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There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not.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

Ignoring Local Atrocities

Source: dawn.com

Source: dawn.com

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the not-so-correct political logic of accusing individuals of selective outrage.

Now I agree that such arguments are best reserved for academic debate instead of political campaigns.

I would not want to make this a habit, but perhaps I would actually like to engage in using such a line of reasoning every now and then too. And I’ll tell you why.

There is a deep problem concerning more educated but nationalist conservative Muslim Pakistanis who believe in the myth that Pakistan is fair and safe to all non-Muslim religious minority groups.

They simply fail to recognize a problem exists when it comes to local minority groups.

They would simply want to dodge the question about secularism, Shariah and the atrocities on the minority groups at home.

One of the more fresh and good examples is the recent incident of arson targeting an Ahmedi home in Gujranwala over an alleged blasphemous facebook post, which resulted in the death of a woman and two children. As usual, nobody stopped the rioting mob.

Now, these are the events that sadly do not even make it to their information radar, or even the mainstream media. Or are simply ignored, heh, let’s say because the body count in Gaza has exceeded a thousand. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous.

But I actually agree with ignoring the problem of, say persecution of Ahmedis at home, and picking up the Palestinian cause in the Gaza conflict. Hey, you are free to do that.

It is the same crooked reasoning with a complete lack of respect for individuals that lets Pakistani nationalists ask why Malala does not speak up about Gaza and is so concerned about kidnapped Nigerian girls.

Well, you can only do so much.

It is this sort of jingoism which is why I actually find many protests at home in bad taste and want to think twice before joining. It is almost always an insult to your intelligence, but you need to put up with it for the sake of solidarity.

While politics is about emotional blackmail, it is also about compromises. Even though I greatly respect the policy of not joining any protests at all as well.

No, the ones who don’t speak up are not “criminals”. Yes, that is the word they use. Jesus, the rhetoric.

But then again, you have to stoop to the level of the Pakistani nationalist conservatives (actually, true for most political groups) to engage them and to proselytize. You need to really appeal to probably the kind of reasoning that they would understand and respond to.

Maybe, you need to do that when they accuse others of moral double standards and not even recognize secularism as a fair social contract, and opting for Islam instead while justifying murder for blasphemy.

I still think this line of reasoning is bullshit, but hey, who cares what I think.

Hire-a-Mob

Source: asianews.it

Source: asianews.it

It is pretty elementary, yet so many people have been missing the point for such a long time. Not others though, because no one uses this openly secret weapon like religious groups.

In a democracy, the numbers count. For votes. But in half-baked democracies such as those in the Indian subcontinent, and in Pakistan in particular, it is the numbers with the pitchforks that count.

Yes, if you have the numbers, and passion, mobs can do just about anything for you.

Time and again, over decades, consistently and repeatedly, we have observed that rioting mobs have been and are superior to the police. They are the only force. There is simply no match.

The subcontinent has this proud medieval tradition of rioting. And then there are vendetta riots. Armed vigilantes taking control of things themselves and making sure that justice is delivered there and then.

Needless to say, that these mobs are often than not motivated by religion. Hindu Muslim riots, Hindu Christian riots, Muslim Christian riots, Muslim Ahmedi riots, Sunni Shia riots, partition riots, ethnic riots, favorite cult or political leader assassinated riots, anti Western blasphemy riots.

The history is so rich, both in variety and frequency of events, that a systematic proof is not even necessary.

The police has learned never to stand in the way of this unstoppable force. Any resistance is futile. When a mob is invading, the best bet for a cop is to run for his life and turn his firearms over to them like a responsible trooper.

After all, the police is neither trained, nor paid, nor equipped to handle these mobs. The worse that could happen is a few days of curfew and the military patrolling the streets. What could possibly go wrong?

So if you have an agenda, the most profitable way of achieving instant and tangible results is to hire a mob. There are professional rioters around who can execute the job with great skill and controlling chaos.

And the state is forced to listen to you. Rioting mobs forced the state to ban YouTube. Perhaps, activists who campaign against internet censorship could use the same tactics. But seriously, the state listens to rioters, say laid off government employees.

Of course, if you are in the business of insurance, life can be difficult for you. A lot of lost bets. Frequent claims, that is, if people bother to buy your hopeless policies at all.

But what of the relatively secular, god-fearing businessman and poor low key resident who is caught in the middle of the storm, just because they happened to be somewhere at the wrong time in the wrong place? Well, what of them? They are just a casualty.

If you are a Pakistani businessman, you are going to pay some very high premiums, especially if your business office or warehouse is located near a religious or political structure. Or even if it is located at a prominent location, where it is supposed to be, or a city square known to be a frequent rioting ground.

The most useful rioting agenda could be setting up an attack on one’s own office or home in order to lodge an insurance claim or to get rid of inconvenient office record. Just stir a riot for a reasonably unreasonable reason, and sit back and enjoy the show.

Who could ever possibly know?

So if you live in some city or village in Pakistan with reasonable population, you could be the next casualty. You have been warned.

Perhaps saying a little prayer at the right time could help.

Sweeping the Ashes Beneath the Green and the White

Source: Nayyar Afaq/Unknown

Source: Nayyar Afaq/Unknown

Happy Pakistan Day. The Day of the Green and, yes, even the White.

Of talking about Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal and their delusional visions that brought about a humanitarian disaster. A lab with some 180 million lab rats, and I am not even counting those which have passed away.

I don’t want to be a cynic today, though there are few better other occasions. I love the idea of Pakistan Day. But that’s not what I am talking about here. I want to talk about our conservative ideals.

This addresses Pakistanis primarily. Pakistani Muslims and Pakistani Muslim Nationalists.

Those who are proud of their infallible ideology which can never possibly fail when it comes to righteousness and how people should be treated.

The ones with an all-encompassing code of life that covers just about every area of life with great justice and peace.

The ones who have presented the best way to the world to treat those who refrain from believing in their faith even though residing in their domain.

I want them to recall what happened on the fateful days from late February to June 2002 in the Indian state of Gujarat that resulted in the death of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus as per the official figures.

I want them to recall Muslims houses burned by Hindu mobs there with little or no intervention from the police. And I want them to recall how they and all of us had reacted to that, criticizing the Indian state’s failure to protect the minority religious group.

Thankfully not with such drastic consequences, but equally horrifyingly, a mob of angry and pious Muslims, most of them young boys apparently, set fire to the houses and possessions of poor Christians living in Badami Bagh, downtown Lahore because one of their boys was said to have blasphemed against the Prophet.

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

There is something common between a few of incidents in the Gujarat riots and the Joseph Colony riots in Lahore.

The police made no attempt to save the victims.

But then again, this is usually the case historically in the subcontinent. Isn’t it?

Has not Shahbaz Sharif been as complicit as Narendra Modi in his handling of the affair?

Gojra riots and Gujrat riots. Even the letters try hard to separate them.

Yes, is Shahbaz Sharif Pakistan’s Narendra Modi?

Maybe not, not for us to decide maybe and who cares, but what about the role of Punjab police, who are supposed to protect the defenseless Christians?

Oh well, but why complain about it. The only difference however was that Muslims in India are strong enough to fight back against the Hindu mobs, or at least have been known to. Since they have mobs of their own attacking Hindus too.

Though it is actually ridiculously unfair to even come close to compare Gujarat riots to the Joseph Colony incident on so many levels, but the degree of offense can only be made out by humanistic and secular eyes. We are dealing with the absurd and ridiculous over here .

The riots in Gujarat sparked after Muslims set a train containing Hindu pilgrims on fire, after a Muslim girl’s kidnap, while others say it was an orchestrated conspiracy. But neither did the Pakistani Christians do anything as wrong, or that is at least what anyone not a fervent Muslim would think, nor are they strong enough to have even the remotest hope of responding back in anger.

Alright I don’t have to make it too long. The point is clear here.

I want the conservative Muslims of Pakistan to read it and I will try sending out that message in Urdu as well. But while keeping little more odds of staying alive, I can still send out the message to the one or two of the Pakistani Muslim conservatives Pakistani Muslims who happen to stumble upon this blog.

The Pakistani Muslims who would criticize Indian Hindu extremists for harming Muslims would tolerate incidents like Joseph Colony and Gojra riots at home, being as complicit and as protective of the culprits as their similar adversaries across the border.

To my eyes, there is hardly any difference between the two, which is why they hate each other so. And that is the ultimate insult to them.

Source: Mohsin Raza/Reuters

Source: Mohsin Raza/Reuters

But make no mistake about what happened in Joseph Colony. Make no mistake about its horrors and the misery of having your home attacked and your possession and memories burned to ashes and dust.

Home lost, families forced to live under tents or in indefinitely temporary camps, as was or would have been the case with some rendered homeless in Gujarat.

Let it be for possessing the land or whatever political crimes may be the reason behind this incident, the fact remains that the masses acted on their religious beliefs, and we love to protect that part of our faith.

And oh, how terrible this tragedy has been, and how wrong it was and there were only a handful of people doing it and how it should not have happened, would be the answers we have to it. But we wouldn’t want to face what is causing this behavior over and over again. That’s all there is to this matter and nothing more.

Good and evil do not matter anymore.

The key here is not to emphasize how atrocious the Joseph Colony tragedy is, but to tell Pakistani Muslim Conservatives how idiotic they are.