Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz this weekend added his voice to the call of Muslim leaders for an international blasphemy standard that criminalizes anti-religious speech. The monarch demanded the law in light of recent insults to Mohammad: “It is our duty and that of every Muslim to protect Islam and defend the prophets.” Of course, Saudi Arabia does not even allow the building of churches in its country and routinely metes out draconian sentences for those who attempt to convert followers to other religions or commit apostasy.
The King on Saturday proclaimed “I demand a UN resolution that condemns any country or group that insults religions and prophets.” Saudi Arabia has threatened YouTube with being blocked in its country if it did not deny access to the video footage of the recent anti-Mohammad film. YouTube caved and extended restrictions on the video to Saudi Arabia.
Much of this writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Egypt to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech. We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard. Now that effort has come to a head with the new President of Egypt President Mohamed Mursi calling for enactment of an anti-blasphemy law at the United Nations. Mursi is also demanding legal action against the filmmaker by the United States despite the fact that the film is clearly protected by the first amendment.
One of Mursi’s chief aides, Emad Abdel Ghaffour, announced this weekend, “we call for legislation or a resolution to criminalize contempt of Islam as a religion and its Prophet. The voice of reason in the West will prevail if there is mutual respect, dialogue and efficient lobbying for this critical resolution.” The “voice of reason” appears to be saying that we need to sacrifice free speech on the altar of religion. Moreover, “mutual respect” now means that critics must remain silent in their views of Muhammad and Islam.
If anything, the recent anti-free speech demands after the airing of this trailer should cause the Obama Administration to reconsider its efforts to create the new international blasphemy standard. As I have previously argued, the Administration is legitimating the prosecution of religious critics and dissidents with this initiative. It should immediately end its support for the standard and reaffirm the protection of religious critics in the United States. We have not served to moderate the views of these countries but rather enabled or facilitated demands for greater criminalization of speech. These countries were thrilled when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited them about a year ago to Washington to implement new standard limiting anti-religious speech and “to build those muscles” needed “to avoid a return to the old patterns of division.” That approach abandoned the prior clear opposition to such limitations in the past and placed our nation on the slippery slope of speech regulation.