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.