We often hear, especially from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), that ‘there are limits to freedom of expression’ but we do not see similar calls about religion or indeed multiculturalism. However, it is freedom of expression that guarantees freedom of religion and not the other way around. It is freedom of expression that is the very basis of a multicultural society. This article will explore the issue of moral limits to multiculturalism.
The OIC which arguably represents the Islamic Ummah has been depicting itself as a shining beacon of human rights good practice. It claims to be a promoter of religious tolerance despite the extremely poor record of many of its own member states in this regard. It does this in order to exploit the laudable and morally correct desire of Western countries to be tolerant and inclusive. Multiculturalism is a word that is used to define and formalise this desire, though there is no precise legal definition of the term. In many ways, this lack of precision allows individuals to project their own ideas about the meaning onto the word and thus allows the politically unscrupulous playing by ‘Alinksey’s Rules’ to mislead the public.
Despite OIC rhetoric, the poor human rights record and poor record of religious tolerance of many OIC countries comes as no surprise to the intelligent and informed observer. The OIC admits in its own 1990 Cairo Declaration that all human rights are subject to sharia, and this of course would include freedom of religion. Article 24 of the Declaration clearly states:
“All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah.”
That is a huge get out clause to ensure that any actual human rights that are endorsed elsewhere in the document to deceive the stupid, are clearly and decisively abrogated. Human rights according to shari’ah are not human rights according to the actual understood meaning of the term. It is also a get out clause for the reasonably sounding United Nations resolution 16/18 because by the OIC’s own documents such resolutions are ‘subject to the Islamic Shari’ah’ and therefore rendered meaningless in terms of the way it is understood in the West.
So how does this relate to multiculturalism and its limits? In the contemporary Western world a rather extreme interpretation of multiculturalism prevails in the corridors of power. Decision makers are taking things too far when they endorse the idea of tolerating the intolerant. This tendency suggests that their aim is to use multiculturalism to divide rather than as a device to foster unity. Shari’ah is a total system that is a rival to the secular legal system on which any harmonious multicultural society depends. Shari’ah represents a monoculture and to endorse it while at the same time claiming to be in favour of multicultural society seems a bit odd. If multiculturalism is to succeed then it is not possible for it to embrace shari’ah. This is therefore one of the limits to multiculturalism.
A system of human rights subject to shari’ah would allow the persecution of non-Muslims who refused to pay the non-Muslim protection tax, it would restrict the building of non-Muslim religious structures and the completely open practice of non-Islamic faith, it would not allow a Muslim to change his or her religion, and it would allow the persecution of Muslim minorities such as the Ahmadiyya. Furthermore, it would confer inferior status for non-Muslims and women who would not enjoy equality before the law, it would allow homophobic discrimination, it would tolerate slavery, and it would institutionalise the practice of cruel and unusual punishments.
Clearly sharia is inconsistent with human rights and this was been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights in 2003 the following is taken from its Annual Report of that year:
“In Refah Partisi,it carried out a thorough examination of the relationship between the Convention, democracy, political parties and religion, and found that a sharia-based regime was incompatible with the Convention, in particular, as regards the rules of criminal law and procedure, the place given to women in the legal order and its interference in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts.”
Since religious freedom is dependent on freedom of expression and not the other way around, and since multiculturalism rightly favours religious toleration, freedom of expression is an essential element of a multicultural society. It seems strange therefore that Western leaders appear to be seriously considering implementing the OIC demand for an international blasphemy law in their countries. The “Innocence of Muslims” riots in North Africa are being cynically used to push forward this agenda.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently suggested that ‘Islamophobia’, a term invented by the Muslim Brotherhood, should be regarded as a crime against humanity. This statement is obviously part of the OIC effort to restrict freedom of speech and institute a global blasphemy law (based on the 1990 Cairo Declaration the actual definition of blasphemy would obviously be ‘subject to the Islamic Shari’ah’ which would mean that it just protected Islamic belief and therefore would not help persecuted religious minorities in OIC member states). Based on the shari’ah practices referred to earlier in this article, it would be more fitting for shari’ah itself to be regarded as a crime against humanity. No Western leader, so far, has confronted the Turkish Prime Minister about his ridiculous statement or asked him to apologise for his own country’s very real crime against humanity – the Armenian Genocide. Perhaps he regards that the Armenian Genocide was carried out in accordance with the principles of the Islamic Shari’ah’ and therefore not a crime at all! Would those who promote the more extremist strand of multicultural thought agree with him? So long as it damages Western society way many of them probably would – to them that is what multiculturalism is for!
Another apparent effort to push the OIC agenda forward by using the “Innocence of Muslims” riots was the demand by Pakistan that Interpol should criminalise ‘sacrilegious material’ – or is that material deemed sacrilegious according to the Islamic Shari’ah? The letter to Interpol reads:
“Interpol may work out a draft legislation to effectively counter such moves by criminals, which disturbed interfaith harmony and ultimately hurt world peace”
This was obviously yet another attempt by an OIC member state to undermine the freedom of speech that makes Western multicultural society possible. Perhaps Pakistan wants to replace Western multiculturalism with Pakistan’s brand of Islamic monoculturalism?
It is clearly very important to define the limits of multiculturalism; otherwise the unholy alliance of extremist multiculturalists and extremist theocrats may prevail at the expense of real freedom and real human rights. To conclude this article I will refer to a scenario that is detached from modern religious controversy as a way to show why multiculturalism should have limits and why extremist interpretations of it should be opposed. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico they were exposed to the empire of the Aztecs. Its last King Montezuma II was defeated by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.
If the Aztec Empire had survived, would those concerned about ‘interfaith harmony’ and ‘world peace’ tolerate the ritual bloodletting and human sacrifice of the religion of the Aztec Empire? Would they gaze upon the tzompantli – the rack of the skulls of sacrificial victims and feel a warm glow of intercultural harmony at every outpost of Aztec culture? Would Aztec diplomats be active at the United Nations trying to convince the world that opposition to their practice of human sacrifice was somehow racist? Would there be an Organisation of Aztec Cooperation (OAC) trying to ban free speech every time Aztecs rioted in response to unflattering pictures or films depicting the god Tezcatlipoca? Western leaders would undoubtedly be bending over backwards in defence of the cultural right to practice human sacrifice!
Montezuma must be having a good laugh from beyond the ‘Mythical Mountain’ from his place in Tamoanchan as his former enemies from the West destroy themselves from within because their leaders cling to an extremist definition of the Western conception of multiculturalism that does not acknowledge the existence of red lines that must never be crossed.