with this note (in this week's issue):
SIR – I agree that freedom of speech “must include the right to ‘defame’ religions” (“The meaning of freedom”, April 4th). The UN Human Rights Council, which adopted a resolution decrying religious defamation as an affront to human dignity, is controlled mostly by countries that are among the most prolific violators of civil rights, including the right to speak one’s mind.
The blasphemy document itself is remarkable in its scope and deliberate vagueness. Notorious civil-rights violators like Iran and Saudi Arabia will now be able to claim with some confidence that the UN is on their side when they clamp down on liberal-minded or secular Muslims. Western countries will also be happy to note that the council thinks the human right to free speech is not violated when they enforce their own, less draconian, blasphemy laws. The UN has firmly established itself as a body that is not even prepared to defend the basic principles enshrined in its Declaration of Human Rights.
Professor of philosophy