A Fanatic Government Stance Laid Bare

Source: PTV News/geo.tv

There is little doubt that Geert Wilders is disingenuous when it comes to his intentions and goals when organizing the Draw the Prophet event. His main purpose is, of course, to get under the skin of Muslims around the world, especially because he precisely knows what sort of reaction he can get out of them. However, it is a free speech issue regardless of his controversial politics. The protesters thought of this idea when the mainstream Western media frequently began censoring itself whenever the depiction of Prophet Muhammad in media was involved out of the fear of backlash from the Muslim community.

The interesting thing is that no matter how civil the Muslim community tries to be in the face of such a provocation, there are always many who would resort to violence and death threats. One of the problems that more liberal Muslims are facing is that the religious orthodoxy not only permits but even encourages, violence against a person who is alleged to have blasphemed against. While liberal Muslims try their best to avoid that, the conservative far-right Christians, atheists, and other antithetical elements critical of Islam are well familiar with the weakness. Recall the Salman Rushdie Affair.

However, any of these violent actions remains to be acts of individuals. But what if the governments of a country engage in such policies. Of course, we have seen them before with Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is even worse when that government is actually making that point from a moral high ground and lecturing others on human rights. The PTI government has vowed to raise the issue at the United Nations, other than calling the dysfunctional institution of Organization of Islamic Conference, giving Wilders a bigger audience than he could wildly imagine.

Imran Khan, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, had long been criticizing the Western idea of free speech by comparing Holocaust denial and desecrating the image of the Holy Prophet. He emphasized the same point in his special video message to the nation especially addressing the (non)issue. He points out that the Western viewpoint of free speech does not even understand the consequences of blaspheming against the Holy Prophet, which they see as freedom of speech.

Well, we can safely say that the Europeans have now understood that well enough ever since Charlie Hebdo.

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Geert Wilders, on October 30, postponed the Draw the Prophet contest citing death threats that he and people associated with the contest event were receiving. The PTI government started to claim the cancellation as an achievement of their “diplomatic efforts.” Not only has the government of Pakistan given such great importance to insignificant politicians such as Geert Wilders and his bigotry but has also exposed themselves as a state that does not respect freedom of speech. What is even worse is that the PTI

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The headlines shared by a local news channel are proudly displayed by the PTI KP Official account, which was retweeted by the official PTI account report the cancelation of the cartoon drawing contest as “a great diplomatic triumph.” The only problem is that the only diplomatic efforts that have been made to cancel the contest were the death threats made to Wilders and people connected to the event.

People all over the social media have been raising this point to criticize the government. The PTI has beautifully manipulated the issue in order to gain public approval in the manner of Tehreek Labaik Pakistan. And I am not even mentioning their ridiculous protest rally and threats endorsed by the Pakistani foreign minister, which openly called for war against the Netherlands.

But let us judge actions instead of intentions. With this claim of endorsement, PTI has laid bare its fanatic stance of endorsing death threats to a foreign lawmaker. While we are aware that Pakistan has blasphemy laws which openly endorse potentially capital punishment for alleged blasphemies, emphasizing such a narrative on the international level and shamelessly claiming something that had nothing to do with them. Pakistan has indeed endorsed terrorism before, so why should this time be an exception?

Don’t Impose Freedom on Us

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

We condemn Charlie Hebdo shooting, because no matter how we want to see the incident, it is hard to condone the killing of human beings, but…

We don’t really support this insane idea of freedom of speech, wherever it came from.

An idea that is against the very nature of human beings. Nature just does not work that way.

That’s not the order that God has created.

You know, it is appalling to see people in Muslim countries pretending to be liberals and secularists to please their Western masters to suppose that free speech is a universal human right.

No, it’s not.

Even though our terrible governments have signed that meaningless document called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights presented in that phony organization called the United Nations. Totally worthless.

Freedom of speech is not a universal right.

Getting offended is a universal human right. It is our fundamental right to be offended and we will defend it, even if we have to kill for it. Or at least some of us among the angry, aggrieved people of the world could.

And let us warn you that it could happen again. Yes, indeed, two billion people in the world would have no option but to kill one cartoonist after another if they keep on offending our feelings.

Even if the instruments of their offense are nothing more than random lines on a paper.

But you are not allowed to draw those lines.

You are not allowed to cross that line.

We can tolerate your words, but not sketches and caricatures.

Actually, not even your words.

No, free speech is no human right. Even though let us concede that we are momentarily using this very right to express this important idea. But we are only indulging in this great wrong to educate you about morality and ethics and to eradicate this ignorance from the world to make it a better place.

Dear Western hypocrites, learn once and for all that we have a phobia of caricatures, so stop exploiting our weakness.

Also, we have a strong phobia of being criticized. So stop doing that too.

And last, but not the least, just shove this idea of free speech up your asses.

We want to have nothing to do with it.

There should be no free speech and yes, there should be restrictions. Humans don’t function properly without restrictions. Free speech cannot work with religion anyway.

But still we want just enough freedom of speech to deny the Holocaust, which by the way never happened and six million Jews were actually abducted by their secret alien antichrist Meshiach to blame it on Adolf Hitler, the real messiah. Even though he would have thrown Arabs and Muslims in concentration camps too, if he could.

But who cares, at least he killed many of them and left a few to tell us why he was doing so, may God be pleased with him.

Or would you allow us to use the N word for blacks, K word for Jews and F word for gays, would you?

Enough of your hypocritical Islamophobic bigotry.

We strongly urge you to stop drawing cartoons again, or we will become offended again.

And when we get offended, you know what happens.

Stop imposing freedom on us.

We just want enough to destroy a little that we are left with.

 

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Jinnah, Secular Pakistan & False Heroes

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

Often September 11 is a day when you could find people having a debate about secularism in Pakistan here and there. It is also the 9/11 anniversary, but let’s keep the conversation to secularism.

The death anniversary of founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah is considered a moment for this debate, primarily due to a speech he delivered on August 11, 1947.

However, the proponents of Islamic Republic who claim he was not secular do have a point. Ah, Islamic Republic, what an oxymoron.

The day every single secular bone in Mr. Jinnah was dead when he decided to join the cause of the Muslim League.

Call it the bigotry of Hindu leaders or the failure of Indian National Congress to suck up to the unreasonable demands of separate electorate, but that act should sum it up for anyone, if not the disastrous partition of 1947.

Needless deaths. Needless riots. Needless stupidity which has now become synonymous to the Indian people.

The supposedly secular Jinnah, who reportedly got furious over someone calling him the King of Pakistan, was perfectly alright with the dangerous slogan “Pakistan ka matlab kya, La ilaha il Allah” or “What is the meaning of Pakistan? No god but Allah.”

But a lot of people even claim that such slogan was a later invention, and there is no wonder not many would believe them.

And what of the forsaken millions of oppressed Muslim left to suffer at the hands of “Hindu imperialists”, who certainly would be seeing this as an opportunity for revenge for over five centuries of Muslim rule?

At another instance, you find him saying that the state of Pakistan would be an Islamic State modeled after the City State of Medina established by Prophet Muhammad himself. He has also referred to Islam as democracy. I know a lot of people would defend this statement, but this calls for a serious reality check.

In other words, Jinnah was one of the liberal Muslims who deemed the sort of state as the Medina to be a perfectly safe constitution for the non-Muslim community. The sort of liberal Muslims who are under the delusion that Islam provides safety to the non-Muslim communities through its message of universal peace.

Now Pakistani secularists, most of them with the center-left PPP and ANP have a dilemma. How to pitch secularism to an Islamic fundamentalist crowd, raised on admiring the merits of the Caliphate.

Perhaps in the world of cults and personality worshipers, what is missing in Pakistan for the failure of the secular movement is the lack of real heroes. Secular circles are usually seen hailing Jinnah and Bhutto as their leaders and heroes, while they should be the ones in the forefront to criticize them.

Source: ppp.org.pk

Source: ppp.org.pk

Why not openly endorse Jawaharlal Nehru as a secular leader rather than Jinnah, and why not discard an Islamic Socialist like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who signed the Second Amendment?

I know a lot of folks recognize atheist freedom fighter Bhagat Singh as a hero. I am all for choosing Benazir Bhutto as a relatively better secular and surely a liberal leader and I am glad that we have leaders such as Sherry Rehman and Bushra Gohar among us.

Though what is needed is a consensus on secularism. The left should not and must not have a monopoly over this issue. A secular right is badly needed in the sub continent.

But stick with the August 11, 1947 speech by all means to haunt Islamists. I actually respect the man’s acknowledgement of keeping religion separate from the state. However, his actions are hardly coherent with his words.

In any case, rest assured that Jinnah was no secular hero. Primarily, because of his politics under Muslim League as Muslims are not a nation or an ethnic group. It is a religious group and obtaining a state for it would mean giving up the secular cause and taking up a religious one.

As a matter of fact, the Indian Jamaat-e-Islami of the time would have offered some relative sanity if you were a Jinnah follower.

If only we would have the courage to admit that with such an artificially created religious demographic, Pakistan was wired to be an Islamic state from the very beginning. Little else would be expected from a political party thriving on the politics of discrimination and separate electorates.

While my opinion has changed about Muhammad Ali Jinnah over time, my view pertaining to secularism and logical political choices remains the same.

You don’t have to follow someone’s example to do the right thing. Jinnah was a politician, and therefore, his contradictions only make sense.

Just use your brain as secularism is the most reasonable, uncontroversial, universally acceptable and common sense social contract.

In the words of an acquaintance, former civil servant K. M. Cheema, the case for secularism must stand by itself.

The OryaAbbasi Inquisition: Ganging Up on the Defenseless

OryaAbbasi - File Sources: currentaffairspk.com and foxcey.com

OryaAbbasi – File Sources: currentaffairspk.com and foxcey.com

A recent talkshow by Kamran Shahid on Dunya TV about Malala’s now-controversial biography “I am Malala” has become a talking point for Pakistanis. The participants of the show included columnist Orya Maqbool Jan, journalist Ansaar Abbasi, physicist and analyst Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ambassador Zafar Hilaly. After watching the show, there are quite a few observations that I would like to make. The show can be found here.

And now, the commentary.

The show is the perfect exhibit to demonstrate that Pakistan is not a free speech society, even though such talk shows may appear to give the impression of the contrary. In a society, where expressing certain opinions pertaining to a certain religion is like sealing your death warrant. And the state only makes matters worse, which makes you thank your stars it is not half as effective.

A lot of people are attacking the host of the show Kamran Shahid for inviting people with conflicting views for better ratings, just so that he can have a heated argument. But I fully support him for this. First of all, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s great TV. He is only doing his job and I actually appreciate him for bringing together the likes of Veena Malik and Mufti Sb before.

However, there is a different reason altogether for which Kamran Shahid deserves criticism and ridicule. Shahid did an awful job at moderating the show, and it can be argued that it was deliberate. However, I would refrain from saying so. In any case, it was criminal negligence as he allowed religiosity to be a moral high ground in the debate through his word and moderating action.

Orya Maqbool Jan started the show by referring to certain passages from Malala’s book. His main focus was outraging at Malala mentioning that “her father was opposed to Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses but was a firm believer in freedom of speech”. He also rejected Malala’s criticism on curbs on women’s participation in public life and on media during the Zia regime, citing many female playwrights that rose to prominence at the time on the state television.

Pervez Hoodbhoy - Source: Newsweek Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy – Source: Newsweek Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy, in return, had zero arguments in Malala’s defense. As a matter of fact, he did more damage to Malala’s cause than a conservative could have imagined, though the aging scholar performed far better emotionally than I expected.

Hoodbhoy started out by saying that Orya and Abbasi were lying and that they were misrepresenting facts and maligning Malala, including an ad hominem attack on their English language skills. Apart from this opinion, hardly any argument was offered by the former QAU Professor.

The only solid argument from his side was about writing PBUH (Peace Be Upon Him) with the mention of Prophet Muhammad, as Ansaar Abbasi had raised this rather obnoxious and easily beatable objection on Malala’s book.

This is where Kamran Shahid proved his lack of impartiality as the moderator, as he stupidly mentioned the anecdote of his thesis submission abroad in which he wrote PBUH with the name of Prophet Muhammad, despite the warning from his supervisor that writing it implied bias in a research report. This way Shahid tried influencing the debate as if not writing PBUH with the Prophet’s name was something immoral in terms of faith.

Ansaar Abbasi maintained a consistent mantra of calling Pervez Hoodbhoy “jahil” or ignorant throughout the course of half an hour of the debate, until Hoodbhoy was forced to leave amid such onslaught just before the show ended. However, for someone as religious as Abbasi, calling someone else ignorant sounded pretty hilarious and stupid.

Ambassador Zafar Hilaly, who was wondering what he was doing there, was asked to present his opinion about drone strikes and on talks with the Taliban. He was only seen shaking his head in disapproval as the war of relatively civil curse words went on between Abbasi and Hoodbhoy, as Orya continued shouting out of his lungs to stop their exchange in order to read the passage from Malala’s book.

The only reason there should be sympathy for Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is that Orya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi, who for convenience and for promoting my branding of their inquisiiton, would be referred to as #OryaAbbasi as the duo’s pseudonym from this point on, ganged up on him. I repeat, OryaAbbasi literally ganged up on Hoodbhoy, interrogating in a frighteningly self-righteous manner.

OryaAbbasi started an inquisition of Hoodbhoy to publicly frame him for opinions offensive to Muslims, paired with a hilarious but threatening diabolical laughter, as if warning him of consequences. Hoodbhoy was obviously dumbfounded for being trapped in this cul-de-sac. He narrowly dodged the inquisition by answers considered somewhat acceptable by the standards of the Pakistani Islamic society.

OryaAbbasi asking Hoodbhoy about his position on The Satanic Verses and whether Ahmedis are Muslims or not is fine, and perhaps encouraging in theory, but doing so on public TV in a society such as Pakistan is dangerous, to say the least. Because someone believing in free speech or not agreeing with excommunicating the Ahmedis would most probably be threatened by the extremist Muslims who consider it righteous to kill someone with such views.

The OryaAbbasi inquisition could also be a frightening insight to the future of Pakistan is an increasingly authoritarian and theocratic state. The state already requires its citizens to declare in writing that they are not in any way affiliated with Ahmedis. Would this imply that the National ID card and Passport forms would also carry a declaration condemning The Satanic Verses, if not on more informal levels However, Pakistani Muslim individuals would still not see this as an invasion of their personal and social freedom.

In order to successfully tackle the OryaAbbasi inquisition and to effectively respond Muslim and other religious fundamentalists, Pakistanis need a secular liberal spokesperson who is not fearful of their life like Taseer or Christopher Hitchens. This is why I have tremendous respect for Christopher Hitchens, because he had very real death threats as well, but he never compromised on free speech, and he even defended Rushdie at the time when he was in hiding for his life.

A nervous, frail and emotional debater such as Pervez Hoodbhoy, despite his prestige and knowledge, is not able to take on these harassing fundamentalists. Partly because of the self-censorship that you need to exercise about Islam in the Pakistani society for the sake of security. 

Unless people are clear that it is the values of an Islamic authoritarian society that is the threat and the enemy of freedom, no one would buy the mild apologies for passages from Malala’s book that liberals have to offer. Because let’s face it, this passage from the book has opened a bit of a Pandora’s box, but I still support it. It is her freedom to write whatever she likes and I agree with it. 

If Malala has written that her father believed in freedom of speech, it is the duty of the secular-liberal debater to defend free speech as a superior value no matter what. This is what Malala’s fight is about anyway, but we are failing her. Now that Malala has been put in this position by the likes of OryaAbbasi, we need a better public defense of her.  

As crazy as it sounds, but they hardly have any argument if they don’t defend what they believe in. This is about liberty and freedom from theocracy, and the only argument is to reject religious authoritarianism.

Unless there is a debater who presents arguments that attacks the fallacy of faith and theocracy, liberal and secular debaters will always be on the losing side, shut up by religious emotional blackmail. 

Any volunteers?

Blasphemy Scanners & the Responsibility for Violence

Source: archbishopcranmner.blogspot.com

There is a certain type of Muslims. I call them Blasphemy Scanners. They are pretty fervent and though they are educated and may appear to be pretty peaceful, they are as fanatic as your average uneducated mullah.

These are zealots absolutely infatuated with the fear of someone in some remote corner of some country in the Western World insulting the good name of Prophet Muhammad in one way or another. While you would find youtube to be absolutely clogged with verbal insults to the Prophet, you cannot possibly take real action against just about every bigoted individual, can you?

Therefore, the only possible instances on which you could possibly invite and incite fellow believers to take meaningful action is published blasphemy. Even then, not all published perceived blasphemies are graced by the attention of these blasphemy hunters. Nevertheless, they try not to miss the chance whenever they do get to learn about one. Because just like honorably righteous people who like to catch people having encounters of a sexual nature in these countries, they like to hunt for reasonable blasphemies to outrage about.

If not all, then most of you would be familiar with the Muslim belief that anyone insulting Prophet Muhammad should be put to death. This view may not necessarily be very fervently shared by all sects who claim to be Muslims, but I believe that mainstream Sunnis and Shias would agree on it, especially the former. This is why the awareness of almost all the perceived blasphemies involve rage and more often than not direct incitement to violence, depending on the anger experienced by the particular blasphemy scanner at the moment.

The recent controversy over the film Innocence of Muslims, which has disappointed many over its appalling artistic quality and concerns over misleading actors about its subject, has sparked violent riots all over Pakistan as expected. In a wave of violence that swept Pakistan from Peshawar to Islamabad and from Lahore to Karachi, 4 cinemas, at least 3 bank branches, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce building and outlets of a US food chain were set fire. At least 100 people were reported injured and 19 were killed. 1 policeman was also killed among countless injured, while several ATMs were plundered.

All this occurred on the “Yom-e-Ishq-e-Rasool Day” or the “Love for the Prophet Day”, a meaningless holiday declared by the Pakistani Government on Friday, September 21, 2012. Let us not for a minute go into the ridiculous idea of the holiday, which was of course meant to invite “peaceful protest” over the offensive film, but let’s talk about what really happened at the end of the day. The violence of the protesters all over Pakistan clearly demonstrated to the world how tolerant Muslims are and and how ridiculous their reaction is. But then again, as I have mentioned in an earlier post, it has all happened before.

The interesting fact is that most of the people have criticized and condemned the violent protests resulting in the loss of billions of rupees and priceless and precious human lives. What is even more interesting is that a lot of people, who have been reproaching other Muslims for not taking enough action over the insult to Prophet Muhammad, are now left with no choice but to condemn the violence too, because they apparently had some other ideas about how the protesters would demonstrate their wounded faith. These primarily include hypocritical religious scholars pretending to be peaceful on TV.

Granted that any calls for peaceful protests over any alleged blasphemy is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But when they reprimand them for “not enough action” and “lack of honor and faith”, what exactly do they want people to do but to act like a mob and try burning the American embassy or worse local civilian and police property down to ashes. It is apparently the most convenient thing in the world to dismiss any onus of violence when you are actually calling for it, but the truth is that these blasphemy scanners are very much responsible for directly inciting violence as a reaction to these perceived offenses. I would like to hear that some of them are guilty about it.

As a matter of fact, I would go as far as deducing that these blasphemy scanners are more responsible for inciting violence than the original alleged blasphemers, if the latter are at all. The reason for that is quite simple and straightforward. The blasphemy scanners are directly inciting a reaction, which is more often than not violent in case of  extremist Muslims, especially knowing that the accepted reaction to mainstream Islam for the offense is one of violence. We have witnessed the same reaction against the alleged blasphemers in the case of the blasphemous films or the satirical cartoons about Prophet Muhammad to be sure about that.

You could doubt my point about violent incitement against perceived blasphemies, but it is very much part of the faith of most Muslims and it is widely accepted by the community around the world. A few protest text specimens calling for the death of those who have been involved in insulting Prophet Muhammad.

Source: Arif Ali (AFP)/Al-Akhbar

Source: The Daily Nation

Source: IndexonCensorship.org – A Protest from London

Source: DNA Photo

The last two photographs would be really shocking for some. The first one, for those who believe that Muslims living in the West are moderates and the second one for those who consider eunuchs and transgenders to be the most peaceful and the weakest members of the Pakistani society. In the last photo, they are calling for the beheading of the perceived blasphemers too. I don’t really blame them as violent individuals by nature and oppose doing so. It is their unreasonable faith which pushes them to call for such mindless violence. As a matter of fact, a businessman refusing to participate in the violent protests was accused of blasphemy as well.

Here are a few clips of some of the mainstream ulema or the scholars of Islam openly calling for the death of anyone who insults Prophet Muhammad. This includes Sunni scholars including the Deobandi and Barelvi schools and also a Shia scholar, which covers pretty much everything. Just in case you thought your particular brand of Islam was any better. You may want to skip the videos, if you are already convinced.

You could argue that these perceived blasphemies, particularly the film Innocence of Muslims, were meant to provoke a violent reaction, but it can easily be disproved because as far as I understand those works do not involve any direct call to violence. As for the latest controversy, it is just a very poorly made motion picture that takes an alternative and derogatory look at what would or could have been the history of the origins of Islam, I don’t know.

But certainly there is absolutely no excuse or justification for inciting violence and carrying out those violent acts, even if we suppose for a minute that the blasphemous film did really call for violence against Muslims, still there would be no justification for such hateful statements and violent protests harming people who have nothing to do with the controversy. And many so-called peaceful Muslim scholars, who bear the prime responsibility of inciting all the violence then try getting away with a clean image by condemning it once the act is committed.

While this post may seem contradictory to the notion offered in my earlier post that most peaceful Muslims do not take part in violent protests, it actually is not the case. Peaceful Muslims do not take part in violent protests indeed, and yes there do exist peaceful Muslims contrary to what they would like you to believe.

But yes, most of them are infected with the inability to challenge the barbaric, violent and completely unreasonable beliefs that are a part of their faith, so they play silent and willfully ignorant witnesses to this madness. Maybe they are not religious enough to be violent or maybe they are choosing to remain silent out of love of their own dear lives, but that’s the way it is.

The reason why the attitude of the moderate Muslims, who have many critics who call them no better than the extremists, is dangerous because such violent beliefs are extended to persecute minorities such as the Ahmedis. It is a well known fact that Ahmedis are considered offenders of the concept of the Finality of Prophet Muhammad by Sunni Muslims and many of them believe that it is a duty to murder them. So there is absolutely no doubt that the faith is violent but the followers have a choice to follow the incitement to violence or not.

Even if the film was meant to spark violence, the ignorant and tactless extremist Muslims have surely helped its makers  and financiers achieve their objectives.

What is the defence of violence?

What we can probably safely say is that the film surely was meant to spark hatred for Muslims but that too in an indirect manner and it is not the first film in the world made for propaganda purpose. But does that justify banning it? Because if you were to advocate banning it for those reasons, then I would also recommend banning scripture, another form of propaganda, by using the same rationale.

Of course that would not be acceptable to any religious person so it always hurts when they get a treatment of their own medicine.

Learn to live with it.

Freedom of Speech and the Illusion of Secular & Liberal Political Parties

Source: Pakistan Today

The May 20 twitter ban from the Pakistani government and the recent announcement of the PTA to seek vendors in order to block “objectionable” material from the internet have been revelations for those who are under the impression that the current Pakistani government has anything to do with promoting freedom of expression and values consistent with their democratic claims. They may be pretty tolerant of the local television channels and the crude satire and criticism that is the part of the most of their content, but they have really shown signs of weaknesses where it really matters.

Nothing highlights a government’s intolerance of freedom of speech more than its restrictions on the internet, the most immediate medium of publication for the common man. Some of the most undemocratic and authoritarian regimes have been noticed of their intolerance of the internet. Blocking websites, internet censorship and limited user access are common in regimes such as China and North Korea. However, in the recent years countries such as Pakistan and, surprisingly or maybe not so surprisignly, India are joining the list.

The funny thing is that the government does not realize that its most immediately noticeable act of suppressing the freedom of expression on an international level is banning websites and putting controls on the internet. As a matter of fact, the Pakistani government and its overzealous telecommunications watchdog, the PTA, have been highlighting online events perceived to be blasphemous themselves by going out of their way and banning them. And ones that hardly anyone in Pakistan even knows about, let alone bother about them. Responding to anything that can be perceived remotely blasphemous has actually become a political stunt to gain cheap public sympathy in Pakistan. It is even worse to see these tactics employed by political parties which claim to uphold democratic, liberal and secular values.

The funniest thing about these bans are that they only last a while. Why is that so? Not sure what changes about the internet afterwards. One of the greatest examples of that is the Wikipedia page about Prophet Muhammad which contains his illustrated images. The problem about that page is that to date it has still not changed a bit since the ban on it was imposed and lifted, so I am not quite sure what do you achieve by a ban, other than have a false sense of self-importance that you are in charge, just because you can block access to certain webpages. Also, the banning of certain social media websites as a response to any blasphemous event taking place would not take away all the blasphemous content from the internet.

The blasphemous content can actually turn up in an instant with a simple Google search. But hey, I guess the only ones searching for such content seems to be the PTA. Because frankly, I can hardly imagine that an average intenet user in Pakistan is even bothered by that. And even if they are, why would they disarm themsevles in response of an action supposedly carried out to offend them? Why should they not keep themselves empowered to respond to that? Why cannot they use the same medium to protest against any blasphemy, which is used to carry it out?

You really can count on the Pakistani government to make fools of themselves in whatever manner they can find possible. I don’t even want to start with foreign policy examples, but the mere mention of the twitter ban episode is enough to prove that point.

I want the PTA and the Government of Pakistan to read this.

Because I want them to know that their way of protesting against something is absolutely nonsensical.

Grow up please.

A Brave Beginning At Least…

November 25, 2010 was a historic day in the history of legislation in Pakistan. One of the more sensible MPs finally took the initiative of proposing amendments in the Blasphemy Laws of the country. It was none other than Sherry Rehman who took the brave initiative after contributing a brilliant article to the Express Tribune.

I congratulate Sherry Rehman for breaking the ice and touching this “taboo subject”. She surely deserves a pat on the back and this is what PPP should be doing. The Governor of the Punjab, Salmaan Taseer also deserves applause for his efforts after Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, was  sentenced to death for blasphemy by a local civil magistrate. I am only disappointed that there is silence from other political parties like MQM, ANP and PML-Q, and also PML-N. I even expect some sense from the JUI-F and the JI.

While I completely agree with the opinion in the legal circles that the President is talking about using his right of pardon prematurely, since the case can move on to the higher courts, and with the decision of the LHC of directing the President to abstain from using the right until the hearing of the petition against it, I was really disappointed to learn that some lawyers maintained that the law did not permit the President to pardon the person who had allegedly committed a blasphemy because it did not pertain to the crimes against the State, and pertained to a crime against Allah and His Prophet. If that is our law, we need to change it.

But the real divide is this.  The secular school of thought maintains that the blasphemy laws should be repealed because it is not an offense in the first place, at least not worthy of a death sentence, if any at all. The right wing, in this case, the religious political parties representing Islam, think that the blasphemy law is more like an article of faith and that any amendments are unacceptable. Though mentioning this was totally unnecessary, but anyway.

While both the groups keep on loathing each other and have no patience to listen to and appreciate each other’s viewpoint, we will not be able to move a single inch towards making any progress in this regard. As a matter of principle, I oppose any blasphemy laws, but since it concerns the feelings of such a large majority of population, I would at least go for softening the “punishment” instead of letting the brutal death penalty stand, which is why I think this bill is important.

We should actually be starting a debate about abolishing the death penalty altogether, or minimize its implementation in the courts. We should at least make the judges think twice, or thrice, before inking such a verdict, especially when it is a blasphemy that you can never prove in the court of law unless it is published in some way, apart from the account of witnesses.

You can simply make the religious groups understand why death in general, and in the case of Asia Bibi in particular, should not be enforced by telling them what Prophet Muhammad would have done in this regard. Rauf Klasra wrote a very good piece on that in Urdu, which you could read to get a very good idea about that viewpoint. We must upkeep the basic human rights in any case and supersede any other laws which lead to their violation.

Courtesy: Reuters

While I cannot help but think about the poor and innocent children of Asia Bibi who are anxiously waiting for their mother to return to them, I can never imagine, as far my understanding of Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet is concerned, that the Prophet would have meant any harm to the woman in the first place. It was contrary to his values, since he even pardoned Hind, the wife of Abu Sufian, a Meccan Lord, who had murdered his uncle Hamza in the most brutal manner.

Had Prophet Muhammad been a man who approved of murder, violence and killings, then he would have done otherwise, and there are countless other examples, such as the Amnesty on the Conquest of Mecca. And yes, I think that despite those Islamic laws of stoning to death on adultery, the conditions of the enforcement of which are actually so strict, that it is near impossible that anyone could be condemned to death for that offense, let alone approving of it.

Unfortunately, the religious groups are not able to understand this simple fact due to the overzealous nature of their politics. Supporting death for committing blasphemy is clearly a political matter instead of a religious one, and I have reasons to believe that the leaders and scholars who understand Islam know it themselves. Whether they want to go for the change or not is another matter.

But don’t forget, they are not the only ones to be blamed for this. The supposedly sensible politicians and the elements in the civil, judicial and military bureaucracy have also played their due role in the creation and approval of these laws. They did not consider the possibility that these laws could possibly be misused, as they are misused most of the time.

Not only the “minorities” or the non-Muslims in Pakistan are at risk due to the abuse of the law, but even Muslims themselves are not safe from it. You could accuse anyone of committing a blasphemy that you hold a grudge against and the crowds would rage and come roaring to get that person. The people need to develop some patience, and both the secular and religious groups need to come together to discuss the issue to reach a sensible solution.

I know that even if we get the text book right, vigilante violence is a problem that will remain very much there as far as the accusations of blasphemy are concerned, but it is important to get the textbook right. That is why I advocate a Secular Constitution for Pakistan. However, as far as making the general public realize is concerned, only Humanitarian Education is a solution, which is unfortunately, not a priority at all in the plans of the Government of Pakistan.

The secular circles of the country should be happy that someone at least made a start towards bringing an amendment to the law, something which people were even afraid to talk about earlier. I am anxiously waiting to see how the MPs vote on this, especially the members of the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, you know, the supposed secular political parties in Pakistan.

 

Maybe someday this could possibly lead to the abrogation of these laws.