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With the down economy, businesses these days are trying everything to get an edge. But whatever you do, be wary of defamation laws. For example: calling your rival car dealership something akin to the "Taliban Toyota" might just end up costing you millions.
That's exactly what happened in the case of Bob Tyler Toyota of Pensacola, Florida. Employees at the Toyota dealership spread rumors and slurs about Shawn Esfahani, the owner of the Eastern Shore Toyota in Daphne, Alabama. They told customers that he was funneling money to insurgents. And that he was an Iraqi terrorist.
Esfahani is actually a naturalized U.S. citizen who is from Iran. The Taliban are an extremist group originating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed with a major global Islamic organization on Friday to pursue new ways of resolving debates over religion without resorting to legal steps against defamation. Clinton met Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the head of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), in Istanbul to help set up new international mechanisms both protect free speech and combat religious discrimination around the world.
Islamic countries set aside their 12-year campaign to have religions protected from "defamation", allowing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Genea to approve a plan to promote religious tolerance on Thursday. Western countries and their Latin American allies, strong opponents of the defamation concept, joined Muslim and African states in backing without vote the new approach that switches focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.
The United States and NGO campaign groups say diplomatic shifts on highly-charged issues like religion and Iran in the long-polarised U.N. Human Rights Council could turn it into a more effective body.
When we hear about blasphemy these days, we usually think cases brought in Muslim countries or efforts by Muslim states to have defamation of religion banned in resolutions at international meetings such as the recent "Durban II" session in Geneva. The issue, which sparked violent protests in the Muslim world in 2006 after a Danish newspaper printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, has been presented as a kind of cultural dividing line between "the West" and "the Muslim world." It's not that simple... (Photo: Kabul protest against blasphemy death sentence for Afghan journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, 31 Jan 2008/Ahmad Masood)
Just look at what's happened in Ireland this week. The government proposed a new law against "blasphemous libel," provoking criticism that the move would be old-fashioned at best and an outrageous curtailment of free speech at worst. Were the traditionally Catholic Irish taking a page from the diplomatic strategy of Muslim countries? Were the bishops trying to flex their dwindling muscles? The Irish Times story reporting the plan gave no motive for it but wrote: "At the moment there is no crime of blasphemy on the statute books, though it is prohibited by the Constitution."
The United States has decided to participate in planning meetings for the United Nations Conference on Racism in April in order to influence its final declaration. The conference, a follow-up to the 2001 meeting in South Africa that the U.S. and Israel walked out on because the draft declaration called Israel racist (that language was later dropped). Israel and Canada have already announced they would boycott "Durban II," as the conference is being called, and the Bush administration was opposed to the conference. But the Obama administration has decided to wade into the debate in the hopes of getting a better result. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly, 26 Sept 2008/Eric Thayer)
Apart from the expected criticism of Israel, this conference in Geneva is also due to be a showplace for a drive by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to have the U.N. condemn defamation of religion. The U.N. General Assembly voted for just such a condemnation last December, for the fourth year running. While the non-binding resolution urged member states to provide "adaquate protection against acts of hatred, discrumination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general," the only religion it mentioned by name was Islam. Western countries opposed that resolution as contrary to the basic rights of free expression and opinion.
The debate over possible United Nations resolutions condemning defamation of religions is heating up as Islamic countries campaign to have an upcoming U.N. document on racism include such a call. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly, 26 Sept 2008/Eric Thayer)
The document, a follow-up to the final declaration of the 2001 Durban conference on racism, is due out in April. The freedom of expression rapporteurs of the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) have called on the United Nations not to issue any such resolution.