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Being Smart about the Blasphemy Law

Politics is best understood as a game of chess: every pawn, rook and knight has its purpose, every move depends on the previous one. No major law or political event is in isolation; each one has a long history in a philosophy or a series of events and proponents on either side. Without an honest appreciation of this background, the ground-realities and a found understanding of the public narrative many efforts to reform can inadvertently spiral into chaos.

The current attempts to reform or repeal the blasphemy law are such moves. No matter how draconian the law may be it can not be changed so easily and so quickly, as the well-intentioned but rather naive move of proposing an amendment wrongly suggests. This proposed amendment and the legitimate outburst by Human Rights Groups in Pakistan has triggered preemptive action across the country : A cleric has offered a cash reward for murdering the accused; protests against inflation and for the return of missing people have turned into pro-blasphemy law rallies; judges have barred the government from amending the law; lawyers have passed resolutions to pressurize government to not consider this amendment, and the urdu media has its own take on the issue. Will the amendment even pass when not one directly elected MNA has voiced their support for the amendment?

Pakistan has many serious issues facing the common man ranging from unemployment, inflation and security problems but the largest public shows of outrage have predominantly been on issues involving religion. When a newspaper in a country far far away published cartoons mocking Islam and the Prophet (Pbuh) hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets. Majority of the protestors had not seen the cartoons themselves but the very thought that someone dare insulted the Prophet (Pbuh) led to nationwide chaos. 70,000 people took to the streets in Peshawar alone. This is only one city on one particular day.

The blasphemy law is the end product of similar protests that started as soon as Pakistan gained its independence. The trigger for these protests was the notion that a group dared to claim to be Muslims while denying the finality of the Prophet (Pbuh). Two decades of off-and-on riots and protests eventually inspired arguably the most liberal politician to come to power in Pakistan’s history, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to sanction the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan which declared Ahmedis non-Muslims. Zia went a step ahead and sanctioned punishments to Ahmedis who preached or declared themselves Muslim as part of the blasphemy law package. Other factors notwithstanding, it were the anti-Ahmediya riots of 1953 that became a major component in the dismissal of PM Khawaja Nazimuddin and his entire cabinet. Such is the seriousness of the issue for everyday Pakistanis and the street power of these groups. A recent poll conducted by PEW found out that only 16 % of Pakistanis opposed capital punishment for apostasy, only 11 % opposed segregation at work places and stoning to death for adultery and 13 % opposed amputation for theft. Such statistics as well as the past suggest that human rights groups are very misled in believing that they can either match the street power of these groups or have public sympathy for their cause.

Amending the law is in effect trying for a symptomatic treatment of a deep-rooted cancer. Unless the underlying factors which prompt up such a law, grant its abuse and propagate its support are addressed cases like Aasia Bibi’s will come about. The correct approach for the liberal elites is to first understand the realm of possibilities in Pakistan and realize that a repeal of the law is not currently in it. Instead, efforts should focus on strengthening the capacity of the state, improving rule of law in the country and promoting tolerance for others in the society, ideals which do have public support. A strong state will punish those who wrongly accuse, jail clerics for inciting people to violence and the benefits will not be restricted to just the victims of the blasphemy law.

However these reforms must be taken up independently and as an end in their selves. The minute such effort became part of a blasphemy law reform package and the likes of Mehr Bukhari get the chance to stir our ‘ghairat’ they are doomed for failure. Only then, and maybe after decades of promoting tolerance, can the preconditions for a rational debate on blasphemy law be achieved.


36 Comments

  • faisal |

    things which are possible immediately should ve been done first like Qazaf laws, law of witness,procedure of proceedings through higher courts and registering the case in court not in police station.

    these things are even accepted by most of the groups who oppose any changes in the main law.

    next thing which can come under question after this is blasphemy laws and non-muslims. as far as i ve seen the view point of religious leaders and scholars , the law is based on Irtidad so a question can be raised that how it can be applied to a person who is not a muslim in the first place.

    as far as promoting religious tolerance so that these laws dont become holocaust type laws where people cant even discuss the event in academic manner and also to avoid and pastor terry jhones type situation in the country which will surely start a civil war here, social agreements between communities (make it part of constitution)are needed to be signed for mutual respect and if some violation is done then civil law procedures should be adapted not criminal law. this should be done by keeping in mind the freedom to discuss the issue in academic manner as there is a huge difference between pastor jhones thing and a study of religions.

  • faisal |

    one bad thing which has happened with the issue is that it has become a soccer match type

    debate and a political point scoring issue for both sides. the situation got worse when mr salman taseer tried to get maximum out of the issue for so called liberals without keeping in mind the fact that this will make things worse for the lady involved if she has some chance of getting out of the situation. usually higher courts take a more rational view of these things but here the issue is being exploited for political gain. this is a legal, academic and human rights issue so it ve been taken that way unlike the show of power way. it will kill whatever rationale can come from both sides as this war on terror thing has already started a social class clash and in these circumstances people are getting more strong

    on their wrong/right stances instead of giving it a second view which they would ve given a bit easily otherwise.

  • readinglord |

    I agree with you that the

    very first step taken by the

    governor of Punjab, though

    apparently taken with good intention,looked extremely bizarre, to say the least. It was in fact a blasphemy of legal decorum and even of common sense which has spoiled the whole show from the very start.

    The sensitivity of the issue, as you say, required more sober approach and not a show of smartness. Blasphemy lynchings were there even during the British Raj but the rule of law being effective the culprits on either side were dealt with legally and duly punished. The problem now is both the law itself and its implementation being defective, what is required now is to improve the law and, more so, to make its implementation more effective and impartial.

  • Dr.Jawwad Khan |

    fine….but what about a person born in Muslim or non muslim family passes blasphemous remarks intentionally against prophet(pbuh)?

    We all know that there are people out there who shall happily do that.This is a global phenomenon.We saw the new waves after waves of blasphemy on international scenario.Blasphemous books, cartoons,drawing competition, burning Quran etc. These things are being promoted globally.

    Question: Do the Prophet(pbuh) have the honor worth protecting or not?

    How it is a draconian law? Because honor of a Prophet is not a materialized object?

    • Brumby |

      @ Jawwad:

      There are almost 7 Billion people in the world and majority of them really don’t care about your belief and what is sacred to you. For them it would be ok for you to take your beliefs and shove it where sun does not shine.

      If people are not insulting your beliefs, it is not because they are scared, it is because they have better things to do and enjoy life.

    • Alphast |

      The Prophet is only an Islam thing. People outside of Islam don't care and should not care. If your religion is not only forcing its follower to practice its rules, but also people outside of it, then it is not a religion anymore but a totalitarian oppression. Which is clearly the case here. A branch of Islam is forcing other branches of Islam as well as Christians or even non-religious people to bow to its supremacy. It is unfair, unacceptable and should be fought and condemned until it ceases to exist.

    • Dr.Jawwad Khan |

      @ Alphast!

      You are right.It is a form of totalitarianism. Islam is a totalitarian religion. It demands complete and unconditional obedience.However There is a small difference between two totalitarianisms.Human totalitarianism serves the vested interests of minor ruling elite while divine totalitarianism which you can call fundamentalism,transforms

      the society according to the divine orders and injunctions of Allah(swt)for the benefit of mankind.

      Islam announces the rewards for those who follow and punishment who don't. It is a matter of faith and a war between those who believe and those who don't.

      You are living in Holland….Can you discuss the issue of Holocaust?….Isn't it a magnificent control of few Jews who rule over nerves of millions of Europeans and Americans?…Isn't it a glimpse of totalitarianism that even the glorious freedom of expression can't intervene in this issue?

      As a Muslim i condemn your double standards and your intensive desire of abusing our holly Prophet(saw).

    • Alphast |

      You seem to be very confused. Indeed, Dutch law unfortunately prohibits the negation of the Holocaust. I think it is a breach of the Freedom of Expression and that law should be repelled, as I wrote it several times. Nevertheless, you are yourself comparing things which are not comparable. Negating the Holocaust can grant you a big fine, in the worst case. Still everyone in the Netherlands is free to say all the bad he thinks about the Jewish religion, the Muslim religion or the Christian religion, or any other ideology. On the other side of this, you have a totalitarian law like the Pakistani one which can put a woman to death, or let her be put to death by a mob, for maybe having said something insulting about the Prophet of another religion than her own. There is nothing that can be more unfair and disgusting as this. The way you present it, Jawwad, shows how dangerous religion can be when mixed with law and politics. I thank you for proving my case in your many comments. Any reader with an ounce of common sense, let alone human feelings or charity will have easily concluded where good and evil stand.

      A religion can be judged, like any other ideology, by its "fruits": your version of Islam shows only hatred, bigotry, oppression and calls to murder and intolerance. It is a judgemental and disrespectful one. Again, readers won't have any difficulty in seeing if this version of Islam is the best one…

    • Dilshad K. |

      Live and let live – just because someone insults you doesn't mean its true. Jog on to the 21st century why don't you? When you were a child and a friend made fun of your dad or mom, and you went home to tell, what was your parent's advice? Did they say "beat him up, he should never make fun of me"? or did they say "ignore the silly fool"?

      It seems you haven't grown up yet.

  • Brumby |

    @ Anonymous:

    First these mullahs opposed the creation of Pakistan and after independence they made themselves its guardians.

    Those who accused Asia Bibi should be charged under Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), 153 A (a)- It reads [whoever “by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or incites, or attempts to promote or incite, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities”

  • Dr.Jawwad Khan |

    Imaran says:

    December 20, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    PS: I spit on your religion of hate. Now come and kill me.

    ____________________________________________________________

    @ Teeth maestro

    see!!! the blasphemy law is like any other law to contain the disgusting and highly offensive madness in the society…..It is not draconian law at all.

    Misuse of a law is not the excuse for lawlessness.

    According to your logic if some one wrongfully accuses other for killing an innocent person than the punishment of murder should be abolished from the Penal codes…because an innocent man's life could be wasted due to the law….

    Is this logic is worth listening and having a debate on it?

    • Brumby |

      @ Jawwad:

      You have answered your own question except that you do not know how to state it in a logical way.

      Yes, death penalty fro murder should be abolished if there is a chance that an innocent life could be wasted because of the law. Life is something that can not be given back.

      Also, are you saying that murder is equal to hurting someone’s feelings?

    • Imaran |

      Two things;

      I spit on your backward stone age religion *because* of the way you oppress people in the name of blasphemy.

      Second it proves that blasphemy law can not stop people from spitting on your religion specially when blasphemy laws themselves are the reason for hating your religion so whats the point of having blasphemy laws except to have exactly the opposite effect of people hating your religion even more?

      Once again I spit on your backward oppressive religion. Come get me and apply your stupid blasphemy law on me. Respect is a two way street. You can't make people respect you by beating the hell out of them.

      Idiot.

      PS: Another spit on your religion.

    • junaid |

      @imran,

      Go spit on the sky and you would spit yourself.

      There are your brothers who try to do this day and night and they can not but spit on themselves.

      Go try a few more times.

      Our religion is the one which brough dignity to human life, be it through Moses, Jesus or Muhammad (May peace be upon them all).

      Illiterates like you, who have no purpose in life, would try this and offcourse then there are laws and people to curtail crimes and criminals(like you).

  • Dr.Jawwad Khan |

    @ Brumby!

    I am saying that honor of Prophet Mohammed Peace be upon him is greater than any thing else…A convicted blasphemer must face a death penalty according to the law.

    And You should not play with the feelings of Pakistani Muslims.

    • Brumby |

      @ Jawwad:

      Get a grip on your self, who died and made you incharge of "the feelings of Pakistani Muslims"? No one can be forced to honor anyone and certainly not by hanging. Because, death doesn't teach anything to the dying. But why am I telling you this, you believe to speak for god. But, is god on your side? Who’s to say? I believe that god is on Asia’s side because god is always on the side of the downtrodden.

      I am a part of the same society that you belong to except that I have been taught to tolerate, yes tolerate, others. That is all what is required to build a civil society, toleration of others existence at minimum.

  • Dr.Jawwad Khan |

    @ Teeth maestro!

    No body in Pakistan ever hanged by court of law on the allegation of blasphemy.It is not a draconian law.

    It is not a draconian law.

    In the absence of law there is much chaos because state will unable to meet the emotional demand of the its people.People shall take the law into their own hand and accused will be murder with out having fair investigation and fair trial.

    • Brumby |

      @ Jawwad:

      True that nobody has been hanged but, accused have been killed and judges who exonerated them have been murdered. Who is to blame for that? You Dr. Jawwad no one but people like you are the reason for such savagery.

    • Imaran |

      Poor Asia has been in Jail for 15 months away from her family and had been beaten up and mistreated. Perhaps death would have been easier for her. Your murderous spiteful religion is a blot on human kind's face and must be removed as soon as possible.

      Another spit on your savage religion.

    • readinglord |

      The Blasphemy Law is tarnishing the image of 'Rehmatulaalimin' by making him appear not as a 'rehmat' for the mankind, as he was intended to by God, but as an exterminator of human beings like the one practicing the cult of Kali Devi. Illama Iqbal had rightly said:

      "Kise khabar thi ki le kar charaaghe Mustafvi

      Jahaan mein aag lagaatio phire gi Bulehbi"

  • Alphast |

    Without going as far as denigrating anyone's religion, the fact is that this poor woman has been accused of a non-existant crime by fanatics. She is not a Muslim, so she can't have been blaspheming. Moreover, there is strong indication that the original charges were trumped. The rest is complete bullshit. And al reasonable Muslims know it. Unfortunately, reasonable Muslims in Pakistan are a very small minority, a respectable elite with little grasp on anything else than their immediate environment. I agree with the OP that, due to the extreme backwardness of the Pakistani society and the extreme fanaticism of its majority, attempts to modify or repell this unfair law are actually probably making the situation worse for the poor victims. It is sad, but the best solution would probably to concentrate on applying the rule of law as strictly as possible, throw in jail the disgusting people who are calling for murder and make sure that everyone involved in this story is punished. Maybe making them publicly apologize to this woman would make a good example…

  • faisal |

    @Jawwad

    "You are right.It is a form of totalitarianism. Islam is a totalitarian religion. It demands complete and unconditional obedience.However There is a small difference between two totalitarianisms.Human totalitarianism serves the vested interests of minor ruling elite while divine totalitarianism which you can call fundamentalism,transforms

    the society according to the divine orders and injunctions of Allah(swt)for the benefit of mankind."

    basing an argument no better right or wrong on wrong footings is not a good idea. I think u should give another look at islamic teachings and the concepts of justice, equality before law and Allah, denial of forceful conversions, rejection of blind following and invitation to ponder on the universe and signs to reach truth with consciousness cannot lead to totalitarianism.

    a system where a Caliph is answerable to people and law cannot be a totalitarian law.

    "It demands complete and unconditional obedience"

    Please go through the teachings of Quran and see it is for Muslims and even in that lots of room is there for repentance and learning. even if u see Sharia laws most or almost all of them are of Civil law nature where a case goes to the court when someone interferes in other person's ffreedom and harms the society and individuals.

    I think the biggest blasphemy is to associate things with Allah, Quran, Islam and Prophet (S.A.W) which are not part of their teachings. I hope you ve not done it deliberately and u must ve some good reasons to do it but as far as i ve read it is not the case.

    people who are demanding justice in Aasia's case may not ve bad intentions (though lots of point scoring is being done from bothsides for political interests and so the case is getting worse) and even in Quran it is said :

    "O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Informed of what ye do." [Al-maeda ,8]

    • faisal |

      *basing an argument no better

      basing an argument no matter :)

      —————————————————–

      Sharia laws are for Muslims and also a revision is required to see whether the laws which are imposed on us are according to sharia or not. 295-c is a mixture of colonial law and interpretation of scholars here and if some wrong use is observed against non muslims and muslims(most of the victims are muslims, i ve seen deobandi maulvis being accused for this by barelvi mobs and sunni tehreek for difference in opinion on waseela and 12 rabiulawwal issue) then there should always be a room for scholarly debate based on Quran, Sunnah and given situation.

      as far as non muslims are concerned social contracts can be made on equality and justice to ensure peaceful mutual existence like Meesaq e Madina to avoid any undesirable situation. but even in that room for academic debates and questioning should be ensured, like it used to happen even in the times of Prophet (S.A.W) which helped in conversion of many non muslims to muslims voluntarily after getting convinced. we shouldnt go for holocaust law type behavior which bars everyone to think and ponder on the issue freely and justly.

  • farasat |

    May peace be upon Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.

    Swearing Muhammad does not make one a christian, nor does swearing Jesus makes someone a Muslim.

    The people who utter blasphemous phrases or swear against the prophet of Muslims are infact responsible for inciting Muslims to hate them.

    Muslims respect Jesus and consider it a great sin to swear at Jesus and consider the honor of mother Marry, sacred to our hearts.

    We find it ill and sinful that we swear at Jesus or mother Marry in retaliation rather we want the people commiting this crime to be held responsible for their acts.

  • Sakib Ahmad |

    The anonymous author of the article opines: "and the Urdu media has its own take on the issue".

    This, in a nutshell, shows what is wrong with the so-called "Pakistani liberals". They are a bunch of self-hating, miserable, lost souls who know no better than worshipping at the altar of American culture. Why are YOU not making your point of view known in the Urdu media, expressing yourself in a language that people of Pakistan can understand? Why do you not set up websites in Urdu to propagate your views in a sensible manner?

    What we have in Pakistan today is Anti-Islam, a hideous corruption of the Deen brought to mankind by Muhammad Rasul-Allah, Rehmatul-lil-aalameen. If the airy-fairy liberals are seriously interested in establishing true Islam then they MUST participate wholeheartedly in the Urdu media.

  • Tahir Anjam |

    its the main topic these day. After the invention of social networking websites (specially facebook) has a very negative impact on people regarding the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). First thing is that they allow such activities even after so many complaints then we the Muslims protest in such bad way that a non Muslim individual can easily destroy our basic rights.Blasphemy topic is unstoppable until the Internet media have a clear policy on it.

  • Dr.Jawwad Khan |

    ماشا الله دل خوش کر دیا ممتاز قادری نے ….

    ملعون کو کتے کی موت مارا ہے …شاباش ممتاز قادری