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The Pakistan killings are not about blasphemy


Guardian, Nick Cohen

After Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses, religious “scholars” doubted whether the Ayatollah Khomeini had the right to order his murder. They had no liberal qualms about executing a writer for subjecting religion to imaginative scrutiny. They believed that blasphemers and apostates must die as their religion insisted. But only if they were citizens of an Islamic state. As Rushdie was living in London in 1989, a free man in a free country, the clerics concluded that religious law did not apply to him.

The Rushdie controversy was the Dreyfus affair of the late 20th century. It established today’s dividing lines between the secular and the authoritarian, between those who were willing to defend freedom of thought and inquiry and those who wanted to censor and self-censor to keep fanatics happy. We can gauge how low we have sunk by remembering that at the start of the battle 23 years ago there was a tiny regard for the forms of legality, even among those who were otherwise happy to condemn free thinkers to death. However brutal they were, they respected their version of due process.

The Islamist murders first of Salmaan Taseer and then of Shahbaz Bhatti show that what tiny scruples blood-soaked men possessed vanished long ago. The best way to describe the terror which is reducing Pakistani liberals to silence is to enumerate what the assassins did not allege. They did not say that Taseer and Bhatti must die because they were apostates – or, to put that “crime” in plain language, because they were adults who decided they no longer believed in the Muslim god. Taseer had not renounced Islam. Bhatti could not renounce it as he was the bravest Christian in Pakistan, who campaigned for equal rights for persecuted minorities with the dignity and physical courage of a modern Martin Luther King.

Nor did their assassins claim that their targets had committed the capital crime of blasphemy. Taseer and Bhatti had not said that the Koran, like the Talmud and the New Testament, was the work of men not god. They did not denounce Muhammad’s morality or offer any criticism of his life and teaching. If you wanted to reduce the whirling, brilliant narrative of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses to a single sentence, you could say that it was in part a “blasphemous” account of the early history of Islam. Taseer and Bhatti attempted nothing so brave. They confined themselves to making the modest point that Pakistan’s death penalty for blasphemy was excessive and barbaric, and that was enough to condemn them. Their killers murdered them for the previously unknown crime of advocating law reform: blew them away for the new offence of blaspheming against blasphemy.

One Pakistani journalist I spoke to described his fellow liberals as members of a persecuted minority, who now knew that if they spoke out, they would be shot down. Salmaan Taseer’s daughter, Shehrbano, wrote a heartbreaking piece for the Guardian in which she despaired of a “spineless” Pakistani elite that was too frightened to praise her father or condemn his murderers.

In the networked world, censorship by the authoritarian state or clerical paramilitaries is meant to matter less. Technology enthusiasts can point to Twitter revolutions as proof of how emancipatory democratic ideas seep into apparently closed societies. But the ideas that Pakistanis need from America, Europe or “the west” to help fight armed theocracy are not there for surfers to find.

Fear plays its part in keeping western opinion quiet as well. It is hard to credit, but liberal society responded pretty well to the threat to Rushdie in 1989. Penguin refused to withdraw the Satanic Verses. Booksellers ignored threats and bombs and carried on selling it. But once the global wave of terror had passed, no one wanted to put themselves through what Rushdie and Penguin had been through, and a silence descended. Even the supposedly militant “new atheists,” whom genteel commentators damn for their vulgarity, steer clear of religions that might kill them. Close readers of Richard Dawkins will notice that almost all his examples of clerical folly are drawn from the Catholic and American evangelical churches, whose congregations are unlikely to firebomb his publishers.

The fear is still present. Last month, four men were convicted of slashing the face and fracturing the skull of Gary Smith, a London teacher who had made the mistake of taking the windy official pronouncements about “promoting diversity” seriously and taught Muslim girls about Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. Political violence comes from the British National Party, English Defence League and various splinter groups from the IRA, as well as Islamists, and that is before you raise your gaze and examine the assorted gun-totting crazies who inhabit the fringe of American politics.

The difference between Islamism and the rest is that liberals are happy to denounce white extremists, while covering up militant Islam with the wet blanket of political correctness. They do not confine themselves to saying that, of course, society must protect people from being murdered for their religion, as Slobodan Milosevic murdered the Bosnian Muslims, and punish employers who refuse jobs to members of creeds they dislike, as Protestant employers in Northern Ireland once refused to hire Catholics. They maintain it is illicit to criticise religious ideas. Thus, along with the admittedly faint fear of violence, western writers who want to provide arguments against religious misogyny, homophobia, racism and censorship must also live with the fear that their contemporaries will accuse them of orientalism or Islamophobia.

The world may pay a price for the monumental blunder of treating religious ideologies – which are beliefs that men and women ought to be free to accept or reject – as if they were ethnicities, which no man or woman can change. Not the smallest reason why the Arab revolution is such an optimistic event is that al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood have been left as gawping bystanders. Their isolation cannot last. Eventually, if Arab states move towards democracy, there will be a confrontation with political Islam. Arab liberals, like Pakistani liberals, will search the net for guidance. They will discover that far from offering strategies that might help, timorous western liberals have convinced themselves that it is “racist” to criticise raging fanatics who no longer even bother to pretend that they are anything other than liberalism’s mortal enemies.

 
 

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Aftermath of Salman Tasser’s killing: Another Christian family on the run


What has terrorised this country more than anything is a lethal excuse used against weak and powerless people mostly from minority groups. Blasphemy is a word on everyone’s lips and that has given sleepless nights to all Christians, Ahmadis and now Muslims too. The assassination of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, has exposed the fragile edifice of this society truly based on misuse of religion. The response of people to Salman’s killer has blown the minds who hoped for some maturity from the people of this country. But his is the country where I have seen heroes becoming villains and villains becoming heroes.

Salman’s killing has strengthened the evil forces which have been misusing religion to commit crimes, seek authority and fulfill their vicious plans. Unfortunately, the current government run by PPP–supposed to be a liberal party– has scummed to the blackmailing done in the name of religion also by the religious political parties. The same party has isolated its key member, Salman, and let him killed by a fanatic. The same fanatic has deepened the divide in the society and encouraged others to play with the same excuse to gain some fame.

The story of this Cristian woman (read below) is a proof that Pakistan was never meant for non Muslims. The white portion in the flag was what we buried with the founder of this country who thought of a secular state.

These fanatics are exploiting blasphemy and taking the law in their hands. But we never hear of any suo moto action by our Chief Justice who take it almost every day on every other issue. Here we find him silent. When the writ of the government is challenged by these people then the government hides behind the religion. When they humiliate women in front of the whole world, the police like to be among the audience. The mob mentality is what has scared the people who intend to help those being victimised.

Now where do we stand? Is this a country only for Muslims and among Muslims only those who follow a certain type of Islam which is unknown to us? Is any religion bigger than humanity and a human life? Who has given them this right to hijack Islam? Who has allowed them to use violence in the name of Prophet (pbuh)? Who has made them protectors of Islam? NOT us. And we will not. All those who accuse others of blasphemy without any proof are the ones who commit blasphemy. Inciting to violence is a crime and it remains a crime even if they do it under the pretext of blasphemy.

We need to be united against these evil forces ready to destroy our identity as Pakistanis and we must stop them from hijacking our religion for their vested interests.

(STORY)
Express Tribune, January 15th

LAHORE: Two Christian women were beaten and publically humiliated by an angry mob over apparently frivolous blasphemy allegations and they and their family are now in hiding for fear of being killed, The Express Tribune has learnt.

“None of our relatives is ready to let us stay with them. They fear the wrath of the extremists, particularly after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer,” a male member of the family said over the phone from an undisclosed location.

The family and a non-governmental organisation that is helping them asked that their identities not be revealed, lest it put them in further danger. The names mentioned here are fictitious.

According to the family, the allegations stem from a dispute between Amina, a Muslim, and her sister-in-law Zahira, a Christian, in an East Lahore locality. The two got into an argument on Tuesday night and though it appeared to have been settled, on Wednesday morning, after her husband Zahid had gone to work, Amina walked out onto the street and started shouting that Zahira had abused the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

A short while later, a group of men led by Muhammad Sameer, a member of a religious organisation keen on raising its sectarian profile, forced their way into the house and started slapping Zahira, said another of her brothers, Sohail. “Other men and women from the neighbourhood started gathering at the house too and they beat up my sister and mother. They were the only people in the house,” he said.

“We tried our best to get her to confess her crime,” Sameer told The Express Tribune. As a member of the religious organisation, he said he could not tolerate any derogatory remarks about the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

Sameer added that he was very proud of his wife’s performance during the mob beating. “She beat Zahira more than anyone else. Her hand is so swollen that she hasn’t been able to make rotis since the day of the incident. I’ve been getting my meals from a restaurant,” he said.

Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of Salmaan Taseer, is a member of the same group as Sameer. The group also runs a twenty-four hour cable TV channel.

Khadim Hazoor, Sameer’s son-in-law and another participant in the beating, said that the women’s faces were blackened and they were made to wear necklaces of shoes and paraded around the locality on donkeys to humiliate them. He said the women denied blaspheming and repeatedly touched their feet seeking mercy.

He said the people of the locality would not allow Zahid or his family to return to their house, which he lives next door to. He claimed that the fight between Zahira and Amina the night before the incident revolved around the upbringing of Zahid and Amina’s 18-month-old daughter. Amina had wanted to raise her daughter as a Muslim, but Zahira wanted her niece to be raised as a Christian, he said.

Hazoor accused Zahid of “cheating Islam” by pretending to convert from Christianity to Islam so he could marry the Muslim girl. “We will not let them live in this house. He has not only cheated Amina but also Islam,” he said.

Zameer Khan, an NGO worker, helped the family flee the locality after they were attacked. “Apparently there was no blasphemy, just an argument between two women,” he said.

He said after hearing of the incident, he had reached the scene to find the women being attacked. He said he had asked the mob if anyone had heard Zahira utter any blasphemous remarks, to which they all replied in the negative. He said he persuaded them to let the women go while he investigated the matter. He then helped relocate the family temporarily. He said he had also convinced the mob not to involve the police.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2011 in Blasphemy, Christians

 

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In memory of Salmaan Taseer: Death at a Funeral


Death at a Funeral

January 5, 2011 by Sher Ali Khan

Repeated photographs of a killer flashed on to the screen, as another martyr was created in Pakistan. Governor Salmaan Taseer stood right in the middle of the growing divide in Pakistan between decay and modernization.

Over the years, with the deteriorating socio-economic situation and rampant radicalization in the country a complete decay of thought and rationality has taken charge, which is leading the country back into the stone ages. The religious parties, which have been legitimized over the years, are becoming the alternative to the curse word known as democracy.

During the last two months, Taseer had taken a moderated stance asking for the parliament to probe into the blasphemy law, which almost everyone had repeated. The threat that Taseer posed was that he was willing to push the warped societal boundaries, which are based upon moral assumptions that have not been present for centuries.

The cleric has become a defining force in our society and no one is allowed to question credentials or the persons basis for assessment. Coming with the backing of god, their word is fast becoming an unchallengeable aspect in our society. Without an educational base to filter out the extremist ideology and thought there is a growing acceptance to extremism and radical thought.

Generally speaking Salmaan Taseer was one of the last voices to openly condemn terrorists and extremism even calling them “sick and demented” while also challenging their basis of authority. He had so cleverly grown into the role as governor using his technical background to wittingly challenge the politicians lack of activism against terrorists and extremists.

The consequent reaction to the murder of Salmaan Taseer was the gruesome celebration of his death by various reporters and TV anchors. The war had been won for these individuals who warned that his stance was a pro-American one. While playing down the significance of virtues such as hard work and education, these men boasted with pride explaining that his murder contributed to the overall betterment of society.

Looking forward as progressive voices continue to be silenced, one has to question the whole basis of right and wrong. Till this debate is settled the conception of Pakistan will be a mystery and in many ways a farce.

The Author was assigned the Governor beat in Lahore.

 

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