12.10.2005

PROTECTING ARAB INTELLECTUALS

The newest issue of the Middle East Democracy Digest of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has included interesting articles. I will quote here one of them, a meaningful article in which the writer calls on the international community to establish measures ensure some protection to Arab liberals. He took into account the changing realities of the international conduct towards promoting the international role to heal the human rights and democratic liberties where deteriorated. He found the Security Council Resolution 1559 a milestone of the realistic deal with the pretext of state sovereignty.

Liberating Lebanon through unprecedented international effort is a watershed in the Middle East and international relations also. It represents, as I previously said, an international new deal in the Middle East and it indicates a new course of action by the United States. The international community and the U.S. precisely have yet to pay more attention to the importance and necessity of the free expression of Arab intellectuals as an indispensable basis to the comprehensive evolution and reform in the Middle East. Without diversity and dialogue there is no civilization, there will be just a system of violence -- in the wide meaning of the word – the indispensable foundation of totalitarianism and terror.

Arab liberals are still in need for protection, and as I said previously, to Arab liberals, danger is real; fear is legitimate.

Some related posts:

The bases of the U.S. Middle East policy

Freedom of Expression and Internet in Middle East

The International Institutionalization of Human Rights

U.S. Human Rights Policy

Supporting the new Lebanon

Here is the article:

Protecting Arab Intellectuals

By Ahmad al Baghdadi

Translation by Middle East Transparent
Middle East Transparent
October 18, 2005
Web site

The United Nations will soon find it imperative to establish an international court to judge authors of fatwas, articles or speeches that support or incite terrorism. It will certainly be a great day when criminal clerics are brought to such an international court to be sanctioned for their words of incitement. It remains unclear, however, if any international body will attain the power to judge sovereign states that implement laws that squash freedom, or throw intellectuals into prison for criticizing a religious point of view or even a certain era of history.

It is common knowledge, that Arab states have promulgated civil laws that claim to protect religion, but putting certain religious historical figures and dogmas above criticism This is a Muslim “special case”: No other countries, including those that claim a state religion, have adopted the barbarian attitude towards writers and intellectuals that is prevalent in Arab states. Arab countries where Islam is a state religion have laws that, in the name of protecting religion, severely sanction anyone who dares to write a critique of religious texts or figures. Such an attitude against intellectuals is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Arab states that exercise such tyranny have been spared any sanctions, thanks to the concept of national sovereignty. However, the Security Council Resolution 1559, which forced Syria to withdraw its military forces from Lebanon and requires the disarming of all militias, including Hezbollah, so that Lebanon can enjoy stability and peace, represents an international precedent for the United Nations to intervene in the internal affairs of member states. This represents an entirely new attitude on the part of the United Nations, for the Syrian presence in Lebanon goes back nearly thirty years.

This new interventionist attitude, which was supported by the United States and France, and is embodied in a Security Council resolution, points to the importance and the need for permanent members of the Security Council to intervene in order to safeguard people's rights to live in dignity and liberty. It is a fact that religious and racial minorities suffer from persecution. It is even the case for entire populations, such as the people of Iraq until the country was liberated from the dictatorial regime of the Baath. It is, also, in the case of Arab intellectuals, a situation to which not much attention has been given.

Arab intellectuals have been subject to harsh treatment under their various political regimes. They have lived under oppressive laws, which allow political authorities to control their freedom of expression and other intellectual freedoms. Intellectuals have been humiliated by public prosecutors and subject to prison terms and fines for expressing their opinions. State authorities decide which books are allowed to be published, and which are to be prohibited.

The time has come for an international intervention in the same spirit as the pressure to remove Syrian forces from Lebanon. It is imperative for the Security Council to adopt a resolution that would create an international group to evaluate intellectual freedoms in member states. A list should be published indicating which states violate freedom of opinion and expression. These states should be the subject of permanent international scrutiny, which could take the form of periodical reports. And they should be coerced into modifying their laws so that they are brought into compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. International sanctions should be imposed upon states that not adhere to such requirements, and imprison people for their political beliefs and ideas.

The time has come a classification of rogue states to based on International Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such a step would allow intellectuals to breathe the air of liberty after decades of oppression. History teaches us that states are only afraid of sanctions, the more so when dictatorial regimes are aware of their inherent fragility.

It is time for Arab intellectuals residing in the West to propose the adoption of a UN resolution providing protection to intellectuals who are condemned to live in their own countries.

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