We can expect that the king of Saudi Arabia, HRH Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, to like things done his way. After all, President Obama famously made a full bow from the waist to the king in London in 2009 at a G20 meeting. That bow did not even take place on a state visit to Saudi Arabia. Having been involved in diplomatic matters over the years, this is not proper protocol, and many found it quite unbecoming for a president of the United States. After all, even Miss Manners’ book of etiquette advises, “One does not bow or curtsy to a foreign monarch because the gesture symbolizes recognition of her power over her subjects.” And Miss Manners was not speaking of appropriate protocol by the President of the United States.
But King Abdullah recently had some ideas for promoting religious freedom. Speaking at a meeting at his palace with religious leaders and the head of hajj delegations, King Abdullah declared, “I demand a UN resolution that condemns any country or group that insults religions and prophets.” I just wonder whether such a UN resolution would apply to the persecution of Christians in Islamic countries. Would burning a church in a primarily Islamic state constitute insulting a religion? But I digress.
Of course, this is not a new suggestion. In fact, numerous resolutions have passed the United Nations General Assembly, including the 2007 version called, “Combating Defamation of Religions.” The resolution states that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression,” and puts forth a wide set of conditions under which such freedom could be curtailed. “[It] should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations, according to law and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others; protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals; and respect for religions and beliefs.” Well, that certainly clears up any ambiguity.
The concept of defamation of religions does not exist in international law. Further, as noted by Sanjeev Bery of Amnesty International USA, “The behavior of an anti-Islam propagandist, as hurtful as it may be to the religious sensitivities of some Muslims, should not be used as a justification to curtail core freedoms or justify potential government repression.” So, the First Amendment is a powerful bulwark against governmental oppression, but that is probably not how the King Abdullah sees things. Rather, he views pesky American-style freedom as allowing people to insult and slander Moslems by insulting their prophet. Further, I can readily imagine that His Majesty, who serves as “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” rejects such quaint notions as free speech and freedom of a non-Islamic religion as deeply depraved and illegal. Surely resolutions against the defamation of religion can be vague, but it seems to me that King Abdullah should be happy with even the 2007 version of the UN resolution. He wanted a UN resolution, and he already has at least one.