In almost every discourse in which discriminatory treatment of the Muslims minority and rights is highlighted, questions and assertions are often promulgated as refutation to the obvious anti-Muslim bias by some extreme “right-wing” liberals from the realms of government officialdom and the media to misguided “human rights activists”. A strange set of strawmen are presented, in what seems like a justification for the discriminatory treatment of the Muslim minority dressed up in the garb of human rights criticism:
“What about Saudi?”
“Women are unequal”
“Muslims are homophobic”
“Can women divorce?”
“Are you going to kill me for changing my religion?”
There are clarifications to all the above questions and statements – what limits the acceptance of these explanations, clarifications and answers is an inherent, “three E’s” bias: epistemological, ethnocentric and etymological bias. It has to be said also, that in many cases Muslims, for want of detailed knowledge of the particular topic or a presence of outright provocative intent, do a disservice in explaining the particulars of Islam.
Placing the above aside and turning to these strawmen statements, my question is what has any of my beliefs got to do with my rights to hold them, as a human being and as a British citizen? What about Saudi? I do not live there. Saudi was born from British colonialist intervention; ask the British why they supported the House of Saud and continue to act at their behest.
My right to hold beliefs and opinions, is grounded in an inalienable right established from the Western construction of human rights. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the freedom of conscious and belief is a non-derogable right and discrimination on this basis is a violation of that right.
The same International legal framework also protects the rights of Muslims and other minorities to practice their religion and culture without discrimination:
“In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.” (ICCPR, Art. 27)
And yet given this pluralistic understanding enshrined in this international legal instrument, Muslims are constantly beaten with the discourse of “equality” and “freedom” (ignoring the endless clarifications), despite such beliefs and practices existing in other religions. Indeed the very same voices which are directed at the Muslim minority are silent on other minorities. This treatment thus becomes minority discrimination at which the voices of “liberalism” then often utter their argument along the lines of, “you want tolerance but are not prepared to be tolerant ” citing the abovementioned beliefs and practices which are at variance with the religion of liberalism and humanism.
It is a circular argument for some may say to say perceived intolerance is not tolerable is in itself intolerance. The flaws in this argument run deeper:
- Conflation between beliefs one does not agree with and “intolerance” – Person A not agreeing with person B does not make person A intolerant of person B. At this point experiential examples are provided of intolerance on the part of some Muslims, ignoring the fact that behaviour on the part of Muslims does not automatically reflect Islamic teachings and the Muslim minority has equally suffered the effects of intolerance by neoconservatives, and extremist secularists purely on the basis of Islamic beliefs.
- The assumption that human rights are preconditioned upon “tolerance”. If rights apply only if you are tolerant, then they should be renamed to “tolerant-human rights”. The human rights, then no longer remain universally applicable to all human beings.
- The international rights legislation highlights that beliefs and practices belonging to a distinct minority will be unique and that respect should be afforded to it. These are secular, Western rights standards. So the statement is ignorant of a large corpus of human rights legislation and conflicts with it.
- Such an argument is tantamount to discrimination based upon religious beliefs as it indicates to a pervasive attitude towards the issue of anti-Muslim rhetoric and treatment due to the underlying fallacious notion of “intolerance”.
The arguments thus espoused by liberals are either out of ignorance of a holistic understanding of human rights or is a manifestation of a latent form of bigotry which contravenes the international norms and in particular Human Rights Council’s numerous resolutions which call States to promote respect, diversity and plurality of beliefs and practices. For example,
UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 encourages states,
“To foster religious freedom and pluralism by promoting the ability of members of all religious communities to manifest their religion, and to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society”
The Sixth session of the Forum on Minority Issues on “Beyond freedom of religion or belief: Guaranteeing the rights of religious minorities”, (A/HRC/FMI/2013/3, 26–27, November 2013), advises states that,
“Education should counter negative stereotypes and myths about faiths and groups, promoting plurality” [which incidentally would help the prevention of regurgitation of common distortions regarding Islam]
“Local human rights institutions should develop guidelines on religious minorities for instance, for employers and promote diversity”
With the international legal conception of human rights pertaining to religious minorities at odds with the statements of liberal human rights anti-Muslim protagonists, this media-driven “intolerance” against religious minorities through human rights is founded in the latter’s ignorance of the wider discourse on the corpus of international law and norms.
It is being utilised by groups which were once persecuted, as a sword to attack other groups all from the high pedestal and safe haven of human rights. Liberal stigmatisation of the Muslim minority by attacking manifestations of beliefs and Islam associated with Muslims who hold normative Islamic positions, in the aforementioned manner, results in psychological harm, stress and often pecuniary losses in the form of job suspension or resultant obstacles to legitimate business expectation (the case of MRDF and Legoland is a prime example).
The discrimination, born from an ignorance of international norms of human rights, thus becomes a measurable one.
The root of this attitude espoused by liberals and secularists is in the false notion of political liberalism and secularism being a monolithic understanding. The secuarlism of France with its extreme Laïcité concept is distinct from the secularism of Britain and other European countries. The liberalism of Dworkin or Rawls is at variance with classical theorists such as Bentham, Kant Locke and Rousseau. This is a discussion in of itself perhaps for another time but I will end with what is certainly more stable and serves as a reminder for those who prejudicially beat the Muslim minority with the stick of human rights:
“The liberal state, by definition committed to pluralism, must accommodate different types of groups, and maintain the framework of rights in which they can struggle for recognition, power and survival.” (Steiner and Alston, International Human Rights in Context, (2000) p.365)