Last week the European Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League and the Commission of the African Union released an absurd and dangerous joint statement, expressing ‘the importance of respecting all prophets’, and ‘strongly committing to take further measures’ to work for ‘full respect of religion’.
The joint statement was inspired by the violent reactions to a recent film about Islam, but it focuses mostly on expressing respect for all religions and all prophets (but not for atheism), it includes only a passing reference to freedom of expression, and it waits until its final paragraphs before getting around to condemning the attacks on embassies during which people were killed.
The joint statement claims to be a message of peace and tolerance, but it is actually a message of exclusion and intolerance of atheism and reason, with its narrow and undemocratic focus on ‘what joins us together across regions and religions’ being endorsed by the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs.
By doing this, the joint statement violates the European Union’s obligation to respect equally the status under national law of both religious associations and philosophical and non-confessional organisations, as expressed in Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The European Union is also working to promote ‘full respect of religion’ along with Islamic States that routinely use apostasy and blasphemy laws to persecute innocent people. The European Union should focus on having these people released from prison and on having blasphemy laws repealed wherever they exist.
Respect for all religions and all prophets
The joint statement begins by saying that ‘we share a profound respect for all religions,’ and absurdly adds that ‘we believe in the importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to.’
So the European Union is expressing ‘profound respect’ not only for the major world religions (which, as an aside, profoundly contradict each other), but also for Scientology, Raelism, Paganism, Witchcraft, Voodoo, and the South Pacific tribe that worships Prince Philip.
But, despite the obligations under Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, there is no mention of any respect, profound or otherwise, for atheism or for any philosophical or non-confessional world-views.
And why is the European Union explicitly expressing the importance of respecting prophets, as distinct from respecting the right of citizens to believe in prophets?
Prophets make the unsubstantiated claim, or have it claimed on their behalf, that they are receiving divine messages as intermediaries between the creator of the universe and some human beings on planet Earth. Saying that it is important to respect all prophets is an attack on both atheism and reason.
And ‘respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to’ includes not only the Abrahamic prophets such as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, but also the convicted con-man and first Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, the Raelist prophet Claude Vorilhon, David Koresh of the Branch Davidians in Waco, and the former Coventry City goalkeeper turned snooker commentator turned Green Party spokesperson turned Son of God David Icke.
Why is the European Union endorsing this absurd statement?
Strong commitment to take further measures
The joint statement concludes by saying that ‘We reiterate our strong commitment to take further measures and to work for an international consensus on tolerance and full respect of religion, including on the basis of UN Human Rights Council resolution 16/18.’
Since 1999 the Islamic States have being proposing motions at the UN seeking to make defamation of religion a crime. This would give religions a legal protection that up to then only applied to the rights of individual people.
By 2008, they were finally starting to lose this battle, and they shifted to a new strategy. Using wording drawn from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, they started to reframe defamation of religion as incitement to Islamophobia.
In March 2011, this resulted in the UN Human Rights Council adopting resolution 16/18, proposed by Pakistan. This is the resolution referred to in the current joint statement.
Its title is ‘Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.’
This at least seemed to shift the focus from religion to protecting people, though the Islamic States still blur this line with their talk of Islamophobia.
But now the European Union is committing itself to work with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to bring about ‘full respect of religion’.
What exactly is meant by the phrase ‘full respect of religion’? And if enforcing it only ‘includes’ the basis of this UN resolution, what else does it include?
Why is the European Union advancing this dangerous notion?
Islamic States persecute people with blasphemy laws
And why is the European Union working with the Islamic States to endorse phrases like ‘full respect of religion’, when they know that Islamic States routinely use blasphemy and apostasy laws to persecute innocent people?
Here are five of countless examples of this ongoing persecution, based on laws that are often enforced without due process to settle personal grudges.
In Indonesia, Alexander Aan, a 31-year-old atheist civil servant, has been jailed for two and a half years for sharing material on Facebook about the Prophet Mohammad and writing that god does not exist.
In Pakistan, Asia Noreen Bibi, a 41-year-old Christian mother, has spent three years in prison and faces execution by hanging after a farcical blasphemy conviction. And last year two Pakistani politicians who questioned her sentence were murdered.
Also in Pakistan, Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl, was recently arrested for allegedly burning pages from the Quran. An islamic cleric was later arrested for planting the Quran pages as evidence.
In Saudi Arabia, Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old Muslim poet, has been jailed for blasphemy for publishing tweets saying that he would shake Muhammad’s hand as an equal if he met him.
And in Iran, Youcef Nadarkhani, a 35-year-old Christian Pastor, has just recently been released after spending nearly three years in prison facing execution on charges of apostasy and evangelising Muslims.
Instead of encouraging the Islamic States to retrench further into demanding ‘full respect of religion’, the European Union should focus on having people like this released from prison and on having blasphemy laws repealed wherever they exist.