Jewish Journal


September 3, 2012

The blasphemy scales tipped


Till today I confess that the militant network in Pakistan stymies me. When I used to work at Daily Times, I had a chart drawn up: Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Tayba (of the Mumbai Chabad House attack), Sipah-e-Sahaba, Sipah-e-Mohammad, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Afghan Taliban, Ahle Sunnwat wal Jamaat, Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi…. But no matter how elaborate the chart, I always had to turn to the court and crime reporters and ask: So, LeJ hates the Shias or Sunnis? Is Hizb-ut Tahrir militant or just ideological? Is Jamaat-ud Dawa still banned?

I don’t blame American readers of the Jewish Journal if they aren’t particularly interested in the intricacies of how these groups operate. And I won’t bother to explain it here in this space as there are several excellent websites that go into depth on these matters. I am writing about them here today because of a mish-mash of news developments.

The Twitter joke these days in Pakistan is that our prime ministers have been in court (and one dismissed from office) but we have almost zero convictions of men who incite violence based on their extremist views. But I have some good news to report today.

Our Asad Kharal reported in The Express Tribune that the leader of one group, the outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a man named Malik Ishaq, has been sent to jail after being arrested upon his arrival back home. A case has been registered against him for delivering a hate speech against the Shia minority. (Shias are a sect of Muslims. The other main one being Sunnis.) The prosecution’s records cite his involvement in more than 40 cases in which 70 people were killed, with a majority of the victims belonging to the Shia community.

This is not Ishaq’s first run-in with the law. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court granted him bail in July 2011 after 14 years of imprisonment in the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

Indeed, 2012 has been the year of the threatened minority in Pakistan. These smaller groups in our Sunni-Muslim majority population are almost always under threat.
The summer has been fraught. In one of the more recent attacks in Gilgit (the north of Pakistan), Shias were pulled off a bus, identified and shot. In two months, the toll from this type of killing has risen to 37. In today’s newspaper, Sept2, Hazara Shias were mowed down in an attack in the southern city of Quetta in the impoverished fourth province of Balochistan. Gunmen just opened fire at a market, killing five vegetable sellers.


It is imperative that men like Malik Ishaq, who spread their poison among the already susceptible male youth population of Pakistan, are stopped in their tracks.
There was another good piece of news this week as well, after a frightening development. A Christian teenager named Rimsha said to be suffering from Down’s Syndrome was accused of blasphemy for burning pages of a Quran reader (meant for kids). The cleric who made the accusation, it has turned out, framed her. He was just arrested. A witness has come forward to testify that he planted the material in her hands. A lot of people are hoping and praying that he is given the most exemplary punishment.


The blasphemy cases are notorious in Pakistan and have given the country a really bad reputation. The religious right is unparalleled in its fervour to pursue these alleged cases against Christians but are almost always silent when one of their own is caught like this. I’m interested to see what develops.

As you may recall, one of the saddest blasphemy cases was that of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who was gunned down by his own bodyguard for defending a Christian woman named Aasia. Taseer’s only crime was that he stressed that blasphemy laws are abused by people – as indeed the Rimsha case demonstrates. In the same year, 2011, Pakistan’s minister for minorities, the Christian Shahbaz Bhatti, was also gunned down for speaking out against the draconian law.

Another minority in Pakistan are the Hindus who have also had a bad year. In my province of Sindh there has been talk of them migrating to India as they are not protected by the state here. The biggest problem they face are kidnappings for ransom and forced conversions before marriage to Muslim boys. In what is possibly the sickest television I’ve ever seen, a talk-show host undertook the live telecast of the conversion of a Hindu boy.

“The religious minorities’ continued migration from Sindh and Balochistan is a reflection of the state’s failure to save these citizens from violence, discrimination and disgusting excesses such as forced conversion of young women,” writes the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “The live telecast of a recent conversion of a young Hindu man on television is a particularly reprehensible and indefensible manifestation of the attitude towards non-Muslims.”

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