Another Useless U.N. Conference

By Alyssa A. Lappen | December 21, 2005

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005, I attended an emergency conference at the United Nations’ New York Headquarters to discuss “Protection of Religious Sites and Prevention of the Use of Violence to Incite Terrorism/Violence.” It was called by the Ethics Initiatives Consortium (EIC) and the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP).

EIC co-chairs Prof. Amir al Islam and Shoshana Bekerman wrote in their invitation that they hoped “to prevent future tragedies such as the desecration of the Gush Katif synagogues.” Unfortunately, the conference suggested that the United Nations will do nothing to stop murder or desecration of holy sites in the name of religion–for it seems that no one is willing to confront Muslim denial that fanatics use Islam to incite religious hatred and destruction–much less stop the fanatics.

After reading a statement by Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy, I listened with dismay to the other presenters–and the responses.

Dr. Ehrenfeld listed many contemporary and historical crimes committed by Muslim states against non-Muslims and their holy sites. She noted: “According to the Dictionary of Islam: conquered by jihad, subjugated people are given three choices: 1) convert, 2) pay a head tax, or 3) die.” She quoted the thirteenth century jurist, Ibn Taymiya, often cited by Osama bin Laden, who wrote that spoils of war “received the name of fay since Allah had taken them away from the infidels in order to restore (afa’a, radda) them to the Muslims…. [The] infidels forfeit their persons and their belongings which they do not use in Allah’s service to the faithful believers who serve Allah and unto whom Allah restitutes what is theirs….” [1]

She added that only when infidels surrendered–and only if a clause specifically allowed–could they preserve religious buildings, but modifications and improvements were prohibited. Furthermore, 11th Century jurist Abu Al-Hasan Al Mawardi wrote that non-Muslim dhimmis “are not allowed to erect new synagogues or churches in the territory of Islam and any built are to be demolished without compensation.” [2]

Dr. Ehrenfeld’s statement provoked a rebuke from Amir al-Islam (also WCRP Secretary General and a history professor at Medgar Evers College). All religious traditions have committed “atrocities,” he said, hoping to blunt Dr. Ehrenfeld’s focus on documented Islamic tradition. He cited the crusades and the Spanish inquisition, for example, and added suggested that we not recall the past but look forward to future reconciliation.

Of course, Christians seldom incite mass murder in the name of religion, and then mostly when provoked. On the other hand, those speaking in Islam’s name, quoting the Qur’an, continue to regularly incite mass murder and mayhem. Qatar-based imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi (and his colleagues), for example, often call for “martyr” operations against Israeli civilians, including women and children. Similarly, Palestinian Authority imams routinely incite bloodshed and genocide of Jews. And Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi also seek massive suicide attacks and war against the infidels.

Yet Talal A. Turfe, co-chairman of the National Conference for Community and Justice, argued: “Under Islamic Shari’ah (Divine Law), non-Muslims shall enjoy special rights and protection. Islam makes it clear that Muslims are not allowed under any circumstances to burn holy books of non-Muslims or to abuse them.”

This is not true, historically, or in our own time. In 1101, for example, the great Muslim philosopher Al-Ghazali wrote concerning “protection” of non-Muslims in the Wagjiz:

one must go on jihad (i.e., warlike razzias or raids) at least once a year…one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them…If a person of the Ahl al-Kitab [People of The Book — Jews and Christians, typically] is enslaved, his marriage is [automatically] revoked…. One may cut down their trees…One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide…they may steal as much food as they need…

“the dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle…Jews, Christians, and Majians must pay the jizya [poll tax on non-Muslims] on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protruberant bone beneath his ear [i.e., the mandible]… They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells… their houses may not be higher than the Muslim’s, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle[-work] is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They [the dhimmis] have to wear [an identifying] patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the [public] baths … [dhimmis] must hold their tongue…. [3](Emphasis added.)

Incredibly, Turfe also claimed that “while the rights of non-Muslim minorities to practice their faith are respected and protected in the Muslim world without question, the same does not hold true today for Muslims in the West.”

In fact, Saudi Arabia alone has spent some $90 billion worldwide since the 1970s to construct mosques and Islamic centers including thousands in the west. By contrast, Saudi Arabia has no open churches, and officials promise never to allow them. The regime even arrests Christians for holding private services at home. Elsewhere in the Gulf, churches are extremely rare. Qatar recently allowed the construction of one church–without a bell, or an exterior cross. Moreover, Muslim attacks regularly destroy churches and massacre Christians in Pakistan, Indonesia, Kosovo, Sudan, Nigeria and elsewhere in the predominantly Muslim parts of the world.

“Terrorism is not a religious but a social phenomenon,” Turfe continued. “[D]epraved groups that have surfaced in the Islamic world misinterpreted Islam…. Their acts of terrorism are the consequence of a social structure rather than religion…. The source of terrorism is ignorance and the solution is knowledge and education.” Turfe also castigated reporters and non-Muslim clerics who “support the invalid Qur’anic interpretations of … Muslim extremists” and indicate that they are “fundamental in Islam.”

Turfe recommends that the West cease military confrontation with terrorists. Combating terrorists merely intensifies their resolve, he said. According to Turfe, governments have not yet identified “the [political, religious, geographical and economic] issues that lead to terrorism…. The basic cause is the buildup of social stress in the society.” Violence, he said, is generated by “people who are in a state of physical and mental unrest…because they want peace that brings about justice.”

Rabbi Chaim Klein, chairman of the Israel-based International Religious Forum for Peace, spoke very briefly, asking why government and religious leaders cannot stop religious fatwas calling for death and destruction. Similarly, Rabbi Shar Yishuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa and Chairman of the Jewish Delegation to the Vatican in February 2003, noted that holy places become holy as soon as anyone has prayed there. Thus, he objected to the Muslim destruction of the synagogues in Gaza (which Turfe falsely claimed was perpetrated by the Israeli government) and asked why Muslims deny Jews the right to pray on their holiest site, the Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Not one of at least eight Muslims present even attempted to answer either of the Rabbis’ questions.

Aunali Khalfan, a Shi’ite Muslim who runs the website and the Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an Islamic bookstore in Elmhurst, N.Y., spoke still more briefly than the Rabbis. Islam is misunderstood, he said. It is the source of the prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus. If other faiths understood this, he said, peace would follow.

Conference participants included representatives of the Holy See and the Philippines mission to the U.N. They agreed to forward a draft declaration to the General Assembly, recommending that it be passed and enforced by governments worldwide. Article one states, “That the use of tenets and principles of religion and the use of places of worship to incite violence against civilians and the environment cannot be justified under any circumstances and constitute violates not only of religious edicts which uphold the sanctity of life, but also of human rights and humanitarian law and depending on the resulting acts constitute “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.” Further articles would require the Secretary General to ensure the declaration’s broad dissemination, its implementation and annual follow-up reports.

The U.N. has already passed a host of Declarations to protect human rights, promote dialogue among civilizations, create peace and non-violence for the children of the world, and protect religious sites, among other things. But as Shoshana Bekerman noted, none of these measures “have any teeth.” The Dec. 13 discussion mapped no viable strategy to give the new proposal any teeth, either.

Like all other U.N. efforts in this sphere, this one seems likely to fail, if for no other reason than the muddled thinking of many of its proponents.

For one thing, most of the Muslim participants hedged and made excuses for hatred or incitement committed in Islam’s name. Al-Islam, for example, expressed horror for the 2001 Taliban destruction of the Buddhist Bamiyan treasures, but added that from an Islamic viewpoint, he understood Taliban thinking: they saw the statues as “idols,” which Islam orders destroyed. And while Al-Islam personally disagrees with Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s incitements to suicide, he noted that Qaradawi is a “great scholar of Islam,” who recommends suicide killing only when Muslims are “oppressed.” Middle East Muslims have suffered great oppression, al-Islam explained.

One Shi’ite participant disparaged incitement of hatred in Islam’s name. But far from expressing sympathy for the victims, he claimed that incitements and terror hurt Muslims more than anyone else–by reflecting badly on their faith.

Turfe proposed that the conference adopt a project to protect holy sites in Jerusalem. No one, not even the Israeli rabbis, protested. Muslims often incite violence by claiming that Jews plan to destroy Al Aqsa. In reality the only Jerusalem religious site in danger from human destruction is the Temple Mount, which Muslims have excavated, thereby destroying priceless Jewish artifacts and undermining the Mount’s foundation itself. In 2003, the Temple Mount wall collapsed in places.

Finally, Turfe suggested that participants call on the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to assist in passing the proposed draft resolution in the General Assembly. Al-Islam heartily approved. The idea is, quite simply, laughable.

Iran has since 1981 led a struggle to modify the U.N.’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), in the belief that it is a secular interpretation of the Judeo-Christian tradition, which Muslims cannot accept above “the divine law of the country.” The OIC has long backed Iran’s effort, according to , the representative of an NGO to the U.N.’s Geneva Office. In 1990, the 19th Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers of the OIC adopted the “Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam” (CDHRI); It states in article 24 that it is “subject to the Islamic sharia.” Article 25 confirms that sharia “is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of this Declaration.”

In other words, nations adopting the CDHRI consider Sharia predominant over all other universal instruments, including the International Bill of Human Rights. Indeed, in February 1992, the Senegalese Muslim secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists, Adama Dieng, warned that the CDHRI “gravely” threatens “the inter-cultural consensus on which the international human rights instruments are based.” He added, “It introduces, in the name of the defense of human rights an intolerable discrimination against both non-Muslims and women,” and lowers certain essential “legal standards in effect in a number of Muslim countries.” Finally, he said, “It confirms, under cover of the ‘Islamic Shari’a (Law)’, the legitimacy of practices, such as corporal punishment, which attack the integrity and dignity of the human being.”

Nevertheless, probably under OIC pressure, the U.N. in 1997 included the Cairo Declaration in A Compilation of International Instruments, vol. II (1997), pp. 478-84. Then in March 1998 Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharazi called for a “revision of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” And in August 1998 the CDHRI was cited in the preamble to a Sub-Commission on Human Rights resolution adopted on the situation of women in Afghanistan.

In November 1998, with OIC help, U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson hosted a Geneva seminar on Islamic perspectives on the UDHR. (OIC countries contributed nearly $500,000.) OIC secretary-general Azeddine Laraki stated that 20 elite Muslim experts were invited to “recall” Islam’s contribution to human rights, by “ensuring dignity in their life and non-submission to anyone but God, and at asserting their freedom and their right to justice and equality on the basis of the two sources of Islamic Shari’a: Qur’an and Sunna and on Fiqh jurisprudence….” [4]

But as we’ve seen, Shari’a is most unkind to non-Muslims. And the Organization of the Islamic Conference is no friend of religious tolerance.

[1]Ibn Taymiya, as quoted in Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: from Jihad to Dhimmitude (1996), p. 297.
[2]Abu Al-Hasan Al Maward, as quoted in Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (2002), 83-84.
[3] Al-Ghazali (d. 1111). Kitab al-Wagiz fi fiqh madhab al-imam al-Safi’i, Beirut, 1979, pp. 186, 190-91; 199-200; 202-203. [English translation by Dr. Michael Schub, courtesy of Dr. Andrew G. Bostom.]
[4] David G. Littman, “Human Rights and Human Wrongs,” National Review Online, January 19, 2003 and “Islamism Grows Stronger at the United Nations,” Middle East Quarterly, Sept. 1999

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Alyssa A. Lappen is a U.S.-based investigative journalist. She is the former Managing Editor at the Leeb Group (2012-2017); a former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy (2005-2008); and a former Senior Editor of Institutional Investor (1993-1999), Working Woman (1991-1993) and Corporate Finance (1991). She served six of her 12 years at Forbes (1978-1990) as an Associate Editor. Ms. Lappen was also a staff reporter at The New Haven Register (1975-1977). During a decade as a freelance, her work appeared in Big Peace, Pajamas Media, Front Page Magazine, American Thinker, Right Side News, Family Security Matters, the Washington Times and many other Internet and print journals. Ms. Lappen also contributed to the Terror Finance Blog, among others. She supports the right of journalists worldwide to write without fear or restriction on politics, governments, international affairs, terrorism, terror financing and religious support for terrorism, among other subjects. Ms. Lappen is also an accomplished poet. Her first full-length collection, The Minstrel's Song, was published by Cross-Cultural Communications in April 2015. Her poems have been published in the 2nd 2007 edition of Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and both 2007 issues of Wales' award-winning Seventh Quarry: Swansea Poetry Magazine. Dozens of her poems have appeared in print and online literary journals and books. She won the 2000 annual Ruah: A Journal of Spiritual Poetry chapbook award and has received a Harvard Summer Poetry Prize and several honorable mentions.

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