11 September 2008

Blasphemy in Geneva

So far, I have found Switzerland to be an impeccably clean, disciplined, well-ordered, prosperous country (and one, it should be said, with many ways to prevent all but the impeccably clean, disciplined, well-ordered, and prosperous from becoming a part of it).

The Human Rights Council was closed today on account of a national holidy. This afternoon we attended a meeting of the Geneva Forum, an association for the numerous international NGOs based here in the city. The meeting was presided over by the UN representative for the Quakers. Tonight we dined up on the hill in the old city, seated across from the Hotel de Ville, the site of the old city hall, and in the shadow of the Cathedrale St Pierre. It was Jean Calvin's Geneva, and I found myself haunted by the spirit of Miguel Servetus, the man Calvin had burned in October 1553 (for the heresy of questioning infant baptism and doubting that Jesus could have been his own father).

I am thinking of blasphemy as I prepare a statement for the HRC on "combating the defamation of religions," a recent push led by the Islamic states at the United Nations to make "respect for religion" an acceptable constraint on freedom of expression in international human rights law.
This topic is emerging as a hot one for this session of the HRC, as the Special Rapporteur on elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (et al). and the High Commissioner will be delivering reports on the matter next week. Plus, the scheduled April 2009 Durban II conference on racism has many ready to boycott, including the governments of the U.S., Canada, France, Great Britain, and Israel. It is shaping up to be another occasion for politicized bashing of "Islam-bashing."

An excellent freedom of expression NGO from the U.K. called Article 19 just issued a fine statement on the matter along with two leading Egyptian human rights groups.

We could all learn something about quashing heresy from Calvin:
Whoever shall maintain that wrong is done to heretics and blasphemers in punishing them makes himself an accomplice in their crime and guilty as they are. There is no question here of man's authority; it is God who speaks, and . . . . we spare not kin, nor blood of any, and forget all humanity when the matter is to combat for His glory.

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