I doubt too many readers of this blog will not know this already or find it surprising but I post it as the confirmation of what we all know is from very high sources in the Pakistani diplomatic core and unusually frank which is at least, refreshing:
“Defamation of Islam” is a code word for blasphemy
Asma Fatima is the Second Secretary of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C. She was on the panel with me at the U.S. Congress’s human rights caucus meeting yesterday.
Though I disagreed with every word she said, including “and” and “the”, I’m very glad that she was there, because she spoke on behalf of her government and, given that she is a diplomat, she spoke startlingly plainly. 400 years ago it was quipped that diplomats are honest men who lie abroad for their country. I don’t think that Fatima got the memo, for she spoke freely about her country’s goals, and those of other countries in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and indeed the dozens of Muslim countries at the United Nations.
She wants Western countries to ban critical comments about Islam — and she mentioned the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in particular. It was well pointed out by others on the panel that Western defamation law deals with the vindication of improperly besmirched reputations using the truth, as determined by courts of law — but when it comes to clashing religions, the truth of any faith is in the heart of the beholder. The only legal system that would hold the Koran to be “the truth”, and subordinate every other faith beneath the Koranic truth, would be a sharia legal system, such as that in Saudi Arabia. In other words, she wants to replace our secular legal systems with a Muslim legal system. I appreciated the honesty.
Western defamation law is also about vindication of an individual’s reputation — the individual must be indentified; he must have suffered measurable damage. Defamation is not about hurt feelings — it is about the unjustified destruction of one’s reputation in the eyes of another. It has nothing to do with tender feelings, though that was the grievance cited most often by Fatima.
Fatima’s demands for an end to the “defamation” of “Islam” was undone masterfully by two of my fellow panellists. The first was Zia Meral, of Turkey, who pointed out that the real “hurt” we ought to be looking at was not Fatima’s hurt feelings, but the real physical hurt suffered by Islam’s dissidents and he described, in gruesome detail, how non-Muslims — and worse, apostates — are dealt with in Muslim countries from Sudan to Malaysia to Saudi Arabia. I will not recount the horrific details.
Meral’s strongest point, though, was to note that the gambit of Islamic countries to twist Western law to stop criticism of Islamic human rights abuses is merely the latest fashion in smoke screens deployed over the years. Earlier tropes hurled at the West have included charges of “Orientalism”; “Interventionism”; “Colonialism”, etc. Whatever will momentarily put Islam’s critics off balance, by appealling to the West’s own lack of confidence.
But the single most revealing comment I heard all day about this matter was from a State Department lawyer on the panel (whose name I wish to confirm before publishing it.) She has done meticulous research on the Muslim campaign to ban criticism of Islam, and has helped develop the U.S. response to the idea in international legal forums.
She went deep into the issue: she looked at the Arabic word used by Muslim diplomats when describing the “defamation of Islam” that they sought to illegalize. She consulted scholars of Arabic who confirmed for her that the particular legal phrase had been coined very recently, especially for the international diplomatic campaign — and that, when discussed domestically, Muslim countries used the real Arabic words they mean: the traditional words for blasphemy.
So, I suppose, Fatima was following the old diplomat’s dictum after all. She was very honest about her goals — stopping people (especially other, moderate, Muslims) from criticizing Islam. But her dark art was to re-classify her censorship in the Western legal term of “defamation”, instead of the more honest classification of “blasphemy”.
If Muslim diplomats the world over were to lobby for international and Western laws against blasphemy, that would likely trigger a reaction — not just from those who believe in Christianity, Judaism, etc., but from atheists, too, who might not go quietly into a merger of mosque and state. But calling blasphemy by the word “defamation” (and making up a special new word to mislead the proposed law’s targets), makes sure that fewer alarm bells in the West will ring. It transforms an attempt to Islamicize our entire legal system into merely another lawsuit amongst countless others. That’s the diplomatic sleight-of-hand that Fatima was peddling.
I want to do more research on this subject, and I’ll surely write about it again. Those who have been following the story of the Canadian Islamic Congress vs. Maclean’s magazine will surely recall that one of the front-men for that Islamic SLAPP suit, Khurrum Awan, has used almost identical language in his threats against Canadian media.