Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, an influential Muslim scholar and a professor at King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia, has called for the United Nations to end free speech.
The UN Human Rights Committee has declared the right to free speech and expression may be subjected to restrictions that are “strictly necessary and proportionate.”
In December, according to Forbes, the United States voiced its support for UN resolution 16/18, an initiative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that seeks to limit speech that is viewed as “discriminatory” or which involves the “defamation of religion.”
“We ask everyone to ponder the ramifications of provoking the feelings of over one billion people by a small party of people who desires not to seek peace nor fraternity between members of humanity,” bin Bayyah wrote in a public declaration in response to the anti-Islam video that has provoked massive demonstrations and several deaths across the Muslim world.
“This poses a threat to world peace with no tangible benefit realized. Is it not necessary in today’s world for the United Nations to issue a resolution criminalizing the impingement of religious symbols? We request all religious and political authorities, as well as people of reason to join us in putting a stop to this futility that benefits no one.”
The public statement is titled a “Declaration Regarding the Offensive Video to Muslims.”
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times argued in favor of restricting the First Amendment in response to the inflammatory video, citing Schenck vs. United States. In the landmark case, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote that the First Amendment “would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”
Pornpimol Kanchanalak, writing for The Nation, says “the world is toiling to find the right balance between free speech and its restrictions” and cites instances of government censorship ranging from a French court ruling against the distribution of semi-nude photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge to laws in Europe designed to prevent speech in conflict with the official version of the Holocaust. “While the United States may be unwilling to set limits on the freedom of expression,” Kanchanalak writes, “other countries may disagree or be unwilling to treat such freedom as absolute and pious.”
Despite calls to limit freedom of expression to protect the religious and political sensitivities of others, a recent Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey concludes that 72% of poll respondents believe the freedom of speech is more important than assuaging the hurt feelings of Muslims. “Only 15% consider it more important for the United States to make sure that nothing is done to offend other nations and cultures,” Rasmussen explains.
“The thing that makes this particularly difficult for the United States is that … we treat what most of us would refer to as hate speech as constitutionally protected speech and Americans don’t appreciate, I think, how unusual this position seems in the rest of the world,” Lawrence Rosenthal, a professor at Chapman University’s School of Law in Orange, California, told the Associated Press.
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah and other Muslim clerics, however, believe the United States should ignore the Constitution and censor offensive speech.
“To our Western neighbors … we are extremely concerned with a small active minority in your countries that seeks to perpetuate a state of conflict and war,” bin Bayyah wrote. “We estimate that such objectives do not serve the general interest. Therefore, it is our hope that you reconsider and criminalize the denigration of religious symbols, as such provocations do not serve the principles of free speech, principles that you and us both seek to uphold.”