Tuesday, September 18, 2007

UNHRC: Watershed days.

Date: Tuesday 18 September 2007
Subj: UNHRC: Watershed days.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

- UNHRC to choose between defending human rights and Islamising human rights.

This posting examines the 21 August 2007 report presented to the sixth session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) by "the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diene, on the manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia on the enjoyment of all rights".

This report was "submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 4/9 entitled 'Combating defamation of religions', in which the Council invited the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to report on all manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia on the enjoyment of all rights at its sixth session".

Doudou Diene's report should be studied by all religious liberty advocates and everyone else interested in free speech. Diene postulates that "defamation" of Islam generates dangerous Islamophobia, which leads to the repression of Muslim rights and in turn drives Muslims to extremism. This forms the foundation for his recommendation that our international human rights covenants be reinterpreted and amended.

I would propose that the very heart of the issue is not "defamation" of Islam or "baseless" Islamophobia, but the fact that the dictators of Islam are now as ever consumed with and driven by "apostaphobia"!

Indeed the new openness brought to the world through globalisation and developments in information and communication technologies is causing the power stakeholders and religious dictators of the non-free world to be seriously gripped by apostaphobia: a well-founded fear of loss of adherents, which is manifested primarily as uncompromising repression and denial of fundamental liberties, by violent and subversive means.

The UNHRC must add "apostaphobia" to its vocabulary. Further to that, the UNHRC must confront apostaphobia by upholding the international human rights covenants that protect the fundamental, universal right of individuals to religious liberty, not seek to reinterpret and amend those covenants to protect religions and apostaphobic religious dictators from the threat posed to them by religious liberty.



The text of the 21 August 2007 report to the sixth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) can be found here.

The relevant report is:
6th session
Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diène, on the manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia on the enjoyment of all rights.


There are numerous problems with Doudou Diene's report. This list is selective, not exhaustive.

Before even turning the first page it important to ask whether it is appropriate to link (even by association) racism and racial discrimination with defamation of religion and Islamophobia, as race is a totally separate issue from religion. Beliefs should always be open to critical analysis in the pursuit of truth. All efforts to tie religion to race should be rejected.

Right from the beginning the report takes aim at "democratic parties", "governmental alliances", "traditionally democratic parties" (par 6), but nowhere does it challenge totalitarian regimes and religious dictatorships (governmental and non-governmental). It is from within this context the report criticises the "dogmatic rejection of multiculturalism", the defence of value-based identity (par 7), and the curtailing of civil liberties to preserve national security (par 8). In other words, it is quite clear that Diene's criticisms relate to democratic, multicultural states such as the US, Canada, Britain or Denmark, not states such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt or Libya.

Also the use of the word defamation is highly contentious. Defamation relates to damaging slander or libel, which is by definition false. Using the word "defamation" implies that damaging lies are being propagated. Any effort to redefine offence, criticism or questioning as defamation must also be rejected. People should be free to debate and explore the truth or otherwise of claims against religions. However, Diene's use of the terms "ideological violence" and "intellectual violence" (par 9) give some indication of how he might view such debate (at least when non-Judeo-Christian religions are the subject).

Under the heading "Forms of Religious Discrimination", Diene notes (par 13): "Defamation provides the intellectual justification and legitimising discourse that support all forms of discrimination." This statement is absolutely true, but only if "defamation" is correctly defined as damaging slander or libel (falsehoods). WEA RLC has long held that "disinformation" (information that is false and intended to mislead or deceive) is frequently the first step on the slippery slope towards discrimination and persecution. WEA RLC advocates religious liberty, rule of law, and openness in pursuit of truth, as the most effective means of combating disinformation. That is a totally different perspective from that of Diene and the Organisation of Islamic Conference.



According to the report, "defamation" of Islam gives rise to Islamophobia which in turn drives Muslims to "extremism" (par 17). In other words, the cycle of Islamic "extremism" starts with non-Muslims, who must therefore ultimately be held accountable for it.

Special Rapporteur Diene proposes (par 19) that Islamophobia be defined as "a baseless hostility and fear vis-a-vis Islam, and as a result a fear of and aversion towards all Muslims or the majority of them . . . " Thus from the very outset, fear of Islam is said to be "baseless", and fear of Islam inherently is manifested as an "aversion towards Muslims". As generalisations, both are untrue.

Without mentioning Islamic imperialism, jihads and dhimmitude, Diene comments that Islamophobia dates back to the first encounters between Islam and other religions. He cites the Crusades as an example of early Islamophobia without acknowledging that, for all their failings, the successful Crusades in Spain and the unsuccessful Crusades to the Holy Land were nothing more than counterinsurgencies in response to imperialistic Islamic jihads. Reality-reversal, denial and bias pervade the report.

Diene also claims that contemporary Islamophobia is a consequence of the "Cold War-type of ideology" that perpetuates the "clash of civilisations and religions" theory. He says: "The bottom line of this dogma is the relentless characterisation and portrayal of Islam as possessing values that are fundamentally opposed to those of Western civilisation which is postulated as rooted in Christianity." Diene blames this dogma, not Islamic imperialism, repression and terrorism, for Islamophobia. (His quotes in paragraph 21 look like a veiled reference to the courageous Syrian-born critic of Islam, Dr Wafa Sultan ).

Diene claims that Islamophobia is on the rise due to the "intellectual legitimisation" and "political tolerance" of it (pars 23-27). He claims that "so-called intellectuals" are issuing "openly Islamophobic statements" that are "falsely claimed to be scientific or scholarly in order to give intellectual clout to arguments that link Islam to violence and terrorism. Furthermore, the manipulation and selective quoting of sacred texts, in particular the Koran, as a means to deceptively argue that these texts show the violent nature of Islam has become current practice" (par 23). Without analysing or judging the 9/11 terror attacks on the USA, he questions whether the events of 9/11, after being manipulated by the media, may have "reawakened a repressed crusading mentality" (par 24).


According to Diene, anti-Semitism predominantly stems from "political rather than religious or racial motives" (par 38). This entirely and conveniently circumvents the problem and the reality of the inherently anti-Semitic nature of the Qur'an.

According to Diene's report, Arab-Muslim anti-Semitism is not ideological but political and "reinforced by the daily images of the tragedy of the continuous occupation and suffering of the Palestinian people" (par 39); i.e it is not "baseless" but justified and its escalation is Israel's fault. (Earlier Diene accused the media of manipulating the events of 9/11 to make Islam look bad. However, there is no suggestion here of media bias or manipulation to make Muslims look like victims.) Meanwhile, he asserts that European anti-Semitism "has little, if any, relation to opposition to Israel" (par 42). Rather, contrary to Arab-Muslim anti-Semitism, European Neo-Nazism is pure racism.

Diene incorrectly associates the rise of the swastika in India with anti-Semitism when it is actually pure Hindu fascism, the primary victims of which are Indian Christians.


Diene makes it quite clear that like anti-Semitism and contrary to Islamophobia, Christianophobia is not for one moment baseless or unjustified. Diene attributes Christianophobia to "the aggressive proselytism of certain evangelical groups" (par 45). Diene also attributes Christianophobia to the era of Christian-European colonisation and the current debate about the Christian ("value-based") identity of Europe (par 46).

Diene reports (par 48) that "aggressive proselytism of certain evangelical groups, particularly from North America" has resulted in Christianophobia in "South America, Africa and Asia" (note: the Middle East is not on his list).

In another case of reality-reversal he asserts (par 48) that evangelical groups in India exploit freedom of expression to disseminate literature against Hinduism, and that this has favoured the emergence of Hindutva (militant Hindu nationalism) which has arisen out of the need to protect India's identity as a Hindu nation. (Note: Diene does not object to a "value-based identity" for Hindu India!) He adds: "The conversion of Dalits to Christianity to escape their deeply rooted discrimination is to be analysed in this context."

In the section headed "Other forms of religious-based discrimination", Diene criticises "powerful evangelical groups, mostly from the United States of America" who exploit anti-poverty programs as they "campaign to demonise Voodoo". He criticises the colonial-era mentality that seeks to demonise Afro-American syncretistic religious and spiritual traditions as irrational, inhumane and barbarous (par 52).


The report's punch-line is Diene's recommendation that our international human rights covenants be reinterpreted and amended. Paragraph 77 on page 20 reads: "In the light of the polarised and confrontational readings of these articles ["international instruments, and in particular articles 18, 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" ] the UNHRC should "promote a more profound reflection on their interpretation". Diene recommends that the UNHRC "consider the possibility of adopting complementary standards on the interrelations between freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination, and in particular by drafting a general comment on article 20".

Article 20 of the ICCPR states:
1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.

2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

Any effort to include "defamation" of religion (especially when defamation is undefined, or defined as mere offence, criticism or questioning) in the same category as "propaganda for war" or "incitement . . . to violence" would serve those forces from Vietnam to Egypt that seek to make religious liberty an issue not of fundamental, universal human rights, but of national security.

This recommendation will no doubt be discussed in the next session of the UNHRC. It is likely to elicit a resolution to draft an amendment to the UDHR and the ICCPR, one the forces of liberty may not have the numbers to defeat. If that is the case, the Islamisation of international human rights will have begun.

Elizabeth Kendal


UN Human Rights Council: Protecting Religion. 12 April 2007
WEA RLC News & Analysis, by Elizabeth Kendal

Islam at the Human Rights Commission. 21 June 2006
By Roy Brown, past President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Head of IHEU's UN NGO Delegation at Geneva, Chair of IHEU's Committee for Growth and Development. http://www.iheu.org/node/2269

Monday, September 3, 2007

Maldives: Hope is born.

Date: Monday 3 September 2007
Subj: Maldives: Hope is born.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

- the struggle for liberty is just beginning.

Five hundred kilometres south-west of the southern-most tip of India is a series of coral atolls. Looking like a patch of emerald sequins, the Republic of Maldives stretches 885km across the Indian Ocean. It might look extravagantly beautiful, but the Republic of Maldives has long been one of the world's most repressive Islamic police states. This name synonymous with luxury and elite tourism is also synonymous with totalitarian dictatorship and violent political and religious repression involving gross human rights abuses.

This longer posting concerns the issue of reform in Maldives. In 2004, to placate swelling domestic and international opposition, President Gayoom started a reform program that he didn't actually want and has been working hard ever since to obstruct and circumvent. But while Gayoom has been quite successful at delivering reform that is still-born, the promise of reform has given birth to real hope with real life, and a new hope for a 'New Maldives' is rising. Gayoom may have won this round, but it is clear that this new hope and life has a momentum and determination that will not be stopped.



Some dozens of Maldivians became Christians through the late 1980s and 1990s after Christian literature and gospel radio became available in the national language, Dhivehi. Even though these believers were ostracised and persecuted for their faith, they treasured the gospel radio broadcasts from Seychelles and were prepared to risk much to hear the gospel teachings and possess the newly published Dhivehi language gospels which had been smuggled in for the newborn church.

In June 1998, up to 50 local Christians were arrested, imprisoned and tortured in the notorious political prison of Dhoonidhoo, a tiny island close to the capital of Male. Up to 25 foreign workers were detained and their possessions confiscated before they were expelled from the country on allegations of missionary activity. The Maldivians were arrested for being Christians and while in prison they were under intense pressure to participate in Islamic rituals and return to Islam. As a result of loud international protest, the Christian prisoners were released in November that year.


After a prisoner was tortured to death in September 2003, domestic and international outrage swelled to a crescendo. President Gayoom placated the mounting opposition by promising to create and implement a reform agenda. The reforms that Gayoom put forward in June 2004 were radical. He promised changes to the constitution that would limit presidential powers, permit political parties, separate the powers of the executive from the judiciary, introduce the office of Prime Minister and increase liberties. (Link 1)

However it took Gayoom less than two months to renege. On Thursday 12 August 2004, around 5000 pro-democracy supporters filled the streets of Male calling on the government to release five pro-democracy activists who had been arrested on 9 August. They also called for the resignation of the anti-democracy hardliners in Gayoom's government. The protesters gathered in Republican Square for a night vigil which continued with speeches into the Friday. The government's response to this was a violent crackdown both on the streets and through door-to-door round-ups. Members and supporters of the Maldivian Democracy Party (MDP) were savagely beaten and around 90 were arrested. A state of emergency was declared. In many ways it was Male's "Tiananmen Square". (For background see South Asia Analysis Group, paper 1086, link 2)

But Gayoom was advancing some reform. He was engaged in the process of legal reform and was preparing to formulate "the world's first criminal code of modern format that is based upon the principles of Shari'a". Daniel Pipes noted at the time that Gayoom was being assisted in this project by American legal experts and academics from the University of Pennsylvania Law School who were convinced that the Sharia promotes social justice. Pipes, who was horrified, protested: "The Shari'a needs to be rejected as a state law code, not made prettier." (Link 3)

The December 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami devastated Maldives and forced President Gayoom to re-address the issues of openness and reform for the purpose of reconstruction. But it has been more than three years since reforms were first promised and nothing has changed. Or has it?


On 18 August 2007, Maldivians turned out for their chance to choose what style of government they would prefer: a US-style Presidential system or a British-style Parliamentary system. A new constitution will be drafted by November and elections will be held in 2008.

In many ways the referendum was a vote on the popularity (or otherwise) of Gayoom. Gayoom, who monopolised the media during the campaign period, was of course advocating a strong presidency, while the opposition, which is totally fed up with presidential abuses of power, was advocating a parliamentary system.

There has been so much discontent in Maldives that Gayoom has frequently been described in the Western media as being embattled, losing his grip on power or of running a "failing dictatorship".

Prior to the referendum, those opposed to Gayoom - many in the media, some in Gayoom's government and all those other Maldivians frustrated by the slowness of reform and the government's human rights abuses - were anticipating change. "Wind of change stirs in Maldives as President's iron grip weakens", by Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent for the Times (17 Aug) is one pre-referendum piece that well described the mood. (Link 4)

On 18 August, the people of Maldives voted. For an interesting selection of opinions on the fairness and the choice, see "Referendum: Maldives Speaks" (link 5)

Whilst Gayoom's opponents felt positive before the referendum, that air of anticipation quickly evaporated after the referendum with Gayoom sweeping to victory. Now the opposition forces are crying foul. (Link 6)

But there are two possibilities: (1) that Gayoom is not as unpopular as it had been widely thought; (2) that the referendum was rigged and the result was fraudulent.

Underneath Jeremy Page's "Winds of Change. . ." article in The Times (link 3) is a "Have your say" spot. One respondent writes from Male, Maldives: "I'm ashamed of the lies you have printed on this article, our great and holy leader has done so much for us for the past 30 years, commoners are never thankful for what our great leader has done for us, we are the richest people in asia because of him, we are muslims because of him and we are so happy today because of him, our great leader Gayoom is a direct dissendent of the holy prophet and we should always obey and listen to him. There are just a few christian minded people in the Maldives who oppose our great and holy leader [sic throughout]"

This response is a blatant demonstration of what results when political leaders use religion (in this case Islam) to legitimise their rule, as Gayoom has done. (Also, from what I understand, the term "Christian" in this response is used primarily as a swear word, an obscenity, a bit of offensive name-calling. E.g., change-minded equals "Christian-minded" equals positively evil.)


Gayoom has long promoted himself as the guardian and supreme propagator of Islam in the Maldives. His government retains considerable control over imams and preachers in the country through the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and so it is interesting that over recent years while reforms have stalled, Islamisation has progressed at a remarkable rate.

Two articles that examine the progress of Islamisation and radicalisation in Maldives are: "Stormclouds over the Indian Ocean: Behind the veil in the Maldives", by Meera Selva, 5 Oct 2006, (link 7) and "Is Islam A Threat To The Maldives?" by Taimour Lay, 8 Oct 2006 (link 8).

Selva notes that Maldives culture is being Arabised, that women's traditional colourful dresses are being replaced with black burkas, that little girls no longer play outside, that men are growing beards and asserting their dominance, while foreign-funded mosques and madrassas are proliferating. Selva comments that "individual preachers have been advocating a more radical version of Islam on the poorer islands which are cut off from the mainstream media". She says that while the government has been cracking down on political opponents, "fundamentalist preachers have continued with their mission in the villages, using simple language and dangerously persuasive arguments to convert people to a more radical Islam". (Link 7)

Selva comments that while the government is aware of political unrest and rising Islamic fundamentalism, "The government prefers to divert attention away from its shortcomings by arguing that the real threat to stability in the Maldives comes from Christianity, not a lack of democracy. This view sometimes seems to border on paranoia. This April [2006], for example, the minister of fisheries ordered the residents of Kulhudhuffushi island to tear down their new $75,000 indoor market built by Maldives Aid, a UK-based charity, because it was funded by 'Christian missionaries'. Schoolteachers from nearby Sri Lanka and India are regularly expelled from the island for trying to convert Maldivian citizens to Christianity."

Selva quotes one Maldivian commentator as saying: "The government respects Islam but is not Islamic. However, if the government does not act soon, it will find itself overtaken by a more extreme power, instead of the pro-democracy forces it so fears."

Selva's analysis is that Islamic fundamentalism has increased as the government has been distracted with other issues. She also claims that fundamentalism rises because "93 per cent of the population are illiterate", and therefore the "word-of-mouth form of conversion can be remarkably effective". In other words, she lays the blame at the feet of foreign Islamic fundamentalist preachers exploiting Maldivian ignorance while the government is not looking.

However, this analysis is not universally held. For a start, according to UNESCO "96.3% of adults and 98.2% of youth are literate". (Link 9)

The second article, which was written by Taimour Lay and published in Minivan (independent news for Maldives) questions Selva's analysis. Lay says: "The increasing popularity of 'conservative' Islam across the Maldives cannot be denied, but there is no consensus over its actual extent, and what is precisely fuelling it. The government blames foreign preachers. The opposition blames Gayoom and the politics of control. Other analysts point to broader economic and sociological changes that may, or may not, prove reversible in the medium term." (Link 8)

Lay continues: "Many in the opposition think it inconceivable that Gayoom has not sanctioned the spread of more radical ideas. Under Article 38 of the constitution, Gayoom is the 'supreme authority to propagate the tenets of Islam in the Maldives'.

"Discussion of religious freedom is 'vigorously denied and the few that dare to raise their voices are denounced and threatened', the UN Special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir concluded after her visit in August. She raised the cases of several Muslims imprisoned for preaching 'unsanctioned doctrines'." (In this case I understand that 'unsanctioned doctrines' relate primarily to messages against the government's corruption, dictatorship and political repression.)

Lay also notes that the goal of Gayoom's law reform is a criminal code based on Sharia! He writes: "There is considerable evidence that President Gayoom is responsible for the trend [Islamisation, rising fundamentalism], since he has long seen Islam as both a moral buttress for his personal authority and a useful tool of social control."

Lay continues: "Gayoom's attempt to portray himself as 'protector of Islam' in the Maldives, against unspecified foreign threats, has helped to create a paranoid atmosphere in which radical ideas have spread. Conservative supporters of the government, particularly on isolated islands, often say that 'Islam will only be safe with Gayoom' - testament to the president's success in undermining the Islamic credentials of the MDP."

As Lay notes, drug taking, endemic poverty and repression are all factors driving increasingly desperate Maldivians towards Islam in the hope that it will solve their problems. This is a common trend where Islam is believed to be the only alternative to corruption, poverty and repression. Isolation is the best friend of all those dictators and systems that cannot survive in an open and free environment.


Most interestingly, Lay does not believe that Islam will continue to flourish in Maldives. He notes that the population is overwhelmingly young, literate and increasingly well educated and well connected. As such, he notes, they "are unlikely to be seduced en masse by teachings that decry their social and economic freedoms. Some observers think that conservative Islam is reaching its high-water mark now and will begin to decline once political change accelerates. . . I think it very unlikely that a majority of young men and women here will be voting for very conservative parties after 2008. They are more interested in jobs and marriage and Hindi pop music than imposing restrictions on themselves."


According to the reform agenda a new constitution will now be drawn up by November, in advance of multi-party elections in 2008. Hopefully the new constitution will enshrine real, not illusory, liberties. However, the fact that Gayoom's US-approved legal reform produced a criminal code based on Sharia doesn't inspire much optimism.


While Gayoom has been quite successful at delivering reform that is still-born, the promise of reform has given birth and life to a genuine reform movement.

Three reformist young-guard members of Gayoom's cabinet resigned in August in protest over the slowness of reforms. They are Attorney-General Dr Hassan Saeed and Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel, who both resigned on 5 August; and Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed who resigned on 19 August.

Dr Hassan Saeed and Dr Ahmed Shaheed were key architects of the June 2004 reform agenda. Both men earned their PhDs at the University of Queensland, Australia. Dr Hassan Saeed has written a book on Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam (2004) which describes the law of apostasy as largely a religio-political tool and, according to Taimour Lay, "calls for 'absolute' freedom of religion to be permitted in modern Muslim societies and says punishments for apostasy should be discarded".

Commenting on the 5 August resignations of the Attorney-General and Justice Minister, Minivan reports: "Dr Saeed said President Gayoom had blocked decrees on an independent judiciary and freedom of assembly. Jameel said, 'the President has not done enough to control extremist Islam.' 'We submitted an action plan to control religious extremism, but the President has sat on it for six months,' added Dr Saeed." (Link 10)

Concerning the Foreign Minister's 19 August resignation, Reuters reports: "Shaheed called Reuters from the capital Male just before handing his resignation letter to President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. 'There is a conservative guard within the parliament and cabinet which is resisting the proposals of reformists like me,' Shaheed told Reuters. 'So I think the answer is to work outside the system and find a middle ground and provide an alternative.'" (Link 11)

Reuters adds that Dr Shaheed "will now join fellow reformists - the former justice minister and attorney-general who quit earlier this month and call themselves 'New Maldives' - to forge an alternative centre ground ahead of the first multi-party presidential elections next year."

Minivan also reported that when the Attorney-General and Justice Minster resigned something quite new happened in Male: the resigning ministers held a press conference, which MinivanNews described as "the first public show of defiance by outgoing ministers under President Gayoom". (Link 10, includes pictures)

There is hope for Maldives yet. The struggle for liberty is just beginning.

Elizabeth Kendal


1) Maldives reforms proposed. 10 June 2004
By Adam Mynott, BBC South Asia correspondent.

2) South Asia Analysis Group. Paper no. 1086.
By B.Raman, 14 Aug 2004

3) The Maldives and the Professor
15 August 2004

4) Wind of change stirs in Maldives as President's iron grip weakens
By Jeremy Page. The Times, 17 August 2007

5) Referendum: Maldives Speaks
By Aiman Mohamed, 18 August 2007

6) Maldives Backs President in Referendum
By RAVI NESSMAN, 19 August 2007

7) Stormclouds over the Indian Ocean: Behind the veil in the Maldives
By Meera Selva, 05 October 2006

8) Is Islam A Threat To The Maldives? By Taimour Lay
8 October 2006 http://www.minivannews.com/news/news.php?id=2500

9) UNESCO Institute for Statistics; Education in Maldives.

10) Cabinet Resignations Rock Government
By Ajay Makan, 5 August 2007

11) Maldives Foreign Min quits over reform pace. By Simon Gardner, 22 Aug 2007