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William Hague must champion religious freedom with the Islamic group to which he's linked Britain

HagueSquare The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is signed up to a document called the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, which was clearly intended to offer an alternative worldview to that of the United Nations' Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  Cairo supports such rights only "in accordance with the Islamic shari'a".  So, for example, Article Two says that "it is prohibited to take away life except for a shari'a-prescribed reason".

There's no consensus among Muslims about the relationship between the sharia (which means a path) and state law.  But As Ziya Meral indicated, Article Two of Cairo looks like "bad news for apostates, homosexuals, adulterers and women, who are excluded automatically through the use of masculine language in Articles 18 and 24".

As I've written before, I'm an admirer of the traditional, classical Islam.  But the relationship between the sharia and state law is intensely problematic, both for Muslims and, especially, for many non-Muslims living in some Muslim-majority countries.  The crunch issue, perhaps, is religious freedom.  In the secularised western world, one's free both to choose Christianity (say), and to renounce it.  In much of the Islamic world, one's free to choose Islam (because "there's no compulsion in religion"), but not free to renounce it.

I don't believe that the western world's got everything right and the Islamic world everything wrong.  But freedom of religion should be a non-negotiable absolute, and it's wrong that the OIC doesn't recognise it.  There are other problems with the organisation.  It works to shield Muslim-dominated states from legitimate criticism.  And it refuses to condemn suicide attacks on Israeli civilians - the legitimisation of which by some Islamic scholars has opened the door to similar attacks around the globe, including here in Britain.

I was therefore fascinated to learn last week that William Hague has decided to appoint Britain's first-ever representative to the OIC (Kate Rudd, the current British Consul General in Jeddah), and curious to know why successive Conservative and Labour Governments haven't done so before.  I can't see a good reason for not appointing her, since diplomacy entails talking to people with whom one doesn't always agree.

None the less, I hope that Hague instructs Ms Rudd to champion the cause of religious freedom unyieldingly. After all, he's said that "David Cameron and I... have spoken in recent years of our approach to foreign affairs being based on "Liberal Conservatism", in that we believe in freedom, human rights and democracy and want to see more of these things in other nations"The Conservative Human Rights Commission will surely also take an interest.

Paul Goodman


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