In a discussion of a UN report on the issue of extremism and cultural rights at the UN Human Rights Council this week, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) called on the Council to better protect and cherish artistic expression and scientific enquiry in the face of fundamentalism.
The report, by the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune – who is the author of the book, Your Fatwa does not Apply here, – considered how the rise of fundamentalism and extremism represents major threats to human rights worldwide and stresses the centrality of cultural rights in combating them.
Professor Bennoune noted, “We face a worldwide struggle to defend intellectual freedom and the rationality on which it is based. Moreover, at the heart of the fundamentalist and extremist paradigms are rejections of equality and universality of human rights, making unwavering defence of those principles the touchstone of the human rights response.”
Engaging with the report, IHEU director of advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, highlighted some cases of courageous people using their intellectual and artistic talents to highlight the pervasive injustices imposed by state and non-state fundamentalists -in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
She also urged those at the Council to to stand up for the human’s right to free expression and enquiry, and insisted that we must defend the right of free expression of all, including those with whom we may disagree with vehemently.
“If there are those at this Council who believe in the human, in her potential and capacity to bring joy and beauty and reason to our world in order to make it a little better, then they need to stand up unashamedly for her right to artistic expression and scientific enquiry.”
The IHEU, along with a number of other NGOs, also joined the statement delivered by Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) during the interactive dialogue on Professor Bennoune’s report.
O’Casey’s IHEU statement follows in full below:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
UN Human Rights Council, 34th Session (27th February – 31st March 2017)
General Debate on Item 3
One thing fundamentalists and extremists – and here, I include a number of governments around the world – fear most is dissent through irreverence, art, humour or indisputable scientific evidence. It is for this reason we face the immense worldwide struggle described by the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, to “defend intellectual freedom and the rationality on which it is based.”
And it is for this reason that secular bloggers in Bangaldesh have been macheted to death for their enquiring minds questioning the horrors of fundamentalist ideology, and that their own government remain silent – save for some victim-blaming.
And it is for this reason a poet languishes in a Saudi jail faced with a cruelly long sentence and the threat of vindictive state-sponsored lashes.
And it is for this reason that a classical /jazz pianist, was charged with insulting Islamic values in Turkey by echoing the words of a Persian poet and poking fun at afterlife beliefs.
There are too many more examples, too many more courageous people using their intellectual and artistic talents to highlight the pervasive injustices imposed by state and non-state fundamentalists.
The human rights framework, based on equality and universalism without exception, has the tools to protect them, but the extremist who is fearful in the ultimate uncertainty and hate of his position cares nothing for this.
So, if there are those at this Council who believe in the human, in her potential and capacity to bring joy and beauty and reason to our world in order to make it a little better, then they need to stand up unashamedly for her right to artistic expression and scientific enquiry and to defend the depiction of ideas they may hate. For, if we fail to do so, the extremist and fundamentalists will win.