The U.S. Department of State began a three-day meeting on Monday with government officials from the multinational Organisation for Islamic Cooperation in an effort to combat religious intolerance.
The conference is titled “The Istanbul Process” and was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last July as a “move to implement U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on ‘combating religious intolerance, negative stereotyping, and stigmatization,” according to the National Review Online.
The governments involved with OIC have lobbied for 12 years in order to curb the freedom of speech in America in regards to Islam. OIC has consistently argued that criticism of Islamic ideas be treated as illegal defamation.
Countries belonging to the OIC include Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Most notably, these countries adopted the Cairo Declaration in 1990, a declaration which rejected primary principals of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human rights. The Cairo Declaration said that free speech, along with other rights, should be protected as long as it is consistent with Islamic Law. That means that expressions poking fun of the prophet Muhammad or any other element of Islam would not be protected under law.
Despite criticism from free speech advocates, Hannah Roenthal, a U.S. Special Representative to Muslim Communities, told The Daily Caller that the meeting was a great success. The governments of the OIC, according to Roenthal, have dropped their demand that criticism of Islamic ideas be treated as illegal defamation in return for getting “technical assistance to build institutions to ensure there will be religious freedom” in their countries.
Many are critical of the OIC’s supposed drop of demands.
“What does that even mean? It sounds positive, but I don’t know what exactly that means. It’s so vague,” David French, senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, told The Christian Post. “After 12 years they are just dropping their number one demand?”
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“I don’t mind the meeting. The State Department is supposed to meet with various countries who believe different things. I believe the U.S. should use meetings like this to liberalize countries in the OIC. We need to use this meeting to establish greater discourse and promote liberty.”
“Making fun of any religion – whether it is Christianity or Islam or something else – does not take away a person’s freedom to worship or practice,” French continued, saying that no one has the right to not be offended.
Rosenthal, according to The Daily Caller, believes that giving up their demand to ban criticism of Islam means that OIC countries will become more tolerant of religious minorities as well as of women.
Andrea Lafferty, a conservative activist, told The Daily Caller, that she wasn’t so optimistic. She believes that the U.S. government is headed down the slippery slope of cooperating with OIC officials to stigmatize any speech that is critical of Islam. Lafferty pointed to Clinton’s statement in July as proof of this slippery slope. Clinton has said that the U.S. government will “use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don’t feel they have the support to do what we abhor.”
Another meeting between the U.S. Department of State and the OIC is scheduled for February or March.