Citing Quran-Burning Threat, Islamic Body Wants U.N. to Outlaw ‘Offenses Against Religion’

By Patrick Goodenough | September 10, 2010 | 5:11 AM EDT

A Pakistani protester shouts slogans during a protest against plans to burn copies of the Quran, in Multan, Pakistan on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer)

( – Following the uproar over the threatened burning of the Quran by a small Florida church, a leading international Islamic body said Thursday that the United Nations should outlaw “all forms of offense against religions.”

“The Florida Dove World Outreach Center Church’s plan to burn copies of the Holy Quran on September 11 … requires immediate action to outlaw all acts of defamation of religions and religious sanctities,” the Morocco-based Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) said in a communique.

“It is a blot on humanity that such discriminatory attack against Islam and Islamic holy sites is continuing in the absence of deterrent legal measures, local and international.”

ISESCO, an arm of the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), called on the U.N. “to issue an international law criminalizing all forms of offense against religions under any circumstances.”

Dove World pastor Terry Jones on Thursday afternoon said he was canceling the planned burning of Qurans, an announcement that topped news bulletins around the world and made front page headlines in newspapers from Jakarta to Karachi to Riyadh on Friday.

Jones linked the decision to back down to an alleged agreement that the controversial planned Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero would be relocated.

An Afghan protestor holds a poster at a demonstration against the United States and the Quran-burning plans, in Mazar-e-Sharif north of Kabul on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Mustafa Najafizada)

“The American people do not want the mosque there and of course Muslims do not want us to burn the Quran,” he said. “The imam [Feisal Abdul Rauf] has agreed to move the mosque, we have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday, and on Saturday I will be flying up there to meet with him.”

Organizers of the so-called Park51 project quickly denied that any agreement had been made, however: “It is untrue that Park51 is being moved,” they said in a statement posted online. “The project is moving ahead as planned. What is being reported in the media is false.”

The Florida Muslim cleric who mediated with Jones said later that the agreement was merely for a meeting between Jones and Rauf. In turn, Jones said he had been “lied” to and was rethinking his decision to cancel.

ISESCO’s call was an expected opening salvo in a fresh push by the OIC to use both the Quran-burning threat and the Manhattan mosque dispute to move forward its decade-old campaign to get the U.N. to outlaw what it calls “religious defamation” worldwide.

The OIC argues that legal deterrents are necessary in the light of instances of “Islamophobia” which it says have increased significantly since 9/11. OIC publications use the label “Islamophobia” to cover a range of incidents and trends, from anti-Muslim graffiti to criticism of human rights abuses in Islamic states to counter-terrorism profiling.

Although it has succeeded in getting the U.N. General Assembly and Human Rights Council to pass annual “religious defamation” resolutions the OIC’s drive has been losing ground – in terms of the size of the vote – amid growing public awareness and opposition by religious freedom, freedom of expression and other advocacy groups.

Critics say outlawing “religious defamation” would silence legitimate criticism of Islamic teachings and authorities, make life even more difficult for non-Muslim minorities, and amount to enforcing blasphemy-type laws similar to those in place in some of the OIC’s most activist member states, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The declining support for its resolution campaign has prompted the OIC to pursue a parallel strategy – to have an existing global anti-racism measure, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), amended to incorporate religion.

Pakistani lawyers burn a U.S. flag during a protest against plans to burn copies of the Quran, in Multan, Pakistan on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer)

A U.N. committee looking at identifying and rectifying any “gaps” in the ICERD is considering an OIC request to broaden its provisions to cover religion as well as race.

Make it illegal

An editorial published by the Saudi daily Arab News Thursday expressed surprise that the U.S. authorities had no legal means of stopping the Quran-burning event because those behind it claimed to be “exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

It echoed similar sentiments raised in editorials and news stories across the Islamic world in recent days.

“Ban the desecration now,” Dubai’s Khaleej Times editorialized on Wednesday.

“It is hoped not just in the Muslim communities but enlightened, progressive and peaceful societies across the world that an act such as the Quran bonfire should be strictly forbidden.”

In another small Gulf state, Bahrain, a meeting of multifaith leaders Thursday called on the U.N. to adopt a resolution during its upcoming General Assembly session outlawing the burning of texts held holy by any religion.

In Iran, senior Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Saafi Golpayegani said Jones should be arrested immediately and his church permanently shut down.

The OIC has been campaigning for a decade to have what it calls “religious defamation” outlawed globally, citing incidents like the publication of images of Mohammed. In this picture Pakistanis protest in Lahore on Wednesday, May 19, 2010. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

(Elsewhere in Iran, a deputy defense minister said the U.S government was behind the Quran-burning event – an attempt to divert attention away from its global “crimes” – while Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said it had been “orchestrated by the Zionist regime after being defeated in its efforts against Muslims and the Islamic world.”)

Writing on Friday, conservative columnist Diana West  said that the only law Jones would break in burning Qurans is Islamic law.

“With this in mind, it should become clear that the extraordinary global campaign against this stunt is yet another concerted effort, aided by an army’s worth of useful fools, to bring our constitutional republic into conformance with Islamic law,” she wrote.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow