Saturday, September 19, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 18

Some Observations on the
Blasphemy Law Issues in Pakistan (Contd.)

  1. If we look carefully, we see that religion was not the main issue where attacks on minorities took place. The issue was centuries-old tension between the haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor, the landowners and the landless, the powerful and the powerless, and the voiceful and the voiceless. It is pure and simple that the rich and powerful at present have been using religion and blasphemy laws to exploit the poor, marginalized and landless in a much more easier fashion than before. When certain politicians and law-enforcement officials -- who are supposed to serve all citizens equally -- play in the hands of these people, the exploitation becomes more horrible, more suffocating. Certain politicians and police officials by supporting these exploiters are enriching themselves at the cost of the exploited.
  2. Time and again, incited mobs are attacking, looting and setting fire on properties of minorities. How can 'mobocracy' decide the fate of a minority community? How many other countries have such a mobocracy? It is such a gross injustice by any standard, let alone by any religious standard. If Islam is the religion of peace, this type of mobocracy has no place in Islam.
  3. When Muslim fanatics and militants attack minorities, especially Christians publicly in their homes and churches, when they intimidate judges and defense lawyers, the provincial and central government officials act as if they are helpless, as if they are hostages in the hands of the lawless. They express sorrow as an after-event and announce compensation for the victims. This is like placing a balm on the deep wounds instead of treating the causes of the wounds. Keeping silent or arresting only a few people -- who are not the real culprits or masterminds -- is tantamount to opting for injustice, is like taking a stand against the minorities in Pakistan. Governments are there to look after the interests of all their citizens in spite of all odds in front of them. That's why they are elected to their offices. So far, there is no solid and effective preventive measures in safeguarding the minorities in Pakistan.
  4. If police personnel can't or don't distinguish between what is blasphemy or what is not, if the judges under duress give in and can't do it either, then what's the use of having the blasphemy laws? Keeping the present blasphemy laws as they stand now, is like saying yes to persecution and repression of the minority communities, who have an equal claim to be Pakistanis along with the Muslims. A real Islamic Republic can't have a set of repressive laws.
  5. By accusing persons of religious minority groups of blasphemy against Islam, these fanatic Muslims themselves are engaging in reverse blasphemy by actually making derogatory remarks and slogans against Christianity and founder of Christian religion, desecrating the Bible by tearing its pages or forcibly scattering Bibles on church floors during ransacking of churches and houses of Christians, and crushing crucifixes (crosses), holy pictures and statues and trampling upon them. Reverse blasphemy is also a criminal act covered by the country's civil and criminal laws as well as blasphemy laws. Why then, are the perpetrators of reverse blasphemy not being punished severely?
  6. If one seeks blasphemy around, he will find it everywhere. There is no end to it, but it will depend on who interprets it. How far can one go with accusations of blasphemy? If the verses of the Quran -- the Islamic holy book -- is so sacrosanct, if they are so untouchable, why then write these verses on the public signboards and advertisement boards, why print them on leaflets and handouts, why print them in Islamiat studies school textbooks or even a book for distribution? If a person writes quotes of the Quran (Quranic verses) on a newspaper, magazine, handout, signboard and treads on it or tears it or burns it or throws it in the waste-paper bin, will it constitute blasphemy? If it is blasphemy or if the blasphemy is so easy, then blasphemy is happening all over the Muslim world. Does one have any idea of what actually happens in printing presses and binderies? Initially, after composing a matter (news, article, part of a book), it is given to a proofreader who reads the proof (by marking the mistakes, adding a letter or word with a pen) and send it back to the press. After the corrections are made in the composition, used proofs are thrown away -- some of them are used as fuel for cooking or boiling water for tea, some gets thrown up in the waste-paper bins for sale to the street hawkers (who purchase old or used papers by weight). While printing a newspaper, magazine, book and the like, a sheet of printed paper may be discarded because of a mistake, misprint, wrong or too much ink, and other reasons. These discarded sheets, containing Quranic verses, may be used for sitting, sleeping and other purposes. When printed sheets sent to the bindery, they are kept in stacks. Some may stand on them to reach for something kept on the upper shelf, some may sleep on them when tired or for temporary sleep at night. Imperfectly printed sheets are also discarded there. In the advertisement signboard writing shops, similar things happen. The Islamiat studies book for school children have every likelihood of getting "desecrated" by students -- by tearing of its pages, selling the used book to street hawkers, using old book pages for distribution of sweets or other foodstuff sold by street vendors or making paper bags for shopkeepers. The same thing may happen with old copies or loose sheets of the Quran, especially in a country where most of the population is illiterate or half-literate.
  7. From the past (between 1986 to 2009) anti-Christian events in Pakistan, it has been observed that there is a marked difference between these Muslim religious leaders -- who initiated and participated in the attacks on Christians -- and the Christian religious leaders -- who were actually attacked in their own homes and churches. These Muslim religious leaders suffer from a massive insecurity complex and when they perceive to be attacked by blasphemy, they do not resort to the country's laws for action and justice. They themselves take the law in their own hands, which is totally a crime in itself. They do not wait for the police to take appropriate action on the cases. They incite fellow Muslims to attack Christians in their homes and churches. They place a heavy pressure on the police and judges to mete out severest punishments. There's no room for forgiveness or love for their neighbours. Christian leaders, on the other hand, when actually attacked viciously in their own homes and churches, show much patience, resort to the rule of law and justice, rather than instigating common Christians to attack Muslims or their infrastructures (homes, mosques and shops).
  8. If a set of laws (blasphemy laws in their present formulation) make people lawless, if they give incentive for breaking more laws of the country by attacking people and their institutions and properties, how can these laws be Islamic? Aren't these laws negating the teachings of Islam? If Pakistan really wants to have a rule of law, it must abrogate these laws as they stand now for greater good of the country and its people. If really necessary, it should formulate new laws with the provision of severe punishment for filing false blasphemy cases, for inciting people to attack houses and places of worship of the minorities, for looting and burning properties. If certain policemen participate in falsely implicating people in blasphemy without proper investigation and verification, they should also face severe disciplinary action.
  9. The blasphemy laws of Pakistan have been promulgated to serve the good cause of Islam -- so that the true Islam is followed and practised. Are these laws, in reality, serving that purpose? Aren't these laws, as they stand now, causing un-Islamic activities (attacking others, ransacking houses and places of worship, looting of valuables, setting fire on properties and grabbing lands illegally) in the name of Islam? How many more people need to get killed, how many more villages and settlements of minorities need to be ransacked and burnt down, how many places of worship need to be desecrated and how many innocent people need to flee their homes and settlements before anything concrete is done to redress the unjust situation arsing out of the present state of blasphemy laws?
  10. Pakistan needs to think deeply on the blasphemy law issues and their repercussions: (a) A country that wants all its citizens to grow up responsibly and patriotically and make the country strong, cannot deprive a section of its own population of their basic rights. (b) Today, the minorities may be in insignificant number, but their number will increase in next 10, 20 or 3o years. Such a deprived group of people will not remain passive in their behaviour in the long run. There are plenty of examples in history that such type of deprivation and injustice create fertile grounds for insurgency and revolution. (c) A section of the population (religious fanatics and extremists, landowners and the like) can't hold another section of population hostage at the cost of the greater interest of the country. (d) Hatred breeds more hatred, violence breeds more violence. The world history is full of such examples. (e) Regarding the blasphemy laws, Pakistan needs to take a lesson from the Christian Europe of the Medieval period. At that time, the Catholic Church controlled and influenced the national and private life of people. In the name of religion and in the name of saving the country and Church from blasphemy (at the time, mostly heresy), thousands upon thousands of people were incarcerated, persecuted, tortured and even put to death. Inevitably, revolts in the form of Protestant Reformation Movement, French Revolution and the like happened. The monolithic Catholic Church divided into many Churches. In addition, with increasingly widespread education among the masses of Europe, things began to change for the better. The grip of the Church on the lives of people loosened. After losing everything, the Catholic Church learned its lesson. Pakistan should give more importance to universal education among the masses to break the hold of ignorance, exclusivist attitude, bigotry and hatred. Madrassa education is too narrow in direction in the sense that it gives prominence in teaching religion (Islam) almost at the exclusion of arts, science or commerce subjects. As a result, madrassa students in later life find it difficult to cope with the secular life and issues.
  11. Where are the majority of the Muslim Pakistanis and saner section of the society, who are good and want to see real Islam to be preached and practised? Where are they who want to live peaceably with the religious minorities? How long will they let their country earn a bad name in the name of Islam? They have a grave responsibility regarding this matter. When will they put pressure on their government to bring reforms to the present ineffective laws?
Some Quotes to Note

In doing research on this subject, we came across some quotes that are worth noting and reflection. We present them below for our readers.

  • "Blasphemy law is used as a weapon to settle personal scores. Many innocent people are killed and incarcerated due to its misuse of blasphemy laws. Similarly, in the cases of blasphemy, the families of the accused are also threatened and they faced harassment and victimization." -- Shahbaz Bhatti (in June, 2006), Chairman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Founder-President of the Christian Liberation Front, and the Executive Director of the Pakistan Council for Human Rights. (At present in 2009, he is the Minorities Affairs Minister of Pakistan in the Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari's government)
  • "The blasphemy laws of Pakistan are a handy tool to silence debate and dissent. They are also used to detain people when the real motivation includes land issues or professional rivalry." -- The Amnesty International (the human rights organization based in the U.K.) that called for the abolition of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan
  • "The Christians are the easiest targets in Pakistan because they are poor, they can't raise their voices, they can't fight cases." -- A Pakistani human rights worker, who wants to remain anonymous
  • " Not a single murderer who killed anyone for blasphemy has been punished for murder. In fact, such murderers get hero's treatment in police stations. And those police officials who openly honour such murderers have never been tried for their illegal and reprehensible action." -- An Islamabad-based Pakistani human rights activist who also wants to remain anonymous
  • "This is not the first time that people have been falsely accused of blasphemy. Discriminatory blasphemy laws are being used against Christians on one pretext or the other -- personal enmity, vested interests or bias without a semblance of truth in the allegations." --Bishop Max John Rodrigues (of the Catholic Diocese of Hyderabad, Sindh Province, while speaking of the recent attacks on Christian villages of Korian and Gojra
  • "Religion is a personal matter. Every person has a right to observe his religious doctrine or teachings. Nobody has the right to persecute another in the name of religion." --Allama Mohammad Abbas Komeli (a Muslim cleric attending an iftar (breaking of fast) programme organized by Catholic and Protestant Churches at St. Thomas Cathedral in Hyderabad on August 29, 2009 where representatives of major religions were present
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