Blasphemy laws and their serious implications

Fazlurahman, the leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam delivers a speech to supporters of Pakistani religious parties during a rally to protest against any attempts to modify blasphemy laws, in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011.Tens of thousands of demonstrators have marched in Pakistan's largest city in opposition to any change to blasphemy laws and to praise the man charged with murdering the provincial governor who opposed the legislation.(AP Photo/Fareed Khan)   | Photo Credit: Fareed Khan

The 57 states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, led by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt, have proposed a United Nations resolution, “On Combating Defamation of Religions.” It is but a Trojan horse to promote a fundamentalist agenda and enforce blasphemy laws and other discriminatory pieces of legislation. It is intended to legalise threats and violence against minorities and other vulnerable groups, as Human Rights Watch of Pakistan has pointed out.

A euphemistic corollary to the proposed U.N. resolution is the enforcement of Sharia law. The resolution encourages Al-Qaeda terrorists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri who urges Muslim women to be “holy warriors” like the students of the two Jamia Hafsa madrassas that Abdul Aziz Ghazi had established at the Lal Masjid in Islamabad. Clad in shuttlecock burqas and armed with sticks, they shouted “ Al-jihad, Al-jihad” and went on the rampage. They threw out from libraries non-Islamic books, burned and destroyed music and CD shops, and dabbed ink on the faces of male and female actors on billboards. Schoolgirls were threatened that if they did not conform to the Islamic ways of dressing, their faces would be smeared with acid.

The trend is clear from the death sentence imposed on November 8, 2010 on Aasia Bibi, an unlettered farmhand from Sheikhupura district in Punjab province, and the shocking assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer on January 4, 2011. He had wanted to repeal the blasphemy law under which she had been accused and convicted. Her ‘crime' was to enter into an altercation with fellow-farm workers who had refused to drink water she had touched, contending that it was unclean because she was a Christian. She has been on death row for over a year, pending appeal to a higher court. Salmaan Taseer condemned the blasphemy law that bigoted dictator, Zia-ul Haq had promulgated in 1980, as the “black law”.

The dastardly murder of a secular and progressive Salmaan Taseer by his security guard represents the tip of the iceberg of terrorism in Pakistan. The assassin was showered with rose petals and garlands by hundreds of his supporters as he appeared before a magistrate in Islamabad and declared that he was “proud to have killed a blasphemer”. More than 500 religious clerics of Jammat-e-Ahle-Sunnat, a leading Barelvi religious party, forbade its followers to pray for or attend the funeral of the “blasphemer.” The “moderate'' sections of the society did not condemn the assassination.

Salmaan Taseer personifies the halal of Pakistan's democracy that is painfully bleeding to death and paving the way for another military takeover, supported by Islamicist bigotry. Salmaan bravely stood against the military dictator Zia-ul Haq during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy in 1983, and was subjected to horrendous torture in the notorious Lahore Fort where his uncle, the renowned poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, was incarcerated in 1958. Salmaan Taseer opposed the imposition of Sharia law by the Nawaz Sharif government and was beaten black and blue by his goons, suffering multiple fractures.

Since the Pakistani military government of Zia-ul Haq unleashed a wave of persecution in the 1980s, violence against religious minorities has increased. Attackers kill and wound Christians and Ahmadis, in particular, and burn down their homes and businesses. The authorities arrest, jail, and charge members of minority communities, heterodox Muslims and others with blasphemy and related offences because of their religious beliefs.

In several instances, the police have been complicit in harassing, and framing false charges against, members of these groups, or have stood by as they were attacked.

Baluchistan's Home Minister shamelessly justifies the hair-raising horror of “Karo-Kari” as “mere customary punishment.” Several cases have been reported from the tribal region where screaming young girls were buried alive and stoned to death in conformity with Sharia law.

“Pakistan once had a violent, rabidly religious lunatic fringe. This fringe has morphed into a majority. It's the liberals that are now the fringe...Europe's Dark Ages have descended upon us,” wrote Pervez Hoodbhoy, Chairman, Department of Physics, Quaid-e-Azam University.

(Madanjeet Singh is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. These are excerpts from his forthcoming book, Cultures and Vultures.)

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 1:32:31 AM |

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