentioned the strain of migration in your report. Here in Europe we also face a huge influx of migrants, including many of the Muslim faith.

One issue that has been left out until now, it seems to me, is violence against women that is backed by principles of the Muslim faith. I do not have to tell you about the honor killings in Germany, Denmark, and the United Kingdom, among other countries; as well as forced marriages, in addition to the Koranic verse 4:34, which says — and I quote:


You have rights over your wives and they have rights over you. You have the right that they should not defile your bed and that they should not behave with open unseemliness. If they do, God allows you to put them in separate rooms and to beat them but not with severity. If they refrain from these things, they have the right to their food and clothing with kindness. Lay injunctions on women kindly, for they are prisoners with you having no control of their own persons. (Guillaume’s translation, p. 651) (Ibn Ishaq)

Why are not discussing this issue here and at other occasions in a depth that does justice to this problem?

I therefore recommend that ODIHR urgently start a working group on violence against women in Islam in order to find out how to best approach this in the context of the OSCE human dimension.



Predictably, this caused a series of reactions, in particular from people and organisations who thought this should not be debated at all. COJEP pointed out that this came from the same people who demanded that Islam distances itself from terrorism, and called the intervention “hate speech”. This accusation was strongly countered by the country representative of Austria, who said:

I object to a certain debate culture which is employed more and more often by a certain group of participants. Disagreement with someone else’s opinion is immediately denounced as hate speech. The accusation of hate speech is a serious one. We have been dealing intensively with this phenomenon in these human dimension meetings for many years. We take part in these human dimension meetings precisely because we need to find solutions to the current grave problems. The localization and identification of the problems and their implications are an important prerequisite to finding a solution.

Now if a certain negative social behaviour — and here I am alluding to this meeting’s topic — such as FGM and forced marriages, is manifested only in very specific religious and ethnic migrant groups, it must be possible to identify this group. This is not stereotyping, but a fact, and definitely not hate speech.

To conclude, educating female milk farmers in [the Austrian state of] Styria on the dangers of FGM will not be helpful.


See the full report from the conference.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

After the bulk of this report was composed, representatives of ICLA and BPE attended another series of OSCE “Human Dimension” meetings in late October and early November of 2011. These were particularly important events to attend, since the official title of these sessions was the “Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Prevention of Racism, Xenophobia and Hate Crimes Through Educational Awareness Raising Initiatives”. Needless to say, standing against “Islamophobia” was the sine qua non of this meeting, which was heavily attended by proxies for the OIC.

Gerhard Engelmayer, ESW, and Bruce Lieske

Extensive reports on the sessions may be found in the following articles:


Below is a comprehensive list of reports from earlier OSCE conferences:


List of papers submitted to the OSCE:


Next: Part IV, The Rosetta Stone Projects


Previously:

2011 Nov 24 Part I, Introduction
25 Part II, Conferences
26 Part III(a), The Transatlantic Counterjihad at the OSCE



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