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There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not.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.

Why We Badly Need to See a Therapist As a Nation

Source: geo.tv

In a saner world, or let me rephrase that even before I begin…

In the real world, such behavior is easily considered to be mentally unstable. A serious problem. Yes, even in Pakistan.

On an evidently non-violent trigger, anger fits so severe that you end up possibly and at times actually killing a human being. Even doing the same to a non-human animal would warrant serious investigation but of course what really matters is how good you feel at the end of the deed. Nobody wants to burn in the agony of repressed anger about God knows what.

Let the rage out. It’s good to let the poison out. But also focus on the positive things in life. You know, surround yourself with positive people. But still does that make this problem go away?

And what is the solution to this sort of behavior? What would you suggest for an individual displaying such dangerous, out-of-control behavior? Or even worse, a large group of individuals displaying shockingly identical symptoms. Now it is easy to condemn and dismiss a large group of people just like that, but what about offering a real solution.

The latest episode of rage is an undeniable symptom and evidence of such a condition among our nation.

I don’t know about you but when I experienced not-so-similar and far less dangerous anxiety and compulsive symptoms, I went to a psychiatrist. I was prescribed some medicine and now I feel much better, or I am trying at least. Now I know while there is no way you can make the problem disappear completely, you can at least manage it and become socially acceptable.

There really is no taboo in mental illness, especially when you acknowledge that you are going to act to treat it. Of course, no one chooses their mental disease but they can sometimes choose to keep people around them from suffering the consequences.

It is more difficult to diagnose and treat mass hysteria though. Especially when it is mixed with a strange mix of illusions, delusions, and paranoia of an extreme nature. They have an altered version of reality.

However, it is just a thought that we may go on with this sort of inappropriate behavior or start facing the reality of our condition and to start treating it. While I know that it is hard for an entire nation to see a therapist or be prescribed an SNRI or an antipsychotic for curbing the violence in our heavily indoctrinated nerves, we could start doing so in an individual capacity.

Mashaal Khan – Source: wire.in

Doing so might limit incidents such as the lynching and public humiliation of Mardan journalism student Mashaal Khan at the hands of his fellow campus mates in Abdul Wali Khan University for committing a blasphemy, allegedly or not.

This is not normal if you think it is. It is just a socially acceptable mental disease. And estimating very carefully, we badly need some help. Which means seeing a well reputed, qualified psychiatrist who can prescribe antidepressants and anti-psychotics, whatever is needed in each deteriorated case.

However, you could choose to make matters worse if you think that the local cleric in your mosque is a good substitute to a psychiatrist. Or especially if you think he is more qualified. That is why we have this role in our society and economy.

But of course, all the rational prescriptions to this condition would sound not only ridiculous but outrageous and offensive when religion comes into the picture.

In that case, even the most savage behavior somehow becomes the most enviable sign of high piety.

In that case, diagnosing, prescribing and helping become acts of blasphemy.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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The Writing on the Wall

Source: clarionproject.org

Source: clarionproject.org

Well, the writing on the wall is clear.

Now it begins. So much for the days of freewheelin’ secular and leftist bloggers. It’s all over.

Now is the time for the Islamist social conservative and the militant nationalist to reclaim the space on the social media that they probably should never have given up. So that these secular bloggers never should have started in the first place.

Now begins the time to silence our pens and tongues from dissenting.

On the bright side, at least the social conservatives and religious fanatics might stand against the banning of social media websites, which actually comes as second nature to our authoritarian government.

As I said earlier that the Jamaat-e-Islami goons could be the first on the streets protesting a facebook ban.

But I’d understand if you accuse me of too much optimism here. Because the picture on the ground… on the cyberspace, rather… is quite dismal.

We get it. There are some matters which are too sacred and important to be discussed.

But whichever force is behind the sudden disappearance of the three bloggers, could you please return them to safety as citizens of this country?

While we are sadly aware that an allegation of blasphemy is considered verdict in this society, and even though that’s what the fight is all about, could we still hope for some respite for them?

We totally understand. We know that perhaps some of the nationalistic entities absolutely have no regard how the world sees us in terms of our tolerance for free speech.

We would keep that in mind whenever we are going to write. Because we want to live peacefully in the one and only life that has been enforced upon us.

Not only do we assure of good behavior, we would also be particularly respectful of any ideas that is held by our social conservative ideological adversaries. Because there really is no other choice.

But even if we do adhere to these rules and do not wake up the dormant, if not dead, conscience of the nation, we still cannot ignore the damage done. We simply cannot ignore the “disappearance” of the secular bloggers.

And now we hear that all of them have committed blasphemy. How convenient. So, who is the entity that takes such action against such people and how have we decided that they are guilty?

Of course, the ones who get caught are always the blasphemers and the traitors.

Alright, we get it. There are certain lines that we are not supposed to cross. But not everyone is going to agree. There are always going to be some people who are never going to agree.

What are we going to do with them?

Are we going to make them disappear, kill them, or try them all for blasphemy and treason? Hang them on public squares?

And if yes, then what is the message that we are sending to the world about Pakistan? What sort of a country treats its citizens in this way?

The guardians of national security should think about it.

Now this may offend the loyalist of the state and religion, but there is a reason it is our duty to stand up for these missing bloggers.

One of us could be next any day.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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.

 

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.

To Amjad Sabri: Qawwali Never Hurt Anybody

Source: dawn.com

Source: dawn.com

A few days ago when I landed in Karachi for the first time since Sabeen’s murder, the first thought that struck me was that now this city was without her presence. This drove me into a state of temporary depressed state until I had other things to take care of to offer a distraction.

But I had pictured the scene of gunmen approaching her car and opening fire on her. I wonder how it would have felt. You can only imagine the horror.

Who could imagine, I guess you could, but even expect to bear that the happy-go-lucky, jolly and constantly smiling Amjad Sabri would meet a similar fate. He was killed pretty much in the same fashion as Sabeen on June 22.

The TTP Hakimullah Mehsud group has expected responsibility. Most likely for the same supposedly blasphemous Qawwali that got Shaista Wahidi into trouble for allegedly disrespecting Ali and Fatima. Everyone acting on those calls for violence and considering holy figures more important than human life ought to be ashamed of their morals. Especially blasphemy public inquistors like Mubasher Lucman and the petition filers Shauhada Foundation.

Now, the people are speculating on who murdered Amjad Sabri, whether it is the Taliban or was it a political assassination, or just personal rivalry?

Who cares? At this point in time, so many including myself are in shock and pain.

Perhaps not grief, because it was not someone very close and dear to us. I know some who knew hin somewhat closely and are very heartbroken. But this is all you can think of. The dull pain never goes away, as in the case of Sabeen and so many more who have lost their lives to mindless violence in our cities.

What if the murderer gets caught? Just like the one who killed Sabeen got caught and confessed?

What if we have the satisfaction of having them hanged? Would that bring him back?

Source: Shia Multimedia Team

Source: SMT

I am not sure of anything, but I am sure of this.

For no reason at all, the lives of his family are ruined, especially those of his children.

His widow has already been hospitalized after collapsing of grief. I don’t even want to imagine what she would be going through. What her children would be going through.

They must be wondering what did their father do wrong to deserve this? Especially because they must be religious.

We were never a nation that killed Qawwals. What is the matter with us?

His father Ghulam Fareed Sabri Qawwal performed his masterful Tajdaar-e-Haram in s period fresh with the Islamization from the Zia regime. No threats came to him, despite the Islamization at the time.

Why do these Taliban-like militants on the loose targeting Sufi singers today?

Would Ghulam Fareed Sabri had even the remotest of ideas that his son would be slaughtered in a country that adored and valued his work so much?

For a country that is known for the world for Qawwali, we got to ask ourselves. When did we start hating it?

Does the puritanism of the faith of some have grown more important than messages of peace and love?

Qawwali never hurt anybody.

Every moment of existence is becoming difficult in this suffocating mess.

I do not watch Pakistani TV channels much, but always enjoyed his full of life presence whenever I caught him.

I particularly look forward to his performance in Coke Studio 9.

His voice will always remain with us.

May his soul rest in peace.

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.