Saudi Arabia has called on the international community to ban all criticism of religion.
At a July 25 symposium on media coverage of religious symbols in international law, Abdulmajeed Al-Omari, director for external relations at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, said:
“We have made it clear that freedom of expression without limits or restrictions would lead to violation and abuse of religious and ideological rights. This requires everyone to intensify efforts to criminalize insulting heavenly religions, prophets, holy books, religious symbols and places of worship.”
He argued these steps must be taken to prevent intolerance.
What Saudi Arabia is in effect arguing for is a global blasphemy law, immunizing Islam from criticism. Islamist extremists have long sought to prevent all depictions of the Muhammed, founder of Islam, whether drawn by a Muslim or non-Muslim, through violence.
In January this year 12 people were killed in the offices of Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo, by terrorists affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Yemen. The murders were over the satirical magazine’s depictions of the prophet Muhammed and the gunmen shouted “the prophet has been avenged!”
Last week the paper announced it would no longer be drawing Muhammed and that it had done its part in fighting for free speech.
In America in March, controversial free-speech activist Pamela Geller held a ‘Draw Muhammed’ competition in Garland Texas. Two Islamic-State-affiliated terrorists attacked the event and were shot and killed by security personnel almost immediately.
In response to these attacks, Iceland repealed its anti-blasphemy legislation. A statement from the Pirate Party, who proposed the legislation, read “Iceland's parliament has now established the important message that freedom will not give in to bloody attacks.”
Saudi Arabia itself has very heavy restrictions on freedom of speech, and anti-blasphemy legislation in place. It has the death penalty for blasphemy, as well as for leaving Islam, for witchcraft and sorcery.
It also defines atheism as terrorism.
Saudi Arabia is currently incurring international censure for its treatment of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for starting a blog to discuss religion in Saudi Arabia.
An international campaign to free him has been launched. Find out more how you can help Free Raif Badawi.
By demanding an end to criticism of religion at this symposium, Saudi Arabia is attempting to impose the rigid blasphemy codes of its own theocratic society onto the rest of the world.
After all, it seems unlikely they are calling for an end to the rampantly anti-Semitic and anti-Christian material propagated through official Saudi state school textbooks.