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There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not.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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Salmaan Taseer’s Sixth Death Anniversary Sees His Son Accused of Blasphemy

Source: Guardian

Source: Guardian

It’s probably not even a surprise that following the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by fanatic religious zealot Mumtaz Qadri, his son Shaan Taseer is accused of blasphemy. But for the sake of it, let’s just say who could imagine this happening.

Salmaan Taseer would have been so proud in the grave, or perhaps so pained to see this.

The Quaid-e-Azam would have been so proud in the grave, or perhaps so pained to see this.

Of all the Taseer children, it was perhaps only Shaan who has taken up activism for the rights of the minority religious communities in this fashion. He has remained in the forefront in protesting against religious extremism, including against the Laal Masjid, with Jibran Nasir and other similar activists. I recall seeing him speak first in the Aabpara protest against Laal Masjid clerics following the APS attack in Islamabad, which featured Jibran Nasir and Farzana Bari as well.

It’s one thing speaking out for the poor and the threatened, it’s a whole different thing altogether to become the victim yourself. Such is the brilliant dynamic of the politics of the blasphemy. No one is safe from the monster.

Source: Express Tribune

Amazingly enough, Shaan Taseer has been accused of blasphemy for just giving a video Christmas message to everyone in which he obviously criticized the blasphemy law as “inhuman.” Of course, he brought up Aasia Bibi missing God knows how many Christmas nights for being jailed. And of course, even any judge is not willing to hear Asia Bibi’s appeal case. Thank God someone is still talking about it.

However, this video was enough for him to attract a very serious and dangerous, legally protected death threat. Yes, that is what a blasphemy fatwa really means.

The Barelvi clerics of Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah affiliated with the Sunni Tehreek, the group that wreaked havoc in Islamabad on the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, issued the fatwa or legal opinion against him. The trouble with the fatwa sort of “legal opinion” is that most Muslims end up considering it a verdict. Anyone remember Salman Rushdie?

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

If you need an evidence of the insanity of the blasphemy allegations flung at just about anyone, then consider the case that the same clerics have issued a warning against PTI leader Imran Khan too. Now Imran Khan is a very popular leader, who has now turned a conservative populist nationalist, with his party allying with the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami. He knows very well that blasphemy is political suicide. Someone as careful as him is not even safe from the threat of blasphemy accusations, albeit he is powerful enough that they stop short of issuing a fatwa against him and settle on an open letter.

On the anniversary of the assassination of the late Governor Taseer, let us express our support and solidarity to Shaan Taseer who is fighting the fight for liberty at a cost.

We must realize that no one is safe as long as these medieval obscurantists are in power.

We must realize that no one would be free as long as these ignorant tyrants keep on shutting everyone up.

We must speak out.

That is the only way to pay our respects to the mission of the Taseers.

 

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2016: Qandeel Baloch

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

She made a statement by expressing her sexuality in a society where it is considered an abomination. She was predictably accused of vulgarity in a society that has probably even forgotten the meaning of this vague expression.

Forsaken by the liberal media, in the words of feminist academic Nabiha Meher Sheikh, when she needed them the most and condemned by a society of self-righteous savages, model and internet sensation Qandeel Baloch tested the morality of our standards of morality.

Her selfie clip with Maulana Abdul Qavi pretty much realized my dream of watching Mathira and Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman do the tango on TV.

The shockwave that it caused not only resulted in his removal from the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, an insignificant body that performs the significant function of sighting the moon but also leading to the murder of Qandeel at the hands of her own brother because she had offended his honor. Qandeel’s former husband was also said to be involved. To no effect, or without much substance, Mufti Abdul Qavi’s name was included in the investigation of her murder for provoking it on the complaint of her parents.

Yep, death comes that cheap in Pakistan. Or is it life?

Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Nighat Dad – Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Shout outs also go to some other free speech heroes in Pakistan, who are continuing their struggle in the face of brutal opposition. Heartiest congratulations and salute to internet privacy and digital rights activist Nighat Dad who won the 2016 Human Rights Tulip Award from the Dutch government. She has used the prize to establish the first cyber harassment helpline for the people of Pakistan.

A mention of publisher and social activist Abdul Wahid Baloch is also due, who was briefly abducted by unknown entities following his activism to find the whereabouts of the Baloch missing persons. These individuals have been the victim of the crackdown on the Baloch insurgency.  Thankfully, he is safely home.

Journalist Cyril Almeida became the victim of undue state scrutiny, following the daring release of an exclusive news story that revealed that the civilian government of the Sharif brothers had reprimanded the military leadership for inaction against religious terrorists. Almeida was briefly put on the Exit Control List by the Federal Ministry of the Interior following the government’s and the military’s repeated stern denials of his story. Too much fuss about nothing, of course.

Source: pakistantv.tv

Shaan Taseer – Source: pakistantv.tv

Another great Pakistani free speech hero remains to be Shaan Taseer, the son of the slain Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was a free speech hero in his own right. Shaan Taseer is continuing the fight against the draconian blasphemy law and for the rights of the minority religious communities in Pakistan.

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Qandeel’s antics may not sound serious to some of you, but the fatwa issued by Sunni clerics against Shaan Taseer, which he publicized on his facebook page, is no joke. If only this evidence was enough to convince people how much dangerous people we are dealing with here.

In the guise of peace and love, these religious zealots ensure that no one is safe from their venom. I can only commend people like Shaan Taseer for really taking them on in his bold and fearless manner. Now, I can’t do that for one, and the image of the “legal opinion” I posted above can be considered a death threat to Taseer.

All of these free speech heroes are important. Freedom of Press is important. Fighting for religious minority rights is important. But perhaps nothing is more important than a woman challenging the norms of a society that collectively hates women and is abusive to them. Pakistan remains to be one of the countries collectively abusive to women in the name of culture and religion, and apart from my own hometown of Rawalpindi, I have seen glimpses of that in various parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, such as Swat and Lower Dir. So, I am pretty sure of what I am talking about here.

For that reason alone, Qandeel Baloch is my Pakistani free speech hero for the year 2016.

As Nighat Dad herself said, every time a woman stands for herself somewhere, she is standing for all the women.

Read about the last year’s Pakistani free speech hero, Sabeen Mahmud, here.

The Blasphemy Hunger Games

Source: poplr.pk/dunyaurdu.com

Source: poplr.pk/dunyaurdu.com

Our public inquisitors and blasphemy scanners, who have taken it upon themselves to inform the public of every little mischievous soul taking the Lord’s name in vain, are dominating the TV waves.

The biggest problem is who would decide that it is a blasphemy.

The answer is simple. The public inquisitors and blasphemy scanners themselves.

The rule is simple too.

If it looks like a blasphemy, and if it sounds like a blasphemy to certain people, rest assured that it is.

Hey, I am not even presenting the same old liberal argument of insanity or fake profiles. Let’s talk about things that people actually say.

Even Hamza Ali Abbasi asking about the rights of a minority community is considered blasphemy in this day and age.

Thou shalt not question the Second Amendment, even if you are not really doing so.

This is hilarious and dangerous at the same time.

In the Indian subcontinent, one of the perks of living in a society with so many religions is that people are just so easy to offend.

You would feel as if you were watching the moral policing version of the Hunger Games on your TV.

The only difference is that in the Hunger Games, the condemned contestants actually stand a chance to save their lives by winning.

We are witnessing a race on national TV to nominate blasphemers and waiting for the faithful to take them out. It’s a thrilling game of survival.

It may come across as free speech but it is precisely the very opposite, because this sort of behavior is not only meant to shut people up. It is meant to shut them up for good. As in the case of the murdered Bangladeshi bloggers.

Now do not forget, such behavior comes from this taken-for-granted belief that the society needs to think in a certain way, and anything and everything must be done to silence the deviants.

Our former philosopher-kings such as Orya Maqbool Jan and the inquisitor-in-chief Mubasher Lucman, who often pretends not to be concerned with others’ private affairs, are just the prominent faces of this reality witch-hunting show.

Blasphemy and public morality scanners have a certain goal in mind.

It’s not that such elements are not present on the liberal side of the political spectrum, but their goal is usually confined to naming and shaming. They get their orgasms out of people being publicly humiliated instead of offering allusions that people could hack you to death when out of control.

Many of my naïve friends ask me why secularism is needed in the presence of an Islamic state, not to be confused with the menacing political entity in Iraq and Syria.

With public inquisitors in charge, whose tone claim authority over the national discourse, considering atheism as rebellion to the Constitution of Pakistan, you do need secularism.

You need secularism because otherwise even existing could have serious consequences in an Islamic State, again not to confuse with the menacing political entity in Iraq and Syria.

In my opinion, witch hunters such as Orya Maqbool Jan and Mubasher Lucman themselves are the biggest argument in favor of secularism.

Because apparently, the very existence of a community in a country is a source of offense to the supposed view of the majority.

Now don’t bring up Jinnah’s view, please. Haven’t we trashed that already with the 1973 constitution?

Now as entertaining as they are, the blasphemy hunger games are nevertheless dangerous.

They are dangerous because not only are they intellectually bankrupt, but also socially authoritarian.

Sometimes, I do feel sorry for the people on the religious conservative side of the fence. Because the very presentation of their ideological view involves violating others’ free speech and personal security. And that is precisely how theocratic forces have been enforcing their view for centuries.

However, this does not absolve them of their sheer idiocy, lack of information, moral hypocrisy, and malicious intentions.

But since it is an Islamic State, the Blasphemy Hunger Games must go on.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Sorry Hamza Ali Abbasi, We Only Want to Kill You

Source: aaj.tv/thenewstribe.com

Source: aaj.tv/thenewstribe.com

How could you possibly think about daring to ask such a question?

That too on the national TV?

What is the matter with our media channel owners, or should I say the media mafia?

Now before I go on, I want you to know something about us.

We are the most peaceful people in the world. We tell our believers to kiss the name of the God and the Prophet.

But here is something about us that you probably don’t know, o simpleton who thinks that the people in a religious seminary are more tolerant and accepting than liberal fascists. OK, perhaps you were right about the accepting part anyway.

But we also tell our followers to take human life and give sacrifices in the name of love and honor of the faith. Because unlike you, we have a faith that is strong and unshakable.

I hope that did not come as a shock to you, because if it did you are clearly not aware what our boys did to that loudmouth Governor of Punjab.

Now that potty mouth asshole, may he burn in the hottest flames in hell, dared to question the very existence of the blasphemy law?

Didn’t you see what we did to him?

And even then, you dared try asking about the sacred second amendment that we got passed after years of so many sacrifices? How dare you doubt those sacred words?

How dare you, o foolish little man who thinks that an Islamic State can survive without writing the death warrants of the Ahmedi community?

But we know that you did not really mean it.

Now don’t get too upset, we actually like you. Particularly your name. Hamza. Ali. And Abbasi, ah what a sacred association.

But what we don’t like is what you just said. You gotta watch your words. You could have at least realized what your name is and means before opening your forever-broken, rotten, and condemned mouth.

Again let us remind you, o silly soul who thinks that Muslims are the most tolerant people on earth, that our platform is completely meant to propagate peace and love in this earth of God. And that is what we do.

However, if anyone dares to question anything about the status of the Ahmedi community, and if the state and PEMRA let them get away with it, keep in mind that we are a people of great honor.

For your kind information, o gullible accepter of gagaland myths, we have never tolerated hearing and do not ever tolerate hearing such secular bullcrap coming out of the mouths of so-called social justice warriors.

They have no idea what being a warrior is even remotely like.

Even our glorious armed forces have an obscure rule about shooting the stealer of state secrets that may or may not be real. If they have a shoot to death facility, it is imperative that so should we. Not that we need such a rule.

Let this be a warning to you, o believer in the insane notion that an Islamic State offers complete protection to non-religious minorities. If you ever think about committing such an offense again, we have our ISILesque Jihadi ninjas prepared for shearing your ball sack with their crescent blades.

Or at least we have a couple of annoying wannabe-clerics deployed in airports anyway to harass you before and after those godawful flights that you somehow get through in a single piece. Being harassed like that is one sign of being a kafir. Just ask JJ.

Again let us tell you, o naïve mind who is in search of fellow believers in the mythical faith known as True Islam, that we are anything but hatemongers.

We don’t preach hate. Let the haters go to those who actually do. They will find them with guns and gunpowder. You got it, we are talking about the NRA.

However, let us remind you, o propagator of completely false information about devout men of faith, that those who agree with a kafir also happens to be a kafir. Either you are with them, or with us.

There, there, we know that you are a righteous soul.

We know you had no idea what was coming out of your forever-broken, rotten, and condemned mouth.

So please tell us who was it that made you utter the obscenity that people can even think about being capable of empathizing with the condemned Ahmedis.

And stop mocking us for assuming that you could be an Ahmedi yourself for crying out loud, as we clearly don’t. Or you would not be alive today to commit this monstrous atrocity.

Tell us the name of those unpatriotic, faithless entities…

Or don’t complain when we come for you.

Sorry Hamza Ali Abbasi, we love you.

We only want to kill you.

A version of this post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Time to Start Rejecting Mosques

Source: AP/Dawn

Source: AP/Dawn

Think about it. Why should we continue to support a group that is actively destroying our homes, cities, public infrastructure, lives and livelihood?

Why should we continue to support a group that is pitting brother against brother, citizen against citizen and promoting discrimination?

So let’s start rejecting their mosques, their sermons and their processions and give peace and love a chance. And if you cannot do without praying, at least stop funding them or donating to them.

Can we promise ourselves to hold back our charity whenever asked for a donation for a mosque?

There is no need to expect any different from them. You are not going to hear anything peaceful and sane out of these pulpits. All love that they reserve is for the Prophet, which always spells out as trouble for the sinful human beings living in the immediate vicinity of these utterances.

It is the students of these seminaries of hate and ignorance which bred enough hate to render a young man heartless enough to kill innocent Christian women and children. The same mosques have indoctrinated enough toxic hate in the hearts of millions in the name of love for the Prophet to call for killings and destroy public and private property.

The heartbreaking tragedy striking the helpless citizens of Lahore is nothing new from the enemies of this country. However, the disgusting display by the Sunni Tehreek, which should be declared a terrorist organization, and affiliated criminals in Islamabad on March 27 is an eye-opener to all. It has not happened for the first time and probably not for the last time, but the sheer audacity and absurdity with which completely unreasonable demands are made are unacceptable.

To add insult to injury, the Sunni Tehreek is distancing from the violence it unleashed on the capital and making the lives of its citizens miserable. Things get even better with their hideously ignorant and criminal demands it has put forth by gracefully offering to negotiate with the helpless government, whose leniency in letting these criminals wreak havoc is unforgivably disheartening and disappointing.

They are asking the government to glorify a convicted criminal and to give them a carte blanche to murder whoever they want in the name of the love of the Prophet. Not only does this challenge the highest courts of the state, but any standard of humanity and moral decency.

The fearlessness of these groups that is born out of never ever being questioned must be eliminated with an iron fist.

Why should we continue to be hostage to the mullahs who are hostile to our country, our law and our lives?

This is why we need to reject attendance in mosques.

There is a reason why I am saying this.

Personally, I have always considered mosques pulpits of hate and ignorance. However, religion is a necessity in a society like Pakistan, and if you deny that, odds are you don’t understand its makeup. Religion is closely linked with rites of passage and personal and social events such as birth, marriage and death.

Nevertheless, the more people continue to pray in mosques and listen to their hateful, blackmailing sermons, the more they are going to be under the influence. It is the constant exposure to the mosque and the sermon of the hateful mullah that has induced the tolerance of the liberties taken by religious extremists.

Liberals are busy trying to create a new Islam, particularly in the West, trying to fight extremism in their own way. While I wish them well, the realities of the faith in Muslim majority states are far from their utopian cherry picking and eloquent apologies. Therefore, perhaps aversion from the poisonous words of the cleric and religious scholar is a start to purge the venom.

So let the mullahs hear this message of rejection of their hateful mosques loud and clear.

At least until they can prove they are otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Thoughts on the Execution of Mumtaz Qadri

Source: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

Source: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

So, after years of deliberation, Mumtaz Qadri was finally hanged on leap day 2016 in Rawalpindi’s notorious Adyala Jail. A lot of people are celebrating and mourning passionately, but to me the very mention is repulsive.

Look, I know why some people are celebrating or are happy about it. For two reasons primarily. Because it’s not every day that the courts pass judgement against the guardians of the blasphemy law. Especially when the comment of the Justice exonerates the murdered governor of committing any blasphemy. And secondly, because the other side is celebrating the martyrdom.

To many people’s shock, Mumtaz Qadri was laid to rest in a funeral attended by thousands. I am fine with the lack of live TV coverage, but would oppose any government instructions to block the reporting. Some were not even in favor of allowing such a funeral procession, but you cannot tell people what to do.

Blasphemy law involves strange moral dynamics. While you can criticize and advocate its repeal for being a serious offense to freedom of speech, the defenders could compare it to liberal hate speech laws. As flawed the argument may appear, blasphemy could be considered hate speech. Many authoritarian progressive liberals would agree.

At least, it has been considered hate speech in India since the British took control of the subcontinental states and territories.

Source: christiansinpakistan.com

Source: christiansinpakistan.com

Maybe the fight for the blasphemy law can still wait another day, but many are seeing the execution as a step in the right direction. A small victory in the dark war against the blasphemy law.

Nevertheless, even if the two camps were to reach a compromise, capital punishment for blasphemy is absolutely unacceptable. It is unconscionable how such a great number of people would gladly call for someone’s head for saying something. It’s frightening.

But even if you are a proponent of the blasphemy law, you could still find the brutal act of Mumtaz Qadri abhorrent. There are some who believe that only the state should be allowed to slaughter people for saying nasty things. As I find many unlikely people against the criminal, with some even reserving harsh judgment for the late Governor of Punjab, who himself was somewhat of a Donald Trump in his own right.

I strongly believe that tenets such as justifying murder for blasphemy are the Achilles’ heel of Muslims in terms of their standing as a community in the world. While I am aware that so many of Muslims do not hold this belief, it would be dishonest to blindly assert that such people do not constitute a minority.

Until this behavior changes, which is morally questionable by modern standards of freedom and democracy, it would be hard to blame Islamophobes and other skeptics for not trusting Muslims.

It is something Muslims with a working conscience should give a thought to.

Though some people may consider commentary such as this to be blaming the victim. To some, it’s just provoking a people who are just mourning a slain hero.

But actually speaking against the support for blasphemy law is standing up for victims, not blaming them.

Victims like Governor Salmaan Taseer.

But then again, Mumtaz Qadri is also a victim.