Fears Canadian government will prohibit criticism of Islam

The Canadian parliament has passed a highly contentious motion that sets up a committee to report on steps the Canadian government should take to combat “Islamophobia”. The motion sparked nationwide protests by both supporters and counter demonstrators when it was first proposed in March by Iqra Khalid, a Muslim Member of parliament who is a government backbencher. However, it has just been passed after being strongly backed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

Central to the controversy is what the term “Islamophobia” actually means. Had the motion simply asked the government to take steps to counter anti-Muslim hatred it is likely to have been fairly uncontentious. However, there are real fears that it is aimed at prohibiting any criticism of Islam. Those fears are not without some justification.

Justin Trudeau, Canada's Liberal Prime Minister
CC BY 2.0 by Presidencia de la Rep├║blica Mexicana

In December 2005 the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) launched a ten year strategy to combat “Islamophobia” which it described as “defamation of religion”. Significantly, the OIC definition of Islamophobia did not even mention “anti-Muslim hatred”. It solely focused on seeking to prohibit negative comments about Islam and called for states to enact “deterrent punishments” to counter it i.e. to make it a criminal offence. In other words, it was an attempt to introduce a global Islamic blasphemy law.

This raised considerable concern around the world about the impact this would have on freedom of religion, particularly for non-Muslims. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom raised serious concerns in this respect. In fact, their latest (2016) report welcomed the fact that the OIC appeared to have moved away from this and instead appeared to be focusing on combating anti-Muslim hatred:

“For a number of years, the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly were the centers of a problematic effort by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and some of its members to seek an international legal norm restricting speech that defamed religions, particularly Islam. In a welcome change, the OIC no longer is sponsoring the flawed defamation-of-religions resolutions. They were replaced in 2011 by a new, consensus approach … that focuses on positive measures to counter religious intolerance and protect individuals from discrimination or violence, rather than criminalizing expression.”

However, that optimism was short lived. As we report elsewhere in Christian Action this week. The Pakistan government is currently spearheading the attempt of a group of 22 Islamic governments to force internet companies to immediately remove any material that is deemed blasphemous by Muslims. In effect, it is a further effort to introduce a global Islamic blasphemy law. This would have a chilling impact not only on our ability to report persecution of Christians in Muslim majority contexts, but also on Christians who are already being prosecuted for blasphemy in countries such as Egypt as a result of expressing their beliefs on social media sites.

It is essential that Western governments and commercial companies such as Google and Facebook focus on protecting people by. standing up against anti-Muslim hatred, and anti-Christian hatred, rather than trying to protect belief systems such as Islam. If they seek to protect Islam from criticism then they will actually promote Christophobia by silencing the voice of persecuted Christians in a manner similar to an Islamic blasphemy law.