Ghotki Riots and Medina State

Source: Screenshot/Dawn

Last week saw some of the worst anti-Hindu riots in the past months in Pakistan, and especially since India revoked Article 370 in Kashmir. So the story is that a Hindu principal of a local school in Ghotki, Northern Sindh, was accused of blasphemy by a 14-year-old student. Human rights activists Mukesh Meghwar and Kapil Dev were one of the first people to break the story on twitter along with other Hindu human rights activists on the ground in Ghotki. Gradually, the mainstream journalists starting responding to it, spreading the word.

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The fires of hate were honed by the infamous Mian Mitthoo or Pir Abdul Haq, who is known for inspiring several forced conversions targeting Hindu Girls. It is interesting to note that you will barely ever hear about a Muslim woman marrying a Hindu woman in Pakistan so it is more about enforcing the supremacy of one community. The man reportedly led the march to the school and also incited destruction in local temples. The Hindu population in the city was reduced to their homes out of security fears. Later, the Sindh government registered a case of religious bigotry against the violent mob but kept a careful distance from Mian Mitthoo himself.

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Communal mob violence is a common trait across the Indian subcontinent, if not beyond. However, the form it takes in Pakistan has been particularly facilitated by the state and government of Pakistan over the years. It was great to see people gather in the vandalized temple, assured the community of their safety, and even the police filing a report against the violent mob. However, the reality of the peace and security of the are far from being that convenient.

There is little doubt about the negative role of the State of Pakistan in general in terms of minority rights in the country. However, where the Ghokti episode turned disgusting was the reaction of Prime Minister Imran Khan to it. He continued shamelessly propagating the abstract of Medina-State, the supposed principles of the state created by Prophet Muhammad, even though there is little evidence or knowledge of what it was like other than undemocratic autocratic tribal rule that likely imposed its faith on vanquished Arabian tribes.

Furthermore, the recent propaganda against Hindu nationalism, comparing RSS and Modi with Nazism and Hitler, all over the place in Pakistan as a part of their response to the revocation of Article 370 in India. Not sure if that had exactly helped people’s views of the Hindu community and this came from an administration that claims to treat Hindus and all other minorities as “equal citizens.”

The Pakistani state has been selling these lies since its creation but never like Imran’s Khan hypocritical “Medina State” philosophy. The worst part is lying to the face of the minorities and expecting them to pledge allegiance to a communal contract which they obviously do not consider fair.

Imran Khan not only refused to acknowledge that minorities could not be safe under a theocratic state and needed a secular contract but even went one step further. He declared the Ghotki incident a conspiracy against his United Nations General Assembly Address. Let alone the filthy politics he is playing with the repressed and brutalized Hindu community in Pakistan, his own men must be behind this conspiracy against his address himself, if anyone at all, since Mian Mithoo has gotten fairly close to his party.

Imran Khan’s statement is only reflective of his megalomania and self-obsession as a messianic peacemaker on a global level. Unfortunately, to him, everything centers around him, from India-Pakistan relations, to Kashmir, and to his. This is the central thought behind his delusional and hypothetical Medina State and hypocrisy and lying are its core principles. But of course, only idiots are not according to the dear leader.

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.