Want insults to religions to be criminal offence?
• OIC says vital to halt "anti-Muslim campaign"
• Christians say Pakistan blasphemy law brings persecution
By Robert Evans
GENEVA, Sept 19 (Reuters) - The 56-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on Wednesday signalled it will be launching a new drive to get an enforceable global law making insults against religions and their prophets an international criminal offence.
In two documents issued on its website, the Saudi-based grouping -- which exerts strong sway within United Nations bodies -- said such action was essential to halt what it called an "anti-Muslim campaign around the world."
The call, bound to lead to new confrontation with the West, came amid uproar in Islamic countries over an Internet video clip filmed in the United States and cartoons in a French satirical magazine lampooning Islam's prophet, Mohammed.
And it coincided with appeals at a conference of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva for Pakistan -- which in the U.N.'s Human Rights Council speaks for the OIC -- to abolish its own "Blasphemy Law" and stop persecution of non-Muslims.
Christians and Hindus from Pakistan at the gathering said a global law against blasphemy or "defamation of religion" would only endorse religious intolerance seen in Pakistan and in other Islamic countries on an international scale.
One of the OIC statements quoted its Turkish secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu as calling for world political and religious leaders "to take a united stand against fanatics and radicals...fanning incitement and religious intolerance."
A Western diplomat in Geneva, who asked not to be named, said much of the Muslim violence -- in which at least 30 people have died including the U.S. ambassador in Libya -- over the video must have itself been incited, perhaps by clerics.
"How else would all those people have suddenly learned of an item that had been on the Internet for two months," he asked.
The OIC's Ihsanoglu said the international community should "come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression" -- a reference to Western arguments against a universal "blasphemy law" that the OIC sought for over a decade.
The "deliberate, motivated and systematic" abuse as in the video and the cartoons was a threat to world peace, he added. In in the other statement, the OIC's Human Rights Commission said "growing intolerance towards Muslims" had to be checked.
Similar calls have been made in recent days by prominent Muslim clerics and some Muslim government leaders -- the latest, as reported by China's Hsinhua agency, by the president of normally moderate Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
BACKED OFF IN 2010
After 10 years of getting a majority in the U.N. General Assembly and the world body's Human Rights Council for unenforceable resolutions condemning "defamation of religion," the OIC backed off in 2010 under a U.S. diplomatic offensive.
In 2011, it agreed to a consensus resolution in the 47-member council calling for action to stop "incitement to hatred" -- a formula Western countries said preserved the U.N.'s core human rights declaration on freedom of expression.
But one of Wednesday's two OIC statements said it was vital to revive an effort the OIC has also pursued to get "complementary" U.N. standards on these issues -- dismissed in the past by the West as a backdoor way of curbing free speech, and even academic research.
The deep divergence not only between countries but between Muslims and followers of other religions was played out also during the 3-day discussions at the WCC on Pakistan's blasphemy law and its effect on religious minorities.
Christian and Hindu speakers from Pakistan recounted cases of mob murder and pillage, false imprisonment and forced conversion to Islam with connivance of police and judicial authorities which they said arose from the law.
In a statement issued at the end of the gathering, the WCC -- which groups the world's major Protestant, Orthodox and Evangelical churches -- said amending the law could not help because it was "inherently open to abuse."
But Pakistani Muslim leaders present -- who accepted that the law was often abused but argued that Muslims suffered as well as Christians, Hindus and dissenting Muslim Ahmadis -- insisted the law must stay as a protection for religion.