Use and abuse

Published: August 24, 2012

amina.jilani@tribune.com.pk

From Australia up to Europe and across to the American continent, the international media has had a field day with Pakistan’s latest brush with its infamous murderous blasphemy laws. Could someone knowledgeable who has researched the effects of these laws point out what good they have served and how many legitimate cases there have been where the accused and the accusers have been sane or rational?

The sane amongst the 180 million who are not imbued with fear of retribution coming from the mentally imbalanced — stricken with ignorance, bigotry and a dangerous form of religiosity — know well just how these laws that blight the statute books are used. They serve the purpose of revenge, greed for property and the mob bloodlust instigated by the ‘holy’ irrational segment of the clerical brotherhood.

Our top leaders, largely gutless, ambitious, eager to keep in with everyone no matter how unstable and intolerant, since the blasphemy laws sprang to life in the Ziaul Haq era, have crumbled in front of suggestions of amendment or striking down. There have been brave exceptions amongst the second ranks but they have been either eliminated — as in one famous case — or silenced by threats against their lives in others.

The governments of Benazir Bhutto were too weak and frightened to consider doing away with the laws or even amending them. As for Nawaz Sharif — the man who wished to be the commander of the faithful — and his governments, he did his bit to prop them up and strengthen them for the convenience of those to whom they are of use. Come General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and his enlightened moderation and one of the first things suggested to him was that the iniquitous laws be amended. He considered it but by May 2000 had caved in to the rantings of the religious right.

Come the government of PPP-Z, guided and steered by the man to whom the PPP was bequeathed in those dark days of 2007 and the blasphemy laws still ruled, used and, of course, abused — for which they are tailor-made. Over the many years, how many innocents or insane have lost their lives because of these laws and how many innocents or insane languish in our jails awaiting death sentences? Has the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan done a complete count?

The most high-profile deaths caused by the laws was the murder of Salmaan Taseer, governor and party stalwart, followed by the murder of the minorities minister in 2011. The reaction of their government and party mates was, to say the least, lamentable. The top and lesser ranks ‘condoled’ but looking out for their well-being, kept their distance. In January 2011, then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, following Taseer’s murder and the glorification of his murderer when asked about an amendment to the laws, told us: “I have said it categorically before and then the minister of religious affairs also gave a clarification that the government has no such intention”. Two months later, Taseer’s son was kidnapped and is still held, presumably waiting for the release from jail of his father’s dutiful murderer.

In July this year, in a village near Bahawalpur, an admittedly mental homeless man was accused of having burnt some pages of the Holy Quran. He was arrested, taken into custody by the police, the police station was attacked by a mob of 2,000 devotees, the man was dragged out and bludgeoned to death. The government was not pushed.

Now, with this incident of the 11-year old Christian girl — suffering from the Down’s Syndrome — near Islamabad, accused of burning a religious textbook, with global headlines trumpeting the iniquity, with the child arrested, the spokesman for the PPP-Z co-chairman and president of the republic tells us that President Asif Ali Zardari has “ordered an investigation” and stated that “no one will be allowed to misuse the blasphemy laws”.

How does he intend to curb these murderous instruments of law? Can he take on the mullahs and the prevailing national mindset?

Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (33)

  • ZEN
    Aug 24, 2012 - 10:34PM

    Get rid of this blasphemy law. The most misused law with wrong intentions at the heart of the people who use it.

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  • mr. righty rightist
    Aug 24, 2012 - 10:35PM

    After Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, you are next.

    How dare you question Blasphemy laws. Beware of Khadris in ur backyard.

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  • Zalim Singh
    Aug 24, 2012 - 10:43PM

    any solutions, mam

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  • Mirza
    Aug 24, 2012 - 10:47PM

    The current govt of PPP does not have even simple majority in either of the NA or Senate. Their govt depends upon the crutches of the support from other parties which has withdrawn and blackmailed the govt several times. Last time Mullah Fazal was in govt but can he agree to do away with these horrible and inhuman laws?
    It is no secret that these terrorists have only victimized ANP and PPP leadership, not the rightwing parties of IK and Sharif. Give the current govt majority and moral support and these laws would not exist.
    Just like the murders of Shia, a big segment of powerful likes these laws and they have the backing of deep state and the “independent” judiciary which is sitting to ambush the govt. There has not been a single fanatic terrorist which the lawyers and judiciary did not like. As long as people and institutions keep the secular govt weak these laws would persist. It is the choice of the people of Pakistan and nobody else can do it.

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  • danish
    Aug 24, 2012 - 10:53PM

    It’s not about the abuse of the law.The law itself is an abuse of anyone with even a hint of decency and ethics.This law is intended to silence people and give a group of people power to abuse others.We’ve allowed religion to interfere in the matters of the state for far too long and we’re seeing the disastrous results of that policy.
    Religion and government should always be kept separate.

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  • Asif Khattak
    Aug 24, 2012 - 10:57PM

    Let’s stop beating about the bush and face reality.These laws themselves are the problem,not their ‘misuse’ or ‘abuse’.These are draconian laws that a dictator imposed on this country and no govt. since then has been able to do anything because of a fear of the religious fanatics.This democratic govt. has lost two of its leaders because of these laws,yet this govt. doesn’t do anything about these laws.Living in fear of the religious segment of our society will not do the current govt. any good,it’s time the leadership of this country summoned courage and repealed these most atrocious of ‘laws’.

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  • Falcon
    Aug 24, 2012 - 11:04PM

    Amina – Agreed. But I strongly feel that there is serious dearth of good research on why religious extremism has picked up so much in our society of all the places elsewhere in the world. Making laws or repealing laws will not solve the problem when the state can hardly enforce its writ elsewhere. The solution lies in addressing the systemic causes leading to radicalism starting from education.

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  • 3rdRockfromtheSun
    Aug 24, 2012 - 11:15PM

    Zia may have started it, but you continue to perpetuate it. So the blame lies not just with Zia – but all of you. As the lady rightly says, no one has to guts to take the extremists head-on and challenge the law. So stop blaming Zia – he’s been dead many years; and accept responsibility

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  • John B
    Aug 25, 2012 - 1:24AM

    Please, all of you stop blaming each and everyone.

    Pakistan was founded as “Islamic Republic so as to enable the Muslims to order their lives according to Quran and Sunnah” according to the preamble to the constitution. As such punishment to blasphemy is within Islamic principles of sunnah and is sharia compliant and the words of two pious Muslim is good enough to prove blasphemy and the punishment of blasphemy is death, mentally retarded or not. Blasphemy is whatever the Muslims says that non muslims did.

    I am surprised that every one comes to defend this little girl because she was afflicted with down syndrome, rather than introspect the stupidity of blasphemy concept itself. Will the PAK press be equally outspoken if the little girl is not affected by down syndrome?

    I remember reading about a school girl who misspelt a Urdu word in her Islamic studies which was considered blasphemous by the teacher and the family got into trouble. Leave Aasia Bibi here , PAK forgot about her including the present Ambassador to US who once spoke on her behalf.

    The father of a 11 month old child who was mistakenly buried in a Muslim cemetery in Rawalpindi was asked to exhume her rotten corpse after nearly a year because it was later known that she was a Christian. When I read that news I cried for that father. Can you imagine his mental agony, Christian or not? Where was Pakistan press then?

    There is no peace even if you are a dead minority in Pakistan. Blasphemy law is the least of the problem.

    Like it or not as long PAK is an Islamic republic, blasphemy law is here to stay. Amending blasphemy law is non Islamic. Choose, which one you prefer.

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  • Observer
    Aug 25, 2012 - 4:05AM

    @ZEN:

    “Get rid of this blasphemy law. The most misused law with wrong intentions at the heart of the people who use it.”

    It is not that simple. Unless you get rid of the Objectives Resolutions from the constitution, an act that will negate Pakistan’s foundation as an Islamic state, you can’t really get rid of blasphemy, hadood and other draconian, anachronistic and primitive anti-human laws. These laws have a sound root in Islamic scriptures.

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  • Observer
    Aug 25, 2012 - 4:09AM

    @Falcon:

    “The solution lies in addressing the systemic causes leading to radicalism starting from education.”

    You can save the trouble of doing a systematic study. The cause is a four letter word. I will give you a clue. It starts with “a” and ends with ‘y”. Read:

    http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-128017-The-scope-and-tapestry-of-religious-extremis

    You will find answers.

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  • Observer
    Aug 25, 2012 - 4:35AM

    @John B:
    “Like it or not as long PAK is an Islamic republic, blasphemy law is here to stay. Amending blasphemy law is non Islamic. Choose, which one you prefer. “

    You are hitting on the true “nail”. It is amazing that Pakistanis are going around in circles with the cliched “this is not Islam” argument. As you sated, the blasphemy laws and other anti-human laws are well-grounded in Islamic scriptures.

    So, the real dilemma for muslims is that by questioning these medieval laws they will be going against Islam. There is no two way about it. It is becoming increasingly difficult in the 21st century to keep the “islamic” cake and eat it too.

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  • observer
    Aug 25, 2012 - 8:16AM

    Madam,

    Look at this way.

    Those who froth at the gills at the sight of a PPP President in office. And those who shout at the top of their lungs for death to PPP types.

    Are, also the people who scream blasphemy at the mere sight of an unbeliever. And these are the people who would bump the disbelievers off with their bare hands.

    Have you ever seen Zardari confabulating with the SSP types?

    Moral- The solution is More PPP, More Taseers, More Zardaris and less self proclaimed ‘defenders of ideological boundaries’. Please.

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  • Murthy
    Aug 25, 2012 - 11:39AM

    When the people in authority themselves are afraid to act (for whatever reason) against the perpetrators of the crime reported so widely, only fools in Pakistan will indulge in acts even remotely considered blasphemous.

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  • Falcon
    Aug 25, 2012 - 1:07PM

    @Observer:
    I hear and partially agree what you are trying to convey. However, real world complex systems are not derailed by a single variable, unless some one is looking for a reductionist narrative only.

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  • Parvez
    Aug 25, 2012 - 1:53PM

    This law has been on the books from the times of the British Raj.
    The punishment was amended from a small one to the death sentence by Zia, with the result that this was to be misused for various reasons, religious and otherwise – diabolical.
    Solution is simply to amend it so this law is not misused. Suggest that it be added that the accuser be subjected to the same punishment if the charge of blasphemy is not proved, this would to a great extent reduce the wrong being done under this law.

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  • Hindu Indian
    Aug 25, 2012 - 4:27PM

    I totally agree with wat 3rdRockfromtheSun , says, the blame lies on every Pakistani for not opposing the Blasphemy laws when they were introduced. You guys thought that the laws would affect only the non-Muslims and you guys are safe, now that you see things going out of control you are blaming a dead General. One thing that keeps haunting me, how is it that every Pakistani, irrespective of their religion lay their hands on a copy of Quran, is a copy delivered to each house along with their news papers ?

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  • Omar
    Aug 25, 2012 - 6:08PM

    I have never heard in my life that Prophet Muhammad ordering executing of a person for cursing, mocking and trowing stones at him.instead he would be patient and kind to them.

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  • Khurram Khalid
    Aug 25, 2012 - 6:17PM

    “How does he intend to curb these murderous instruments of law? Can he take on the mullahs and the prevailing national mindset?”

    Only if you will let him!

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  • Lala Gee
    Aug 25, 2012 - 9:22PM

    Sohail Waraich, the famous journalist, writer, and TV anchor said in his interview yesterday that the best word to describe Pakistani society is “Khula Tazad” (blatant duplicity), and I have absolutely no hesitation to concur with his judgment. While Pakistanis refer Israel with contempt as a “Jew State”, at the same time they take pride in Pakistan as an “Islamic State” created for the Muslims (only). They want Muslims in all other countries of the world be treated on their own terms, but despise even the idea of giving other communities the same right in their own country. Here are my thoughts to fight the menace of terrorism and extremism in Pakistan.

    1- Democracy and secularism is only system of governance in pluralistic societies like Pakistan.
    2- The current blasphemy laws are medieval and should be repealed altogether.
    3- The Quaid’s speech of August 11, 1947 should be the preamble of the Constitution.
    4- Sectarian and hate speeches should be a serious crime with severe punishments.
    5- Use of Mosque and loudspeaker should be strictly restricted to prayers and Azan only.

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  • Lala Gee
    Aug 25, 2012 - 9:40PM

    Another example of “Khula Tazad” of Pakistani society is how we deal with Urdu newspapers. Almost every Urdu newspaper has a line from Quran on the top of its first page, and you know how we burn them, throw them in garbage bins, and even tread them under our feet. No body is hurt because it is done by Muslims themselves. If the same act is done by a Christian or an Ahmadi, even unintentionally, in front of a religious bigot , that would be his last day of peaceful life.

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  • husain umar
    Aug 25, 2012 - 9:45PM

    You have my note.

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  • Logic Europe
    Aug 25, 2012 - 10:10PM

    only a strong civilian government can take steps to change the law ..The current government has been weakened by people

    THE PEOPLE WILL HAVE TO STAMD BEHIND AN ELECTED GOVERNMENT
    NOTHING ELSE WILL DORecommend

  • A Pakistani
    Aug 25, 2012 - 11:49PM

    @Observer:

    “As you sated, the blasphemy laws and other anti-human laws are well-grounded in Islamic scriptures. So, the real dilemma for muslims is that by questioning these medieval laws they will be going against Islam. There is no two way about it. It is becoming increasingly difficult in the 21st century to keep the “islamic” cake and eat it too.”

    You know nothing about Islam, yet keep divulging your reeked thoughts influenced by your deeply prejudiced hateful make up. It is always wise not to comment on others’ religion in a derogatory manner because it needs complete knowledge and real understanding of the religion to pass such judgments, which clearly you do not possess. Narrow mindedness and hatefulness is not limited to Hindus only, many Muslims of the sub-continent also suffer from these mental illnesses too (by chance most were Hindus before becoming Muslims). Now a few words on the subject. What ever is the opinion of Mullahs’ about blasphemy laws, it is nothing more than their personal opinion. As scholars of different sects differ on issues, therefore their opinion cannot be words from God. Similarly current blasphemy laws were created by some narrow minded scholars and have nothing to do with the basic tenets of Islam as communicated by God. Therefore, your tying-up of these laws with Islam and sarcastically ridiculing Islam for their existence is nothing but a proof of your own ignorance.Recommend

  • sabi
    Aug 26, 2012 - 12:02PM

    Amina Jilani,
    You are very wise, honest and truthfull women.you speak for humen rights and shows courage to call spade a spade.I wonder why the “champion of change”call you and people in your lot as-Liberal Fascist.
    Kudos and regards

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  • amina jilani
    Aug 26, 2012 - 6:56PM

    @Zalim Singh:

    Solution : religion is not the business of the state, it must be separated

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  • Aug 26, 2012 - 11:11PM

    Amina….good article….
    I would just need yr opinion about Swiss money issue.
    Do u agree that w/o protection and insistence of BB(called shaheed) this man could have done all this?

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  • Aug 27, 2012 - 12:38AM

    @Falcon:

    All Wahabi teaching and money from ….

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  • Aug 27, 2012 - 12:46AM

    @Hindu Indian:

    A photo of Idol on panty caused hue and cry and manufacturer in UK had to take it back.
    If Hindu does it no problem but non hindu….
    Same is the case of Muslims….True blasphemy is twisting commands the way they want.
    Rarely follow commands….just like laughing at God. You do yr job and we will accept but will not follow.
    Go to Printing press and see how they put legs over to reach higher ladder.

    WE ARE PRETENDERS and God deslike it most…..This is blasphemy!!!

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  • Aug 27, 2012 - 12:54AM

    @Omar:

    A lady was throwing trash on Him daily when passing under her house.

    For few days it did not happen….so Prophet went to her house and asked welfare.She was sick in bed. Seeing that Prophet came to home…she was impressed and became believer

    Father & son passing from jungle….Two extremist caught them and asked abuse Prophet.Father refused and was killed. Son did it and then went before Prophet for mercy/punishment for wrong doing.
    Prophet said okay….you body is AMANAT from God and you did right to save the Amanat.

    Same body be used for Jihad

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  • Observer
    Aug 27, 2012 - 1:36AM

    @A Pakistani:
    A long winded comment without substance. If you study Islamic scriptures with a contemplative mind, which I have done, you will find that it is a fact that Islam speaks against blasphemy and apostasy. I am stating facts while you are trying to twist it as “hateful”. I can reel off the relevant verses in support of what I stated, but I would refrain because it would not be appropriate to divert the topic into a religious discussion. Please open your mind and seek the truth.

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  • Observer
    Aug 27, 2012 - 1:41AM

    @Falcon:
    Falcon, thank you for your response. I posted a reply to your comment, but unfortunately the moderators had chosen not to post it. I don’t understand why they would do that considering my post was factual, within the rules of the forum and addressed your points.

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  • Observer
    Aug 27, 2012 - 1:49AM

    @amina jilani:

    “Solution : religion is not the business of the state, it must be separated”

    That is simply impossible in a state created in the name or religion and whose constitution has religion as its guiding foundation.

    Having said that I salute you and other sincere human rights advocates on your tireless effort to emphasize rationalism and humanism as the utmost important things in human evolution.

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