‘Religion’ Versus ‘Rights’: Why We are Wrong about ‘Defamation of Religions’

26 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2012

See all articles by M. Mohsin Alam Bhat

M. Mohsin Alam Bhat

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law; Yale Law School

Date Written: September 15, 2011


Since 1999, ‘Muslim’ countries have consistently pushed what have come to be known as the ‘Defamation of Religion’ resolutions in United Nations and human rights organizations. These resolutions aim to limit freedom of expression in order to protect religion, primarily Islam, against what its supporters see as a campaign of stereotyping and negative representation of religion on the part of the media in the West. The proliferation of these resolutions has resulted in a considerable opposition, especially in the West. The liberal scholarship has viewed these resolutions as being against freedom of expression and religious freedom.

In this paper, I have taken a position against DoR, but I have not relied on the predominant discourse against it, which has been based on human rights. Rather, I argue that DoR is a deeply flawed because it is misplaced. One, the way DoR is conceived is intimately connected with the growing rejection of Muslim identity in Europe; and two, this rejection of Muslim identity is not a result of the religion-rights binary, but rather the result of an ethical and political crisis of multiculturalism within Europe. I claim that this crisis follows from the construction of the cultural other as a threat to the coherence of European society. Thus, I claim that not only are the supporters of the DoR resolutions wrong in pushing for them, but that the critics of the resolutions have also failed in being fair to the broader problem which has resulted in the resolutions. Once these two claims are recognized, it would appear that DoR is seeking to bark up the wrong tree. The concept seeks to address an essentially political problem through juridical means, which threatens to mystify this crisis and make it far more difficult to find a solution to it. I see the religion-rights dichotomy in the DoR rhetoric to be precisely a result of this mystification, thus making DoR an unfounded and misplaced language for understanding issues of tolerance and respect for diversity.

Keywords: Islam, Human Rights, Religion, European Muslims

Suggested Citation

Bhat, M. Mohsin Alam, ‘Religion’ Versus ‘Rights’: Why We are Wrong about ‘Defamation of Religions’ (September 15, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2126822 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2126822

M. Mohsin Alam Bhat (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law ( email )

Mile End Road
Lincoln's Inn Fields
London, London E1 4NS
United Kingdom

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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