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Independent - johann Hari - Why should I respect these oppressive religions?

Across the world, the small, incremental gains made by secularism - giving us the space to doubt and question and make up our own minds - are being beaten back by belligerent demands that we "respect" religion. A historic marker has just been passed, showing how far we have been shoved. The UN rapporteur who is supposed to be the global guardian of free speech has had his job rewritten - to put him on the side of the religious censors.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated 60 years ago that "a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people". It was a Magna Carta for mankind - and loathed by every human rights abuser on earth.
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Anything which can be deemed "religious" is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN - and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah "will not happen" and "Islam will not be crucified in this council" - and Brown was ordered to be silent. Of course, the first victims of locking down free speech about Islam with the imprimatur of the UN are ordinary Muslims.
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To the people who demand respect for Muslim culture, I ask: which Muslim culture? Those women's, those children's, this blogger's - or their oppressors'?

As the secular campaigner Austin Darcy puts it: "The ultimate aim of this effort is not to protect the feelings of Muslims, but to protect illiberal Islamic states from charges of human rights abuse, and to silence the voices of internal dissidents calling for more secular government and freedom."

Those of us who passionately support the UN should be the most outraged by this.

Underpinning these "reforms" is a notion seeping even into democratic societies - that atheism and doubt are akin to racism. Today, whenever a religious belief is criticised, its adherents immediately claim they are the victims of "prejudice" - and their outrage is increasingly being backed by laws.
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a free society cannot be structured to soothe the hardcore faithful. It is based on a deal. You have an absolute right to voice your beliefs - but the price is that I too have a right to respond as I wish. Neither of us can set aside the rules and demand to be protected from offence.

Yet this idea - at the heart of the Universal Declaration - is being lost. To the right, it thwacks into apologists for religious censorship; to the left, it dissolves in multiculturalism. The hijacking of the UN Special Rapporteur by religious fanatics should jolt us into rescuing the simple, battered idea disintegrating in the middle: the equal, indivisible human right to speak freely.




keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jan 28th, 2009 at 05:52:00 AM EST
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