The State Department began a three-day, closed-door meeting Monday to talk about U.S. free speech rules with representatives from numerous Islamic governments that have lobbied for 12 years to end U.S. citizens’ ability to speak freely about Islam’s history and obligations.
Free speech advocates slammed the event as an effort to gradually curb public criticism of Islam, but it was defended by Hannah Rosenthal, who heads the agency’s office to curb anti-Semitism.
The meeting is a great success, she said, because governments in the multinational Organisation for Islamic Cooperation have dropped their demand that criticism of Islamic ideas be treated as illegal defamation. Member countries include Pakistan, Iran, Saudia Arabia and Qatar.
In exchange for dropping the demand, she said, they’re getting “technical assistance [to] build institutions to ensure there will be religious freedom” in their countries, she told The Daily Caller.
“That’s a joke,” said Andrea Lafferty, a conservative activist who was repeatedly denied information about the meeting.
Rosenthal’s claim that the OIC is accepting freedom of speech and religion implies revolutionary changes in Islamic countries, she said. That’s because Islamic texts set myriad laws for behavior, and sharply restrict non-Muslim religions, free speech and women’s rights, said Lafferty, who is president of the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative advocacy group.
If the OIC countries are giving up on their religious obligation to ban criticism of Islam, she said, “does this mean that Pakistan is no longer going to kill Christians and kill religious minorities? … Are women in Saudi Arabia going to vote, to drive, to live free lives?”
“We hope so,” said Rosenthal, who added that such progress will not occur rapidly.
The more realistic explanation for the three-day event, Lafferty said, is that administration officials, progressives and OIC officials are tacitly cooperating to gradually stigmatize speech that is critical of Islam.
Lafferty pointed to a July statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which she said that free speech will be protected, but the U.S. government will “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.”
Clinton’s statement was issued at Istanbul, where the United States and the OIC launched the joint project to combat “religious intolerance.”
Prior to the launch, OIC officials spent 12 years lobbying for a U.N. resolution that would declared criticism of religion to be defamation. U.S. officials strongly opposed this measure as a restriction on free speech and a barrier to Internet services.
In March, the OIC dropped the defamation resolution in exchange for passage of a resolution in the Human Rights Committee, dubbed 16/18.
The new resolution was titled “Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief.” It urges all governments to counter “Islamophobia,” and declares opposition to “derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief.”
However, it also urges states to promote tolerance of all believers, and to promote “a wider knowledge of different religions and beliefs.”
This week’s State Department meeting is intended to begin implementing the 16/18 decision. The meeting is titled “The Istanbul Process for Combating Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion or Belief.”
Another meeting is slated for February or March, said Rosenthal.