What Purpose Does the Blasphemy Law Actually Serve?

Source: The Nation

We all know that the blasphemy law is supposed to punish the offenders who desecrate the good name of God and the Prophet, or commit a similar offense against religion. And there is really no doubt that blaspheming against holy persons and entities is indicative of a lack of sensitivity and regard toward religious communities. However, people like to debate whether the offense warrants penalties as strict as death and life imprisonment or even any at all.

There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not. However, fortunately, many of the people, including some very smart mainstream religious scholars from both Sunni and Shia traditions agree that there are margins of improving the law. In other words, many people concede that the law is being abused or that there is a possibility of abusing it to settle personal scores. This is keeping the next-to-none debate of amending the law alive, where it is important to keep in mind that most people are not willing to compromise on the prescribed penalty.

That is still progress nevertheless. To the common religious conservative citizen, the law must be about penalizing the blasphemer and it becomes a matter of the “rule of law.” However, this is merely an instrument of asserting the political authority of a community. It is basically a reminder of who is in charge, or what is in charge, relevant in this case. There is a reason why blasphemers happen to only target Islam in a country of more than 200 million.

But even if you are in the “amend-not-repeal camp,” I wonder with these motives behind it, people who matter would actually be willing to even agree on any changes to the law. We all know how Senator Sherry Rehman was threatened when she tried proposing her amendments. Even if the majority agrees on such an amendment, the small but forceful minority would see to it that they have their way. There obviously is little hope but to try convincing people to improve the law. However, banking your hopes on that also points toward a fundamental misunderstanding of why the law exists in the first place.

So, if you missed the memo, initiating discussion of the misuse of the law also becomes an offense to the authoritarian religious conservative. That is a fine line to tread on as slips like the late Governor Taseer calling it a black law could cost you dearly. But even if you are super careful and respectful, you are still challenging the very authority that the blasphemy law formulated under Zia is designed to keep, instead of offering an equal opportunity of complaint to all.

While this may have prevented an average citizen from the fanaticism of the minority religious communities, it has made those communities very prone to damage. Especially the helpless individual citizens from those communities who always end up paying the highest cost. It is simply their misfortune that their fellow citizens want nothing to do with knowing their troubles.

The blasphemy law under Zia was passed under the threats of clerics and it is maintained by similar vows. It was a comprehensive push against the secular side of the state, which had since grown weaker by the day. And since the penalties are as per the prescription of the Sharia according to most scholars, amending how the law is enforced would be a push against the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic against secular entities, if not about upholding the word of God. After all, the JI Emir complains that Pakistan is not an Islamic State.

Even when common citizens or scholars agree on the problems with the law, the blame often goes to the secular law enforcement instead of the violence it is encouraging. Vigilantes are arrested alright, but this is seen unfavorably in general, thanks to legends like Ghazi Ilm Deen. However, the act of vigilante violence is disapproved by conservative elites who prefer the victims to hang after a trial. This is why we must have the blasphemy law. Even though they choose to ignore how free our judges are in terms of passing the verdict in such cases and how it encourages religious extremism.

While Mashaal Khan’s tragic killing has opened a window to start this conversation, it is not as if the other side is giving even an inch other than tolerating slightly dissenting comments and pieces in the media. That too, because let’s admit it, Mashaal’s death was too brutal for even most blasphemy law supporting religious conservatives in Pakistan. But the underlying problem remains the same and only time will tell if the ice would break.

We do make a lot of fuss about the blasphemy law and its abuse. While there has been a sharp rise in cases registered since the amendment under Zia, the secular judiciary has refrained from passing many harsh verdicts. Call that denying justice, it hardly matters as hate speech like “Off with the head of the blasphemer” dominate every town in Pakistan. It is almost an article of faith.

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We are at a point far from arguing or talking reason. Perhaps we would be if the intent were just to penalize the offenders.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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Bringing down the Sharifs

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

The Panama Leaks are the sort of story that was needed to shake the firm grasp of the Sharif family on the politics of Punjab.

Unlike the uproar in the media and warnings of a protest movement from PTI chairman Imran Khan, I am not convinced that the people of Pakistan are particularly bothered by the revelations in the Panama leaks. To some people, avoiding tax payment is a terrible sin, but let’s admit it, most people in Pakistan hardly believe in paying taxes or trusting the government with their money. Others consider smuggling fair trade. These views may outrage many liberals, but people are free to see the world that way.

Naturally, most businessmen and investors, particularly those who fear their assets would be frozen by a certain state for political reasons, would be attracted to offshore tax havens. Or perhaps they have a genuine desire of paying low taxes. In the past, the Swiss accounts of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari have been a matter of major controversy, and now the offshore assets of the Sharif family have surfaced.

To many people, the crime of the PML-N leaders lying about their offshore assets is far worse than the act of possible tax evasion. They would have to produce clean taxation and remittances records to eliminate the suspicion of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, such behavior seems more suited to businessmen than the leading political family in a developing nation.

However, what makes the leaders of the PML-N the hypocrites of the highest order is that they have gone to all lengths to demonize the PPP leadership for what they have been obviously doing themselves. 1999 actually taught them a lesson that heads of state not only need a haven for their financial assets but one for political asylum as well.

Instead of freaking out by Panama Leaks, it does not hurt to be optimistic about their aftermath. Personally, I would not like to see the Prime Minister go as long as he ends up clarifying his position, as did Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain. However, if he fails to present a strong case and succumbs to the pressure of the opposition, good riddance.

Some people are also seeing the military intervening as the ultimate solution for accountability as always, but nothing would be more disastrous for the progress of democracy. At least, for the development of the economy and services to the people of Pakistan.

In any event, you cannot ignore the fact that the Sharif brothers have become a bit too comfortable in their almost absolute political power in Punjab. The landslide in the last election stunned the rest of the parties, but their continual abuse of power hardly goes unnoticed as well.

A strong opposition, and ideally alternate terms for different parties, is good for democracy. Historically, Punjab does vote to balance the power between two leading parties, but due to the popular emergence of PTI, the opposition vote has been divided between PTI and PPP.

The PML-N infrastructure projects particularly require continuation of terms, but regardless of whether the party is good for the country, or at least Punjab, they need to be challenged. The PTI and the PPP will probably not find a better opportunity to strike a dent in the formidable wall of the political support of the PML-N in Punjab. In terms of producing electoral results, both the political parties would have to set aside differences and form an alliance in Punjab.

While the metro bus projects have been much the needed mass transit in the urban areas in Punjab, at least the twin cities, they reflect on how executive power is exercised in Pakistan by political governments. PTI and other liberal critics also make sense when they make a case for the lack of government funds in the health sector while such mega projects are being developed.

Opposition parties sense instinctively that something is wrong with this spending pattern, but are not able to make an effective case for some reason.

Unfortunately, the idea of limiting the executive power is not popular in Pakistani politics. As a matter of fact, these very opposition parties, with the possible exception of PPP, would favor more executive power, so that they are able to exercise it when they are in power. After all, elections are about getting things done.

So while we need to address the problem of corruption and tax evasion, the procedures on government spending and the permitted abuse of executive power need to be taken into account as well.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Yazidi Sex Slave Survivor Nadia Murad Taha Speaks Out Against Islamic State

Source: freedomfund.org

Source: freedomfund.org

If you ever wanted a glimpse into the horror that ISIL has forced millions of people in Iraq and Syria to live through, then listen to the nine-minute speech of this young girl at the United Nations Security Council.

If this does not shock any humanitarian soul, or convince someone that the Islamic State should be destroyed once and for all, I don’t know what will.

Her name is Nadia Murad Basee Taha. Her family was massacred and she was sold and abused by the barbarians at the helm of the sex slave trade that the Islamic State was so eager to to take up. It was almost the reason that they have been eyeing to target the Yazidis for. The trauma and torture that this young girl and thousands more like her went through are simply unimaginable. And the fact that she is brave enough to be here, campaigning against ISIL sends shivers down your spine. This is the sort of courage you can hardly imagine.

It’s unconscionable how the world is tolerating the unacceptable entity of the Islamic State. This is just another reminder that the world needs to move against the Islamic State fast.

While I really don’t like what it’s doing to the world, I actually respect the political positions of consistent liberal pacifists, libertarian and conservative isolationists and nationalists. Sure, they can ask the question why their respective countries, especially the United States, should bother about what is happening to the Yazidi, Kurds and other Iraqi and Syrian people. They have every right to ask that question.

But turning the other way is the easiest thing in the world to do. There is a reason why civilized nations of the world find it important to intervene in a humanitarian crisis because somebody needs to stand up for the helpless. Survivors like her speak volumes why Iraqi and Syrian refugees must be accepted to peaceful regions in as many numbers as possible. Imagine losing this life to war and conflict.

Doing so requires moral leadership and a sense of responsibility. I am proud of the fact that the United States delegation introduced her to the United Nations and it is probably the US leadership that would be required to eliminate the Islamic State. The people oppressed by the Islamic State need to be liberated.

If only fighting ISIL were more central to the political discourse around the world than it currently is.

 

Why So Afraid of Love?

Source: Express Tribune/AFP

Source: Express Tribune/AFP

While there is nothing particularly special about Valentine’s Day, a rather irritating tradition, it always becomes a point of debate among Pakistan’s religious and conservatives and the not so religious and the not so conservatives. You can hardly find people here who do not belong to the two groups.

Nobody would even take Valentine’s Day too seriously any more should this conflict come to an end. With defaced billboards and privacy invasions, the conflicting attitude about this “foreign” festival will continue in Pakistan. But underlying this war of morals, is a deep and disturbing behavioral problem prevalent in our society that may be a root to many other of our problems.

Many…, most Pakistanis have a problem with “love”.  I mean they have a problem with people with a romantic association. I mean they have a problem with sex itself. Not really, they like to have it a lot and add to the exploding population of the country. But they don’t like people talking about it and don’t like people showing willingness to have it with each other. It immediately qualifies you for adjectives that are reserved for sex workers, who by the way are humans and surely good members of the human society too.

Therefore, with this obsession of their hatred with love, or sex, or their erotophobia, they raise their children with a guilt about sex that simply does not fade away. I can tell you that because I am one of the millions of children in Pakistan who have been raised on the same lines. The lines of orthodox religious conservatism, though the word orthodox seems almost superfuous here.

The point is that disapproval of sex and its mention have become an unchangeable and unquestioned ethos in Pakistan, which I am not sure would have been the case in India before Islam’s advent. You cannot help but speculate that it would have been to some extent, especially given the vicious culture of the Rajputs.

In any case, this has a lot of benefits as well, as it perceivably reduces the opportunities of strangers, potential rapists and random chchichchoras abusing your women. However, not a lot of thought is given to women abused by the not-so-strangers, since they are like property and must be possessed and jealously guarded. Therefore, one of the greatest objections to Valentine’s Day is women seen publicly around universal but forbidden symbols of love and sex.

Source: sina.com

Source: sina.com

When you have that many grown-up people who cannot have healthy romantic, or even sexual relationships, they turn into psychotics. Maybe that is scientifically, morally, logically and politically wrong. I don’t know. I am not an expert, but it makes a little sense to me. Perhaps psychologists could explain whether such repressed sexual urges could be one of the reasons behind the torture-loving and violent behavior often demonstrated by the members of our society, and by humans in general.

Not sure. But I can tell you that it does certainly brew trouble. And those who are living it, I mean really living it and surviving it every other day, will be able to tell you about it in a better way. You know, people enduring witnessing and themselves being threatened by honor killings and the virtuous and by the immaculate menace of ghairat or “honor” itself. Usually women suffer almost all the fallout, but that is not always true. A lot of men are killed for marrying as per their will too. We must keep that in mind.

If we discard morality for a moment, such killings seem rather intellectual as they block human procreation in general. At least for the perpetrators, it prevents a dirty DNA from merging their pure one. But since everyone, especially the offenders themselves are so concerned about morality, you have to bring it in the picture and what they do seems ridiculously awful. Funny to the point of reducing you to tears. Tragic to the point of contorting you with fits of laughter.

Source: AFP/Dawn

Source: AFP/Dawn

But it is indeed a serious subject and one that requires immediate consideration of people who claim that humans are Ashraf-ul-Makhlookat, or the “Highest of all Creation”, which they are most certainly not by any means. The reason why I say this is that even though they are great believers in sanctity of life, they are content with treating their children like cattle, suppressing their biological and emotional desires and turning them into neurotics. 

But what to do with a culture that supports suicide bombings on the infidents, which supports and cannot deny the support of stonings-to-death for adultery, which garlands murderer Qadri for slaughtering a loudmouth governor and which sets fire to its cities just because some Dane with a sense of humor drew the caricature of their Prophet who lived 14 centuries ago? A culture that loves violence. Violence and hate.

How can a culture that loves violence and hate can appreciate love? It would certainly hate love and would be afraid of love.

Maybe Paksitan needs to get over its erotophobia to recover from its sickness of violence.

Suicide

Artist: Philippe Bertrand (Source: Wikipedia)

What I cannot really understand is why people think that committing a suicide is a cowardly act, or even worse, something wrong. I really can’t understand it, despite trying. I simply can’t figure out what is so cowardly and wrong about it.

The people around me tell me that it is a cowardly act because supposedly suicidal people shy away from the harsh  realities of life and are not strong to face them. Well, on the contrary, I think that people who shy away from the harsh realities of life are those who are the happiest and call people who commit suicide cowardly and weak. I am pretty sure that these are the kind of people who pile up armies of newborn babies without the second thought.

Yes, I do agree that a person in charge of looking after a child of his or her own would be  irresponsible in committing suicide, but in that case I would really criminalize their act of procreation without responsibility and you could extend it to their act of suicide if you choose to.

Yes, suicide is criminalized. How pathetic is that. But according to some moral standards, such as the ones practiced by most of the post-colonial Pakistani and Indian societies, suicide or attempted suicide is actually considered a punishable crime.

Well, I can agree that suicide is not a healthy act in itself, I can even agree that it is a cowardly act, but how in the world is it a crime? It’s pretty frightening how moralists try to take control of everything. Now you cannot even commit suicide in peace?

I think committing suicide is everyone’s right.

Actually, they need to declare it a basic human right, so moralist and fascist governments and laws do not deprive people of this right. So that no government can lodge an FIR against anyone who survives a self-immolation attempt and sends them to jail instead of offering them therapy.

You can speak ill of them at their funerals if you want, that is your right. But frankly, this sort of moral highhandedness sickens me to the stomach. Also, the feeling of guilt that the families needlessly bear afterwards.

It is not that I want the society to radically change their view about it. I don’t want to judge them on the moral grounds that they thrive on. But I would like to see a suicide given its due respect.

To me, a suicide takes a lot of courage because it is not easy to resist life. Also, it is not easy to consciously end your own life, with a realization of what awaits in the immediate future. You can experience how it feels like by merely imagining for a moment that you are about to kill yourself.

While everyone who suffers from depression have suicidal tendencies every now and then, it is the mental pressures of depression rather than any “cowardice” that drives the suicidal people to such an extreme step.

Of course it is a fair deal that the society offers these people a lot of depression to deal with, or let me be a bit more lenient towards them, that life gives them a lot of depression to deal with as long as they suffer the abuse gladly. So how in the world is that a crime and how in the world is that cowardice? I say they endure all the pressure rather well because I am quite sure that a lot of people who ridicule and criminalize suicide would be horrified by the very mention of that feeling.

Only a few days earlier, there had been a lot of debate about school children and hostel students committing suicides within a span of three or four days. While the incidents shocked the entire nation, I would like to point out that the verdict from some of so-called intellectuals that the suicidal persons had stopped believing in the mercy of God was a completely preposterous diagnosis of the problem.

Like always, religious morality gets in the way of the much needed understanding of suicides. They don’t understand that even the most affluent people may commit suicides under depression and that is why some start making it a political issue. And the same suffocating and bullying morality that ridicules the people who commit suicide ensures that they are driven to find a moment of peace for themselves in this very manner.

Let’s just hope that there is no moral mob on the other side to deprive them of that peace.

But I envy the suicide and am very impressed by their courage.

We are the cowards.