Jewish Journal

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in the spotlight again

by Mahim Maher

March 5, 2011 | 2:08 pm

Activists of the ruling Pakistan Peoples party light candles in front of the picture of slain minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti in Lahore on March 5, 2011. Bhatti, 42, an outspoken campaigner against Pakistan's Islamic blasphemy laws, died in a hail of bullets as he left his mother's home in the capital Islamabad. PHOTO: GETTY

I wonder what God/YWH/Allah will say on the Day of Judgment about the mess we’ve made on earth. I met a Christian friend at a dinner tonight who told me he was upset that there hadn’t been enough protests from his people over the killing of a Christian legislator this week. The cabinet member Shahbaz Bhatti was the only Christian member of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s team and a vocal critic of the misuse of our blasphemy laws. He was shot on his way to work. (For anyone interested in background, I’d recommend the BBC website’s Q&A on blasphemy laws in Pakistan).
Months earlier the governor of the Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was shot dead by his own security guard. He too had been a critic of the misuse the laws. Many Muslims believe that you should be put to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Christians in Karachi have yet to really come out on the streets and tell the world that they won’t stand for such brazen acts of violence. “The bishops are scared about leaving their compounds because they think they will be shot as well,” Kamran said.
As I write this, a 17-year-old boy sleeps in Karachi’s Central Jail. Last year, during his high school exams he wrote some sentences in anger while answering his Physics and Islamic Studies papers. The examining board reported him to the police and registered a blasphemy case against him. No lawyer is willing to defend him. His family has packed up and vanished. For that matter, I have heard that judges aren’t willing to tackle such sensitive cases.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Most of the people accused of blasphemy are poor Christians. Kamran told me that the Catholics and Protestants aren’t united enough to protest against Bhatti’s killing. It made me think about the Shias and Sunnis – another sectarian divide.
I try to keep up my reading of the Quran. I’ve been searching for answers. I read the Muhammad Asad translation and commentary. Asad was a Jew from Austria who adopted the Arabic life and converted to Islam. His father was a rabbi, and Asad had a good understanding of Hebrew. His classical Arabic was excellent and in his exegisis of the Quran, I believe, he presents a carefully cross referenced and nuanced explanation of the text, with special emphasis on the different traditions and thus the most accurate interpretation of the diction or word choice.
In one surah I found the translation that there should be no sects but if there are, then leave them be and God will in God’s own time explain matters to them. When I read this, I wished that the Shias and Sunnis had paid more attention to this and left each other alone. I wished that the Protestants and Catholics had come together.
Perhaps these are simple thoughts, not very sophisticated reasoning. But I do know that aside from the people who hold extremist views, most Pakistanis wish there were peace. Less fighting, less killing. Less blood shed. It seems to have been the only thing we’ve known for a decade now. In fact, while reading ‘Sectarian War’ by Khaled Ahmed, a well-respected analyst, I was surprised that the killings started barely ten years ago. It feels like a lifetime.
And thus, we’re in a mess. Pakistan’s security and law and order conditions are abysmal, not just for international visitors but for Pakistanis themselves. We haven’t been able to take a proper decision on a law, as a result of which people are taking it into their own hands. No one is convicted.
Member of the National Assembly Sherry Rehman had tried to table a bill for amendments in the blasphemy law, but I believe the government withdrew it. I fear for her life now.
We must cut a sorry figure to the rest of the world. A country that has been ruled by military dictators for half of its life.  A country whose birthrate outstrips its growth rate. A place with the lowest tax-to-GDP ratio. You can’t say the word Pakistani without instantly thinking al Qaeda and Taliban. It’s a mess.
My father says that God punishes people by giving them shitty leaders. I’m not so sure if that is the way the system works. But I wonder what God thinks of us, the way the Israel-Palestine problem has simmered for decades, the way we treat the planet. I believe in judgment day. I would rather believe in it than go through this life thinking that some people will get away with murder.

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I am a 33-year-old journalist in Karachi, Pakistan where I work as the city or metropolitan editor for The Express Tribune, a daily national newspaper in English affiliated...

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