Protests in Lebanon against the film made in the US. (Reuters)
A leading Islamic organisation signalled on Wednesday that it will revive long-standing attempts to make insults against religions an international criminal offence.
The bid follows uproar across the Muslim world over a crude Internet video clip filmed in the United States and cartoons in a French satirical magazine that lampoon the Prophet Mohammad.
But it appears unlikely to win acceptance from Western countries determined to resist restrictions on freedom of speech and already concerned about the repressive effect of blasphemy laws in Muslim countries such as Pakistan.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said the international community should “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression”, a reference to Western arguments against a universal blasphemy law that the OIC has sought for over a decade.
He said the “deliberate, motivated and systematic abuse of this freedom” were a danger to global security and stability.
Separately, the Human Rights Commission of the OIC, which has 57 members and is based in Saudi Arabia, said “growing intolerance towards Muslims” had to be checked and called for “an international code of conduct for media and social media to disallow the dissemination of incitement material”.
Western countries have long argued that such measures would run counter to the U.N.’s core human rights declaration on freedom of expression and could even open the door to curbs on academic research.
As if to underline the point, a conference in Geneva of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which groups the world’s major Protestant, Orthodox and Evangelical churches, urged Pakistan to abolish its blasphemy law, which carries a possible death penalty.
Critics say the law is widely misused to persecute non-Muslims, and cite this month’s case of a Muslim cleric detained on suspicion of planting evidence suggesting that a 14-year-old girl had burned Islamic religious texts.
Pakistani Christians and Hindus at the WCC gathering said a global law against blasphemy, or “defamation of religion”, would only endorse on an international scale the religious intolerance seen in Pakistan and in other Islamic countries.