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Defending Islam from free speech

by Robert C. Blitt

Many have taken false comfort in blaming the cold-blooded attack of Charlie Hebdo on the fanatical action of a small minority of Muslims. But attributing the horror perpetrated in Paris to a band of Salafist radicals alone betrays a willful blindness to a longstanding campaign by broad-based Islamic groups to silence those they consider blasphemers.

The Islamic State and al-Qaeda are by no means the most powerful purveyors of the destructive idea that Islam demands unqualified protection against perceived insult. In the aftermath of the Paris attack, reputable Muslim groups around the world have denounced the violence, but important bodies such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab League, as well as many of the individual states comprising these groups, must bear responsibility for nurturing an environment that breeds violence in the name of defending Islam.

Moderates, radicals agree

The OIC, whose member states range from moderate U.S. allies such as Jordan to adversaries such as Iran, describes itself as the world’s largest international body after the United Nations. For more than a decade, “the collective voice of the Muslim world” has spread the belief that any insult directed against the Muslim faith or its prophet demands absolute suppression. Quashing “defamation of Islam” is enshrined as a chief objective in the organization’s charter.

With countless internal resolutions, relentless lobbying of the international community and block voting on resolutions advocating a prohibition on defamation of religion at the U.N., the OIC continuously pushes to silence criticism of Islam.

Translated into practice inside Islamic nations and increasingly elsewhere, this toxic vision breeds contempt for freedom of religion and expression, justifies the killing of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and casts a pall of self-censorship over academia and the arts.

By building the expectation that dissent or insult merits suppression, groups such as the OIC and the Arab League have emboldened extremists to take protection of Islam to the next level. With the most authoritative Muslim voices prepared to denounce violence but not to combat the idea that Islam should be immune from criticism, a meaningful response to counteract the resulting violence continues to be glaringly absent.

An OIC statement released after a 2011 Charlie Hebdo issue “guest-edited” by the prophet Mohammed typifies this troubling position: “Publication of the insulting cartoon … was an outrageous act of incitement and hatred and abuse of freedom of expression. … The publishers and editors of the Charlie Hebdo magazine must assume full responsibility for their … incitement of religious intolerance.”

This ominously prescient declaration tepidly closed by urging that Muslims exercise restraint….

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