Pakistan wants the help of the United Nations to impose Islamic speech codes worldwide. This could also give further rationale for social media companies that are all too eager to comply with calls for censoring speech that fundamentalist Muslims consider blasphemous.
Islamophobia “is today the most prevalent expression of racism and hatred against ‘the other’,” Pakistan’s U.N. Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said on June 19 during a Security Council meeting on a “hate speech” proposal.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been a staunch defender of his country’s blasphemy laws.
“It was up to us to explain to the Western people the amount of pain they cause us when they ridicule or mock our Holy Prophet,” – Imran Khan
Last year, he defended laws mandating death for those who offend the Prophet Muhammad by “imputation, insinuation or innuendo.”
Earlier this month, Khan urged the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to play a role safeguarding religion from criticism:
“It was up to us to explain to the Western people the amount of pain they cause us when they ridicule or mock our Holy Prophet,” Khan said at the OIC’s 14th Islamic Summit in Mecca.
“I would like to say from this platform that in the forums like the United Nations and the forums like the European Union, we must explain to them that they cannot hurt the sentiments of 1.3 billion people under the garb of freedom of expression.”
Terrorism is about political struggle, not religion, he argued, and equating Islam with terrorism does a disservice to the world’s Muslims and fuels massacres such as the March attack at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The OIC unsuccessfully sought the U.N.’s support for a global Islamophobia ban in 2014. The OIC’s 57 members represent the U.N.’s largest voting bloc.
“As new channels for hate speech are reaching wider audiences than ever at lightning speed, we all – the United Nations, governments, technology companies, educational institutions – need to step up our response,” said U.N. Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez at Wednesday’s Security Council session.
“While digital technology has provided new areas in which hate speech can thrive, it can also help to monitor activity, target our response and build support for counter-narratives.”
He announced plans for a conference on the role of education in addressing hate speech. Gutierrez didn’t discuss what would happen after that, but one eventually could be a U.N. proposal policing hate speech and Islamophobia globally.
Lodhi endorsed the Secretary General’s desire to tackle the issue of hate speech even though what the U.N. would actually do remains undefined.
“In the United States, our experience has taught us that speech restrictions do not work.” – U.S. State Dept
“We are fully committed to support the UN’s strategy on hate speech. This is a moment for all of us to come together to reverse the tide of hate and bigotry that threatens to undermine social solidarity and peaceful co-existence,” Lodhi said.
“In the United States, our experience has taught us that speech restrictions do not work. Instead, they constrain democratic engagement, diminish respect for human dignity, and stifle change and social advancement. Banning so-called ‘offensive’ speech has often served to protect those interested solely in maintaining the status quo or their own political preferences.”
Among other things, the strategy calls on U.N. entities to “engage private sector actors, including social media companies, on steps they can take to support UN principles and action to address and counter hate speech, encouraging partnerships between government, industry and civil society.”
Thus far, Twitter has shown a willingness to voluntarily enforce Pakistan’s Islamic blasphemy rules even if the U.S. government doesn’t abide any potential hate speech treaty that could stem from planned conference. This raises the possibility that Twitter and other social media companies might voluntarily follow suggestions from U.N. bureaucrats to the detriment of free speech.
Pakistan has tried to compel social media platforms to impose its blasphemy laws internationally. Twitter’s legal department sent American writers Michelle Malkin and FrontPageMag’s Jamie Glazov notices that their posts violated Pakistani law.
Censoring free thought and expression is a problem when countries like Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia does it to their own people. Social media platforms should stand by the principles of liberty that have allowed them to thrive. Yielding to Islamist censorship is disappointing and dangerous.
John Rossomando is a Senior Analyst at The Investigative Project on Terrorism.