The Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations and the European Union mark the determination of the free world to build institutions that would protect all human beings against the resurgence of tyrannical systems. Are they becoming, tragically, facilitators of a movement - global jihad - dedicated to the destruction of Western values?
The EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) - part of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia - held its first annual conference in Paris last December, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Declaration. Delegates split up into five working groups to review freedom of expression from five angles: its relation to democratic society, the new media, defamation, diversity in the media and "challenges". The working groups reported briefly on their conclusions at a plenary session open to the media.
Freedom of expression is indeed challenged by Islamic fundamentalism. The universality of human rights is attacked at the UN. Anti-blasphemy legislation is pushed aggressively at all levels, both domestically and internationally. The expression of certain opinions has become life-threatening. But the FRA only has eyes for the rights of "visible minorities" and the values of "diversity". The issue of Islamic thought control is, however, broached obliquely in a background paper entitled "Freedom of Expression and Hate Speech: some points for consideration". It states:
"Free expression is a cornerstone of democracy and one of the core values of the European Union, but so is equal treatment and non-discrimination. Socially vulnerable groups and individuals who are often the target of intolerance, racial abuse and hatred need to be protected not only from discrimination, but also from verbal abuse. It should not be forgotten that the battle for freedom of expression in European history was a battle of the oppressed for a voice against their oppressors. This historical lesson should not be forgotten. Therefore insensitivity for the existing societal power relationships is crucial for the interpretation of the limits of free expression."
The document concludes with the warning that hate speech regulation is inadequate if it is not extended to active promotion of diversity and non-discrimination, as proposed by the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
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