A group of Islamic nations, led by Algeria and Pakistan, is lobbying to bring before the U.N. General Assembly a proposed treaty banning mockery of religion, according to the Associated Press. The pact would, in effect, be a global anti-blasphemy treaty and an obvious and alarming threat to freedom of expression.
The move seems to have its roots in the backlash four years ago against a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. The often-violent overreaction shocked many Western European nations, which began to wonder what kind of intolerance had been growing in their midst.
In a letter in support of the campaign for the treaty, Pakistan, writing on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said it “believes that the attack on sacredly held beliefs and the defamation of religions, religious symbols, personalities and dogmas impinge on the enjoyment of human rights by followers of those religions.” The letter writer did not see fit to note that some members of the 56-nation conference are hardly paragons of human rights.
The letter seeks to outlaw utterances that are “grossly abusive or insulting” to religion without defining precisely what it deemed grossly abusive. That kind of spongy language leads many to suspect that the treaty would be used against political dissidents as much as it would be used to protect the feelings of the devout.