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Jonathan Turley Deceives About Obama’s Support For UN Religious Tolerance Resolution

Regular readers of Irregular Times know that I am no great fan of Barack Obama. They also know that I have written to criticize Barack Obama’s embrace of intolerant religious leaders, and his broken promise to reform the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Barack Obama is not a supporter of the separation of church and state.

However, I’m not one of those people who automatically hates everything that Barack Obama does. The fact that Obama has repeatedly betrayed the trust of his liberal supporters and embraced corporate domination and nasty right wing politics does not logically lead to the conclusion that everything President Obama does is right wing or pro-corporate. It’s important to look at the details of Obama’s actions, and not allow ourselves to get swept up in an absolutist narrative about Obama – whether that narrative declares that Obama is the wonderful embodiment of everything that we have ever hoped for, or a wicked swindler who is just as nasty as Newt Gingrich.

I admit that when I was forwarded to an article by lawyer Jonathan Turley declaring that the Obama Administration is promoting a United Nations resolution (U.N. Human Rights resolution 16/18) that encourages the criminalization of blasphemy and police crackdowns against people who criticize religion, I was inclined to believe the story. Obama hasn’t earned my trust. I didn’t want to just repeat the story, however. So, I read Turley’s article, and I read the resolution that it condemns.

What I discovered is that Jonathan Turley’s accusations against the Obama White House are dishonest and inaccurate.

united nations resoluton 16/18My suspicions were first raised by the tone of Turley’s article. Its rhetoric is oddly evasive and vague. Turley seems to suggest that he has some kind of inside knowledge about how the leaders of many nations intend to use the resolution, contending that the meaning of the resolution is somehow distinct from what the resolution actually says.

Turley isn’t confident enough in his own arguments to share what the resolution actually says, though. To support the contention that resolution 16/18 calls for the criminalization of the criticism of religion, Turley quotes the opening title of the resolution as “criminalizing ‘intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of … religion and belief.’”

Criminalizing intolerance of religion? Criminalizing the stereotyping of religion? Criminalizing the stigmatization of religion and belief? Why, that sounds terrible!

Pay attention to detail, however, and you’ll see that Turley’s quotation doesn’t begin with a capital letter, and has a “…” in the middle. Those are clues that Turley’s quotation of resolution 16/18 is not complete.

Here’s what the quoted section, the introductory title of the resolution, actually is: “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief”.

I’ll admit that this is a very poorly written title. It practically invites misunderstanding with its awkward construction. If we take the time to parse it, though, it becomes clear that what Turley says it says, and what it actually says, are two different things.

The title isn’t directed to protection of religion. It’s directed to the protection of persons. The phrase “based on religion or belief” is a modifier of the word “persons”.

Thus, the short phrase “persons based on” carries an essential part of the title: Its very object. When Jonathan Turley chose to omit this phrase, replacing it with “…”, he was making an edit that radically changed the meaning of the text.

A resolution that condemns intolerance of religion would be defending religion from criticism. That’s not what resolution 16/18 does. Instead, it condemns intolerance of persons based on religion or belief. The resolution condemns intolerance of persons, not intolerance of religious ideas. Those are two very different things.

The resolution doesn’t condemn discrimination against religion. It condemns discrimination against persons based on religion.

The resolution doesn’t condemn the negative stereotyping and stigmatization of religion. It condemns the negative stereotyping and stigmatization of persons based on religion.

The title of the resolution also condemns “incitement to violence and violence” based on religion. Jonathan Turley seems to have perceived that this condemnation might make the resolution sound noble, however, and he chose to edit that part out.

Turley claims that resolution 16/18 “‘condemns’ statements that advocate ‘hostility’ toward religion.” That’s not what the actual text of the resolution states, however. The following are the passages from the resolution that include the word “hostility”:

- The resolution “Expresses its concern that incidents of religious intolerance, discrimination
and related violence, as well as of negative stereotyping of individuals on the basis of religion or belief, continue to rise around the world, and condemns, in this context, any advocacy of religious hatred against individuals that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and urges States to take effective measures, as set forth in the present resolution, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat such incidents;”

- The resolution “Condemns any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to
discrimination, hostility or violence, whether it involves the use of print, audio-visual or
electronic media or any other mean”

- The resolution calls upon nations to begin “Speaking out against intolerance, including advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence;”

What Jonathan Turley characterizes as a condemnation of hostility toward religion is actually a condemnation of “religious hatred”. The two are so different that they’re almost opposites of each other. “Religious hatred” is hatred that is religious in nature or foundation.

The resolution does not, as Jonathan Turley says, “justify crackdowns on religious critics in the name of human rights law.” Anyone who would use resolution 16/18 for such a project has clearly not read the sections where the resolution recognizes that “the open, constructive and respectful debate of ideas, as well as interfaith and intercultural dialogue at the local, national and international levels, can play a positive role in combating religious hatred, incitement and violence.” The resolution also encourages “the representation and meaningful participation of individuals, irrespective of their religion, in all sectors of society”.

There are real instances of religious discrimination. In Saudi Arabia, they just cut off a woman’s head because she was accused of practicing sorcery. In the United States, Republican presidential candidates are promising to replace our nation’s institutions of religious freedom with a system of theocracy that promotes Christianity above all alternatives. Under Barack Obama, George W. Bush’s system of government patronage of religion that allows public money to be used to discriminate against religious minorities has been expanded without reform.

There’s no need for Jonathan Turley to go making up stories about threats to religious freedom.

8 comments to Jonathan Turley Deceives About Obama’s Support For UN Religious Tolerance Resolution

  • Tom

    First, i’m glad you actually view what i forward and secondly thanks for your cogent response. i see your point, but i’m not sure that’s what he was saying. In his LA Times article he points out that “The unstated enemy of religion in this conference is free speech, and the Obama administration is facilitating efforts by Muslim countries to “deter” some speech in the name of human rights.” He’s not a naive guy and has seen the kind of repression and religious intolerance – meaning they don’t cotton to any sidewinder strollin’ inta town an’ badmouthin’ their Sharia laws (or the imams that interpret and implement the words of the Koran) an’ they’ll bushwhack them who does so – they deal out over there.

    i think you’re coming at it from a different perspective – and i agree with you, i think the resolution is SUPPOSED to be anti-religious hatred, but Turley is saying that it will be used the other way, to solidify their take on the way they do religious business without any backtalk from anybody inside the society or outside (like the fatwa on cartoonists who poke a little fun at Mohammed) as he states here:

    “This year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited nations to come to implement the resolution and “to build those muscles” needed “to avoid a return to the old patterns of division.” Those “old patterns” include instances in which writers and cartoonists became the targets of protests by religious groups. The most famous such incident occurred in 2005 when a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. The result were worldwide protests in which Muslims reportedly killed more than 100 people — a curious way to demonstrate religious tolerance. While Western governments reaffirmed the right of people to free speech after the riots, they quietly moved toward greater prosecution of anti-religious speech under laws prohibiting hate speech and discrimination.
    The OIC members have long sought to elevate religious dogma over individual rights. In 1990, members adopted the Cairo Declaration, which rejected core provisions of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and affirmed that free speech and other rights must be consistent with “the principles of the sharia,” or Islamic law. The biggest victory of the OIC came in 2009 when the Obama administration joined in condemning speech containing “negative racial and religious stereotyping” and asked states to “take effective measures” to combat incidents, including those of “religious intolerance.” Then, in March, the U.S. supported Resolution 16/18?s call for states to “criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief.” It also “condemns” statements that advocate “hostility” toward religion. Although the latest resolution refers to “incitement” rather than “defamation” of religion (which appeared in the 2005 resolution), it continues the disingenuous effort to justify crackdowns on religious critics in the name of human rights law.”

    So i don’t think he’s makin’ shit up, as you claim, but i value your opinion and see your point as well. i just think he’s illustrating the strategy of the imams to solidify their (bad in our view) behavior in codified UN resolutions that they can interpret to undermine any condemnation of their meted out punishments – like the cited beheading you alluded to – by anyone.

    • Tom, I don’t see how resolution 16/18 can be regarded as helping governments “deter” free speech against religion. It’s a non-binding resolution. It doesn’t change any law anywhere. It doesn’t create any government body with any authority to do anything. It’s the equivalent of a UN press release.

      Turley specifically suggests that the resolution encourages governments to criminalize criticism of religion, when it doesn’t do any such thing. In fact, the resolution condemns violence based on religious hatred – which has to include violence against publishers of cartoons of Mohammed.

      I didn’t write this article about any meeting that Hillary Clinton is having to put “muscles” on anything, but you’ll notice that Jonathan Turley’s article doesn’t contain any evidence that this meeting actually is intended to produce anything to “justify crackdowns on religious critics in the name of human rights law.” Turley merely asserts that this is the case.

      There were problems with earlier drafts of resolution 16/18. In those drafts, “defamation” was included as a targeted behavior, and that could have caused problems. But that language was taken out of the resolution that was passed. My impression is that Turley is still fixated on the earlier resolution, and working a narrative of intent that ignores what actually took place to ensure that the resolution does not condemn free speech.

      What governments are actually doing is different from what this resolution is. The way that Turley selectively quotes from the resolution is extremely dishonest, and his interpretation of the resolution is just plain wrong.

  • Tom

    Oh, and it think Obama is interpreting this the same way you are – as a GOOD thing.

  • Marc

    Tom, you’re an idiot. Stop typing. Please.

  • Mr Chris

    The thing is 16/18 sets a very bad precedent, binding or not. Note who’s behind it and why. Pakistan originally tried to get the UN to outlaw blasphemy, the USA and others rejected that resolution, so Pakistan via the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) changed the wording to make it more palatable to the west. Keep in mind blasphemy is a crime punishable by death in Pakistan and most Islamic countries. Drawing a harmless cartoon (satire) will get you killed in most Islamic states. Clearly Pakistan and their allies have no interest in an open debate on matters of religion, so what are their motives in drafting 16/18? I’m with Turley on this one and he’s not the only one who has come to similar conclusions.

  • Mr Chris

    This CNN clip demonstrates how many of the followers of Mohammed believe drawing a harmless cartoon “incites” violence. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-yYhq3nOng Again, did Pakistan and it’s allies produce UN Res 16/18 because they suddenly feel compelled to pave the way for cartoon satire, or to stifle it?

  • Robert Johnson

    J. Clifford, you have gone to great lengths to justify Resolution 16/18, but you could have done the same with the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935. But if one side of the table is not bargaining in good faith it really doesn’t matter. Islamic regimes will not respect 16/18 just like they do not comply with UN resolutions on religious freedom. Christians will still be arrested in Saudi Arabia for meeting privately in homes, the Maldives will still deny citizenship to non-muslims, leaving islam in Egypt will still be punishable by death, etc. All that will change is increased use of hate laws in western democracies against free speech when it offends muslims.

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