Earlier this year I spent a week travelling across Universities in the UK speaking out against hate on campus which leads to radicalization of youth. From there I decided to go to Pakistan for my annual visit, much against the advice of family and friends who warned me that the situation in Pakistan is troubling. The cold blooded murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January had left a pall in the air but if I had expected to see some sort of accountability or justice, I was sadly mistaken.
Pakistan has lost its soul. I heard educated and refined Pakistanis support the death of Salman Taseer and it reminded me of Nazi Germany. First ordinary people were in denial, then they were indifferent and later they accepted the propaganda that made another human being worthy of killing. Pakistanis are now in the acceptance stage. This mindset was confirmed on March 2, 2011 when Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down in Pakistan.
The elephant in the room in Pakistan is the dreaded Blasphemy Law which few want to discuss, leave alone abolish. The history of the Blasphemy Law as we see it today is that British colonizers of the sub-continent had made it a criminal offence to commit “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of ANY (stress mine) class by insulting its religious belief.” From their perspective, this law was meant to protect the diverse faith groups that lived in pre-partition India. After partition, the law was retained but in his presidential address to the constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, the founder of Pakistan Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah said “what are we fighting for? What are we aiming at? It is not theocracy – not for a theocratic state. You are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of 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….”
In the 1970’s Pakistan’s Islamist military leader General Zia ul-Haq who remained in power for 11 years, made several additions including life imprisonment for those defiling or desecrating the Quran or the Prophet. In 1986 the death penalty was introduced for anyone found guilty of defaming Islam. Today the dreaded blasphemy law is like a cancer in Pakistan and totally in conflict with the Quran, which clearly indicates “there is no compulsion in religion”; and is contrary to every aspect of Universal Human Rights. Blasphemy laws are in violation of Articles 2, 3 and 4 of the Declaration on the Elimination of all forms of intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion and Belief and also violates articles 2 and 4 of the Declaration of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.
Ironically the blasphemy law has been used in Pakistan as a systematic tool of discrimination and abuse against religious minorities, and ethnic cleansing. Under the banner of this inhuman law, it is believed that since 1987 almost 1000 people have been accused. Although religious minorities form only 3% of Pakistan’s population of almost 167 million, nearly half the victims were Ahmedis, the others Christians and Hindus. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief observed that the punishments accompanying blasphemy laws are excessive and disproportionate to the offenses.
The text of the blasphemy law is religion specific and very discriminatory. It makes no distinction between intentional deliberate action and unintended mistake in its application and has been used indiscriminately to settle personal vendettas. Pakistan is a country that has been front and center in the global arena pressing upon limitations on freedom of religion or belief and limitations on freedom of expression. In March 2009, Pakistan presented a resolution to the UNHRC in Geneva calling upon the world to formulate laws against the defamation of religion.
On August 1, last year 7 Christian women and children were burnt alive, several dozen people were injured and nearly 180 house looted and destroyed using special chemicals in incidents in Gojra, Korian and Kasur. These were done on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations of ‘desecrating the Holy Qur’an by the Christians’. The government failed to protect the innocent people caught up in this carnage despite prior warnings.
The radical Islamists who rally the cry of Blasphemy insist that insulting the Quran and Prophet is justifiable by death. What they don’t realize is that the very idea of killing someone is against the Quran which clearly says “killing one person is like killing all of humanity” (Chapter 5, verse 32) and that the Prophet never ordered anyone who insulted him, killed.
So in essence use of the Blasphemy law is actual Blasphemy because it goes directly against the mandate of the Quran and the Prophet.