Protect the believers, not the belief

Yup. I wanted to save this one for the weekend. Give you time to reflect and ponder.

“Defamation of religion” was once again highlighted on the international stage at last week’s meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva.

It is also at the centre of the continuing negotiations over the Durban review conference in April, which will evaluate progress towards a set of goals to eliminate racism, intolerance and xenophobia. Indeed, the US has cited the introduction of a clause prohibiting “defamation of religion” in the Durban review document to justify its non-participation in the conference…

The motivation behind the introduction of this concept may in fact be clearer than its definition: disallowing criticism of a religion on the basis that religious dogma is sacred and cannot be challenged – a position that has been used to justify vast human rights abuses.

Article 19, which campaigns on freedom of expression, has spoken out consistently against religious defamation, beginning 20 years ago with our campaign in defence of Salman Rushdie…

We are uneasy with the current debate and with its “clash of values” thesis. Instead, we seek a more sophisticated understanding of the issue and the tensions involved, believing that this is the only way to uphold universal human rights. We particularly want to make sure the rights to freedom of expression and equality are protected…

Most important, we must act to shift the terms of the debate around religious defamation, both nationally and internationally. It is vital that we recognise that discrimination and intolerance – often along religious and cultural lines – exist, but we must focus on remedies that insist on the protection of the believers and not the belief.

Ain’t easy, especially when so many “democratic” governments find excuses for suppression of freedoms in the name of a War on Terror.

Multiple shades, multiple significance, of the hijab

When a US-based television network introduced Ro’ya Zanaty, a veiled Egyptian woman, as part of its “21 and the World is Yours” programme, it portrayed her as a “combination of contradictions”.
A Western audience may find it an interesting – if not novel – story that a veiled Muslim woman listens to pop music and is willing to approach a man and ask him out.

But for many in Egypt and the Middle East, a veiled woman mixing eastern and western traditions is nothing new.

In the past two decades, young veiled women have been increasingly active in society – they can be seen in universities, cafes, sports clubs, and mixed social gatherings, hosting talk shows and commenting on everything from contemporary politics to sex education and the latest fashion sense.

And though they appear to share a common adherence to the hijab, they have been expressing themselves in different ways even to the point where the veil itself has now become a symbol of distinct religious and social meanings.

Mona Abaza, a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo, believes the hijab has transformed itself from a symbol of piety into a cultural mechanism, a political statement, and finally, a fashion trend.

Interesting read. Some, confirming the frequent experience of scholars facing a cultural phenomenon which religious folk think is eternal – a pillar of society for only a few decades.

I’ve noted these changes in a couple of ways, recently, here and here.