Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, December 19, 2009:
Re “Europe’s Minaret Moment,” by Ross Douthat (column, Dec. 7): We, part of the Geneva human rights community, are particularly embarrassed by Switzerland’s vote to ban minarets and will work energetically toward its speedy repeal.
Paradoxically, the most intolerant Islamists are likely to be strengthened by this act of bigotry, not weakened. Acts of intolerance by Western countries provide justification for banning religious freedom in Muslim countries.
These efforts have found expression at the United Nations Human Rights Council, where an Algerian-headed committee is advocating changes to an international covenant on discrimination to grant Islamic governments free rein to silence dissenters in the name of a supposed human right against “defamation of religion.” But questioning or criticism of Islamic orthodoxies by individuals – religious dissenters, human rights activists or journalists – is protected speech, and an essential part of religious and political freedom.
What a pity that Switzerland’s minaret folly – which, at the least, discourages religious expression by individuals – may end up hurting non-Muslim minorities in the Mideast as well as liberal Muslims. The overt banning of Muslim structures by a government is wrongful discrimination.
Hillel C. Neuer
Executive Director, U.N. Watch
Geneva, Dec. 11, 2009