By Khaled Ahmed
The Friday Times (TFT)
We are trapped in our own scheming in the name of Islam. Blasphemy Law is biting the state and the government can do nothing. An illiterate dirt-poor Asiya Bibi is to die for all of us devotees of the faith. The world is begging us to do something. The Pope has appealed only to get an unworthy repartee from our bearded firebrands. The government is now hamstrung.
The President won’t pardon her because he can’t challenge the clout of the clergy at its strongest at the present moment; he has just signed on the appointment of a harsh cleric to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). A moderate CII former member Javed Ghamidi is on the run from Islamic terrorists as he criticises the bad law that hands down death for blasphemy without the normal criteria of justice, such as intent and level of consciousness.
Poisoning of national language: You can still write sanely in English but not in Urdu, so poisoned is the national tongue even as experts opine that true learning is only possible in one’s own language. Iftikhar Murshid writing in The News (28 Nov 2010) says: ‘Blasphemy laws have existed in British India since 1860. In 1927, Article 295 was added to the Penal Code under which “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religious belief” became a culpable offence.
‘The law was non-discriminatory and conviction under its provisions depended exclusively on conclusive evidence, as a consequence of which there were only ten blasphemy cases in the 58 years between 1927 and 1985. Since that year the number of blasphemy cases has soared to more than 4,000. In 1982, Gen Ziaul Haq introduced Section 295-B in the Penal Code of Pakistan, under which “defiling the Holy Quran” became punishable by life imprisonment. In 1986, Section 295-C was added, mandating capital punishment for “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet”. Even the law minister at the time did not support the bill when it was introduced in the National Assembly “on the ground that the Quran did not prescribe a penalty for this offence”.
Liberals on the run: The enactment of Ziaul Haq’s blasphemy laws unleashed a reign of terror in which the impoverished Christian community suffered the most. The violence will continue till these draconian laws are repealed. This is unlikely, however, because the present law minister, Babar Awan, was quoted by the print media on Nov 26 as saying that ‘no one can change the blasphemy laws’. Thus, so-called liberal politicians have been just as responsible as semi-educated clerics for the distortion of the laws of Islam in pursuit of their respective political agendas’.
Huma Yusuf researching a book in Washington thinks Pakistan was ‘on the brink’ as it faced the endgame in Afghanistan. The extremism within was damaging Pakistan’s chances of implementing a credible strategy. Writing in Dawn (28 Nov 2010) she said: ‘The government has made little headway in its efforts to change the climate of xenophobia and intolerance in Pakistani society. No doubt, the right noises have been made: Zardari’s government is the first to appoint a minister for minorities; it also established the Sufi Advisory Council and the Sindh Education Department is now launching an International University of Sufism at Bhit Shah. But all this signifies little in real terms’.
For Asiya no asylum either: The PPP government has backed off from any consideration of repealing the law; it will back down also on the question of pardon. What is more, it will find it difficult to send Asiya Bibi into asylum in the West. (Times are different from when Salamat Masih was exiled even though the judge who had favoured him at the High Court was later assassinated.) The other side is just too strong; and the opposition doesn’t care that it will have very little valid ground to stand if it comes to power after the PPP.
Everybody is in a frenzy of toppling and the only party that is winning is Al Qaeda. The PPP will go along with the aroused clergy and let the victims of blasphemy law down. Asiya Bibi will either have to die to save all of us from the wrath of the mullah or she will rot in jail indefinitely as she has already done for over a year. Let us have a taste of what has appeared in the Urdu press where the battle in favour of the evil law is being fought.
Lawyers and clergy join hands: Leader of JUIF Dr Atiqur Rehman told Express (23 Nov 2010) that the entire world had laws punishing blasphemy, but he did not say whether the entire world gave death as the minimum punishment for blasphemy. Christian Minorities Minister Shehbaz Bhatti said that Blasphemy Law was being misused to persecute non-Muslims. Cleric Afzal Qadri said Blasphemy Law was abused the same way as the Murder Law but no one protested against the latter law. Wukla persons protest against Asiya Bibi: Reported in Jinnah (23 Nov 2010) the lawyers of Nankana Sahib and Sangla Hill came out to protest against the granting of pardon to Asiya Bibi and said that such a pardon would be contempt of court. They said the court should take notice of efforts to smuggle Asiya Bibi abroad.
Shujaat against Asiya’s pardon: Reported in Jang (24 Nov 2010) Chaudhry Shujaat of PMLQ – always the first to bend the knee to tumescent clergy – said that pardon given to the Blasphemy Law victim Asiya Bibi would be wrong and would entail violent reaction. JUI wants Asiya hanged? Reported in Jinnah (24 Nov 2010) coalition partner of PPP the JUIF said that Asiya Bibi should be allowed to face whatever punishment the courts hand down to her and that there should be no pardon. It supported death sentence for blasphemy and asked the government to pay more attention to drone attacks. It said it will physically resist any pardon.
Rana Sanaullah in the breach as always: Daily Jinnah (24 Nov 2010) reported that religious parties in Sheikhupura in Punjab came out in strength supporting the death sentence of Asiya Bibi blocking all roads and causing traffic jams and saying that they will not allow pardon to her and will react to sending her out of the country for asylum. Rana Sanaullah for Asiya death: Law minister of Punjab Rana Sanaullah was quoted by Jinnah (24 Nov 2010) as saying that he was in agreement with the punishment meted out to Asiya Bibi under Penal Code Section 295C and that Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer was acting like a spoiled child (bigra batcha) by supporting her and trying to win a pardon for her. He said by doing dalassa (compassion) to Asiya he was causing a Muslim-Christian conflict (fasad).
Cities rise against Asiya’s asylum: Daily Jinnah (24 Nov 2010) reported that a number of cities staged protests against the alleged shifting of Asiya from Sheikhupura jail to Islamabad before sending her away to the US to avoid her being hanged under orders from a sessions judge. The processions were arranged by power religious organisations such as Tehreek Hurmat Rasul, Sunni action and Sunni Ittehad Council. Friday was named as the grand protest day against Asiya’s asylum.
Famous columnist Hamid Mir wrote to say that Afiya had confessed to blasphemy and now had to face the music. But some years ago he was less quiescent, which is a measure of how extremist Pakistan had become. He had written in Jang (26 June 2006) that the PPP’s imprisoned leader Yusuf Raza Gilani had stated in his book that when in 1990 Nawaz Sharif became prime minister and wanted to change the Blasphemy Law but Ms Bhutto in the opposition did not help him in parliament. Still later Ms Bhutto returned to power in 1993 and wanted to change the Blasphemy Law but this time Nawaz Sharif did not help her.
That kind of a game is still on.
Pakistan bride, Osama bin Laden bridegroom: Pakistan will not stop having death wishes. Usually nations on their way down have a single death wish. Pakistan has many. It wants the Qadianis killed and wants to use blasphemy to hang them but is netting others instead. It is like a fisherman who will kill other fish to get at the one he wants. Christians as a community are threatened after we in our stupidity have broadened the net of blasphemy by including all prophets. Since the Bible has stories of Prophets that Muslims consider insulting – Noah, David and Solomon get a raw deal – the entire Christian community led by the bishops might have to be hanged collectively. Pakistan may the next Golgotha.
So be it, because most of us will die anyway after Al Qaeda takes over. Pakistan is a bride in her conjugal chamber waiting to be ravished by Osama bin Laden. We got Pakistan from Jinnah and are now ready to hand it over to the minions of bin Laden. What gives me just a shred of satisfaction as I ready myself to die as a secular person is the fact that all Barelvis who are now baying for the blood of a poor Christian woman will be disembowelled by the ‘superior’ Muslim followers of Al Qaeda and made to hang in the various squares of Pakistan. We have had the foretaste of it in Swat and elsewhere in the Tribal Areas.