Secularists reverse course on defamation
After years of defending repressive religious practices as symbols of cultural diversity, Britain’s secular left has reversed itself and now vigorously opposes the U.N.’s proposed ban on the defamation of religion, according to religion and media analyst Dr. Jenny Taylor.
"If it weren't so serious, it would be funny," Taylor, executive director of the U.K.'s Lapido Media, told a Media Project-sponsored gathering in Jakarta.
"Left-wing secularists have been fellow travelers with Islamists for decades, in order quite literally, to bring down the State."
Secularists even helped Islamists establish outposts in London as a kind of counterweight to Anglo-Saxon, Christian culture, Taylor said. So it is ironic in her view that the same secularists have become such ardent defenders of the persecuted and some of the very few voices publicly opposing Muslim-sponsored U.N. initiatives to ban speech deemed blasphemous or defamatory.
From her post at Lapido Media, which works for religious literacy in world affairs, Taylor closely monitors religion in the public square in the U.K., Europe and beyond. What Taylor sees in the new secularist approach to religion is not a carefully worked out discourse, but a slow awakening to the anti-defamation movement's potential for "back-door" repression.
"The secularists are slowly discovering that religion is about a lot more than private opinion," Taylor observed. "Hateful thoughts emerge as hateful speech, and speech acts. Whole societies of injustice are based around religiously reinforced cultural practices..."
Taylor's own work on blasphemy laws dates to 1991, when she was shocked by New York Times columnist Bernard Levin's "astonishingly blinkered statement" that only Jews had suffered because of their religion.
Since then, Taylor has tracked the development of anti-defamation and blasphemy laws from their birth in the "badlands" of Pakistan - where the laws are used to imprison or kill Christians and other business rivals - to the present-day United Nations, which is using Pakistan's laws as model for the anti-defamation proposals.
She has also watched Britain struggle domestically to balance individual and media free speech against religious - primarily Muslim - sensitivies. But despite growing incidences of religious conflict, Taylor says that almost no one is reporting on the issue.
"Britain is too busy being polite about religion for this to be an issue," one activist told Taylor.
Journalists' energies have also been occupied recently with spectacles such as political scandals, the economic crisis, and Britain's general elections, Taylor pointed out. Defamation is, by comparison, considered "dry as toast".
“The result is that there has been absolutely no journalism at all on the subject. There have been a couple of blogs written by NGOs - but that is not journalism,” Taylor emphasized.
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