The former Anglican Bishop of Rochester who now runs a think tank in Guildford says the assumptions of public law in the West and those of Shari’a are so fundamentally opposed that it is not only undesirable, but actually impossible in terms of ‘the rule of law’ 'and of ‘one law for all’'.
Dr Nazir-Ali’s comments come in the run-up to this month’s UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva (13 September – 1 October), where, once again the issues of ‘defamation of religions’ and in particular ‘the ongoing serious implications of Islamophobia’ are on the table.
In a paper given at the The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think-tank, he warns against the campaign by a number of Islamic states and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to have defamation of religion recognised as an offence under international law.
‘Public law in the West as well as international declarations such as those of the United Nations, also safeguard freedom of thought, belief and expression… this is contrary to Shari’a,’ he says.
‘Many Islamic countries have adopted such international covenants only with reservations i.e.: only insofar as they do not contradict the provisions of Shari’a.’
This is why, he states, that groups such as the Islamic Council of Europe and the OIC have produced their own declarations of human rights which are compatible with Shari’a.
‘These differ markedly from the UN declarations precisely in the areas of equality, freedom and penal law.’
Dr Nazir-Ali, who has both a Christian and Muslim family background, points to Muslim countries like Egypt, Iran, the Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan where in recent years many people have suffered because of apostasy penalties or at the hands of families, neighbours and the police who have taken the law into their own hands.
He states: ‘Increasingly there are efforts to silence dissent not only within the Islamic Community, but also beyond it. This is done by threatening those who speak out or write, and any media outlets which may dare to broadcast or publish such material. There are calls for such people to be removed from public office or dismissed, even if they are employed by private organizations.’
Although the punishments for apostasy and blasphemy cannot have legal sanction in non-Muslim majority countries, their influence is nevertheless felt and sometimes quite sharply.
He refers to the fatwas against author, Salmon Rushdie, and German-American scholar, Khalid Duran, and the situations of prominent personalities like Ayyan Hirsi Ali and Taslima Nasrin as examples of how a mentality formed by the apostasy and blasphemy laws expresses itself in the non-Muslim or Western context.
Neil Addison, a lawyer specializing in religion, agrees: ‘The problem that we are having in the West is that because we have accepted the idea of hate crimes against different people for their race, religion and sexual orientation etc, we have opened the door for groups such as the OIC to then push for protection for Islam.
‘The only way the West can deal with this issue is fully embracing freedom of speech and forgetting about the idea of hate crimes and hate speech. Speech should not be prohibited except for incitement to violence.’
So what will happen in Geneva? Says Dr Nazir-Ali: ‘Existing laws such as Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights already prohibit incitement to religious hatred which leads to discrimination, hostility, or violence. The attempt to go beyond this provision to protect religions and their founders has enormous implications for the freedom of speech.’
He told Lapido Media: ‘Radical Islamism and aggressive secularism are the two great challenges for Western societies as they struggle to regain an identity based on the Judaeo-Christian tradition by which they were formed.’