Stand up against the blasphemy laws

We no longer live in a country where it is ok to retreat behind our affluent enclaves, like the rich do everywhere.


Sherry Rehman November 23, 2010

The sentencing to death of a Christian woman on charges of blasphemy by a sessions court in Nankana Sahib has created an uproar in Pakistan. The Aasia Bibi case has touched a raw nerve among thousands of people for more than one reason. The trigger for her ordeal to become a test case for our independent judiciary to do justice without prejudice is obvious. The woman is clearly a victim rather than a blasphemer. She has suffered incarceration for a year over just the kind of charges the blasphemy laws have been used in Pakistan for: to settle personal scores, build pressure for property disputes or simply browbeat minority communities into emigration or life as third class citizens.

But public anger about the case is not just about the mala fide intent of her accusers. It is about the majority of Pakistanis losing memory of what constitutes citizenship and its attendant Constitutional protections. At the heart of this darkness lies our public guilt by complicity. This guilt is about allowing what statutory safeguards we have to be degraded into paper guarantees that only protect the privileged and rarely the vulnerable. It is about standing by, wringing our hands at worst; at best speaking out, writing articles, leading rallies and overturning harsh verdicts. It is about the failure of the silent majority to mobilise resources and marshal support to overturn the laws that allow for such grave injustices to be done in the name of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) who staked his life to protect the weak, especially the minorities, against the bloodlust of zealots.

It is the responsibility of the courts how they interpret the blasphemy laws. And it is the responsibility of the government, as well as parliament, to take notice of laws that allow impunity for such murderous bigotry and initiate a process that dismantles the architecture of these man-made laws. But it is also the responsibility of citizens, especially those who profit the most from Pakistan, to stand up again such attacks on its existential premise. In any civilised country, where the identity of the state was so contested that no one could face the wrath of the self-appointed gatekeepers of Islam, the educated elite would be forced to make common cause with the activist left to put its weight behind reform of laws they all condemn as unjust behind closed doors.

We no longer live in a country where it is ok to retreat behind our affluent enclaves, like the rich do everywhere. Pakistan is burning with extremist fires. It is not enough to mobilise for flood relief or charity where state capacities fail. It is imperative to recognise that democracy in endangered societies is about standing up for the rights of the vulnerable as well as our own. It is about becoming stakeholders in reform, not just marching when one’s own parks and schools are threatened.

Our society is intolerant enough without legal sanction for witch-hunts. This is the time to push for repeal of the blasphemy law in the legislature. If that does not work, just like the Hudood repeal bills did not when we moved them, we need to build positions and craft laws that amend these laws so they become toothless, much like we campaigned to get the Women’s Bill passed in parliament. A PPP government is our best chance of getting some traction on such change. As activists, we should attempt to build mainstream consensus against these laws and create new ones that penalise those that incite violence with malicious intent.

As empowered citizens, it is our responsibility to fight for the promise our founding father made on August 11 of 1947, when he addressed the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Everyone who is reading this should know what he said on that historic day. It is time to make good on that promise.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2010.

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COMMENTS (72)

salman jafri | 9 years ago | Reply | Recommend salam sherry You said personal scores being settled, the only way someone will admit to this is basically if the police speak to people who know the person saying that someone is guilt of blasphemy. As for other religions and hating them purely due to other faith is another cause which can be easily found out by the views expressed of the accuser. Property disputes can be dismissed quickly and wanting to people to leave an area to making pakistan something taliban swat and south wazirstan wont be allowed by any police officer in pakistan. "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State." "You will no doubt agree with me that the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State." All a police officer needs to ask is whether he/she follows the above text from 11 august 1947 by mohammed ali jinnah. I think religious people with police can work out whether a person is falsely accusing someone of blasphemy and hopefully that process is used. You need to add lawyers to the process in all cases whether or not blasphemy to help poor and rich and those in distress or in danger of being wrongly put in jail before it goes to trial. I think the method of looking out for religious minorities need to be altered and also protecting the poor. Those people who make up false cases should face jail.for blasphemy. I hope you sherry rehman try to return to minister position. thanks and allah hafiz salman jafri
Aisha | 9 years ago | Reply | Recommend Kudos to you, Sherry for speaking up! Certainly, Islam mentions no such law, and this law has no place in our Pakistan. We're in the 21st century for Allah's sake! Even Muhammad was abused and he was known for forgiving his enemies. Where does this law come from? It has no place in the Qu'ran or Hadith so how in the world can it be "Islamic?" Who would you rather base your life by? The Qu'ran or the nutjob mullahs? Say no to radicalism! Radicalism plays no role in Islam! Say no to crazy mullahs! Dammit, we NEED to progress. Imagine what would happen if we give Pakistan in the hands of mad hypocrites! Shiver Look at Iran. Look at Afghanistan. We, the people of Pakistan, are behind you Sherry! Don't stop believin' :) Salaam Alaykum.
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