EuropeNews 15 December 2012 By Henrik R. Clausen
OSCE, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, may not be as famous as three decades ago, when it was a key actor in discrediting the Soviet regime and eventually bringing it to a peaceful collapse. Yet much activity is still taking place in the framework of OSCE, some of which could have extensive implication for freedom of expression and other freedoms.
OSCE has participating States from North America, Europe and the former Soviet Union and more. It is active in a variety of areas, not all of them with direct implications for civil liberties. These take place in the so-called Human dimension framework. The responsible organisation is ODIHR, which has its headquarters in Warsaw, Poland. Dispatch International reports from the annual status meeting which took place in September-October 2012.
Representatives of ICLA and other NGO's at OSCE, Warsaw
The plenary assembly is where countries and non-governmental organisations (NGO's) can bring up any issue they deem important. OSCE is traditionally very NGO-friendly, which means that even relatively minor organisations can have a voice there, heard by both the ambassadors from the participating States and by the OSCE representatives. While OSCE proposals do not have the force of law, they carry significant moral authority and can bring about significant real-world change.
Islamists in the plenary In the 2012 annual meeting featured a wide variety of NGO's. Jehovah's Witnesses, Christians of various alignments and origins, as well as LGBT organisations were strongly present, and also a number of Western civil liberties activists and Islamists. Since all European Union countries speak with a single voice, they went largely unnoticed in the assembly. Most remarkable was the ongoing and open conflict between the civil liberties activist and the Islamists.
The Islamists were working for COJEP, EMISCO, CAIR-CAN, the US government and a few others. Most surprising was of course the involvement in the US government delegation, which included the founder and president of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee and Hamas-supporter Salam Al-Marayati.
Mr. Marayati spoke to the plenary on October 1st. In parts, he deviated from his prepared speech, for instance by first making it clear that he is himself a practicing Muslim, and underlining the role of the US government in defending pluralism, a concept left undefined. Other excerpts from his prepared speech:
Much like the Prophet, who established religious pluralism in his society when he stated, the Jews are a community alongside the Muslims, We feel that America strives for the ideal of religious pluralism, where Muslims represent a thriving community alongside other religious communities.
As President Obama stated in his 2009 Cairo speech, It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We welcome the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights call for governments to stop targeting Muslims through legislation or policy The Washington Free Beacon followed up on the appointment of Mr. Marayati to the OSCE delegation. A spokesman for the US delegation to the OSCE responded:
Mr. al-Marayati has been involved in U.S. government initiatives for almost 10 years and has been a valued and highly credible interlocutor on issues affecting Muslim communities.Other representatives expressed more direct Islamist sentiments, most notably Bashy Quraishy of EMISCO, an immigrant from Pakistan to Denmark. After overhearing a series of civil liberties activist underlining the importance of free expression and other citizens rights, he took the floor. First he stated that he is personally an absolutely secular Muslim, then went on to declare that world peace would come to an end if the ongoing attacks on Islam and Muhammad were not stopped. In particular, he stressed that the ongoing ridicule and mockery was an insult to all 1.7 billion Muslims, as they start to look unintelligent due to their belief in Islam and Muhammad. Civil liberties activists responded by calling his threats unacceptable and fundamentally incompatible with both OSCE principles and the spirit of mutual dialogue and understanding.
Islamists at side events An interesting feature of the large OSCE meetings is that any participating organisation can host a side event, an opportunity used extensively. Bashy Quraishy of EMISCO sought to build alliances with Jews and Christians in order to prevent any form of intolerance from being shown towards them. Possibly the most remarkable event there was Bashy addressing embracing US representative Alex Johnson and repeatedly calling him 'Brother', probably meaning Brother in Islam.
CAIR-CAN (Canada) hosted an event entitled The Battle of Competing Rights, subtitled Religious accommodation and pluralism in Canada: What can OSCE member-states learn from an evolving multicultural model?
Here, CAIR-CAN representative Amira Elghawaby explained how the Canadian laws about multiculturalism can be used to force compromises with the otherwise undisputed law of the land.
She quoted as examples requesting drivers licenses without identity photos, or the addition of religious extensions to the exterior of rented property. Canadian courts have stated that in order to accommodate multiculturalism, some compromise regarding property rights is needed. More court cases are pending. Given the nature of the presentation, a more descriptive title might have been The Battle of Competing Laws. Related, the CAIR flyers were clearly professional in design and printing, noticeably different from the simple laser-printed papers most NGO's use, indicating that CAIR-CAN has remarkably solid funding. The entire CAIR-CAN event can be seen here .
Explaining the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam The International Civil Liberties Alliance, in cooperation with Bürgerbewegung Pax Europa, hosted an event about the use of blasphemy laws to curb fundamental liberties, explaining the Brussels Declaration and the related Brussels Process. That attracted the attention of practically every Islamist organisation present, which in turn led to a somewhat rowdy situation after it became clear that ICLA unconditionally rejects Sharia. In particular this presentation rattled some islamist feathers:
Each of those representatives took the floor in turn, and while starting out politely stating that they could sign up to this, they consistently accused ICLA of being 'Islamophobic', a danger to society, a disgrace for OSCE and an assortment of other negative stereotypes.
One representative lost her temper after the session, shouting the following into the already noisy room, hardly noticing that noone took notice of her:
- When we talk badly about the Jews, you call it 'Anti-Semitism'.
- When we talk badly of Christians, you call it 'Christianophobia'.
- When we talk badly of homosexuals, you call it 'Homophobia'.
- Yet, when you talk badly about our beloved prophet Muhammad, why cannot we call that 'Islamophobia'?
The following day, representatives of Islamist organisations voiced their discomfort about the presence of 'Islamophobia' at OSCE events. However, they failed to provide what the civil liberties activists had already again and again called for: A clear and workable definition of the term 'Islamophobia'. The Islamists also repeatedly called for a high-level OSCE conference with the intention of finding a way to end insulting the worlds 1.7 billion Muslims through the regulation of freedom of expression.
Finally, COJEP hosted an event Normalization and institutionalization of anti-Muslim sentiment. While superficially interesting, the lectures consisted mainly of complaining about the activities of some otherwise insignificant national socialist organisations in Germany. Taken at face value, one could walk away with an impression that Germany is full of racist madmen making life impossible for even the most peaceful Muslims. Unfortunately, COJEP did not permit recording of their event.
A positive outlook While some quite diverse points of views were expressed in the plenary sessions, the general impression was that the voices of freedom dominated, which in turn was reflected by the chairman summing up the proceedings. He noted the interest in and significance of upholding fundamental rights for individuals as opposed to granting special rights to religious and/or ethnic groups, as well as the calls to abolish blasphemy laws, and made those core issues in his summary report leaving little space for Islamist infiltration, not to mention subversion of core OSCE principles.