February Issue 2011

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 13 years ago

The government has categorically stated that it has no intention of either repealing or amending the Blasphemy Law, yet religious parties continue to hold demonstrations and threaten all potential “blasphemers” with grave consequences.

Their arrogance is unnerving — they see themselves alone as being true Muslims; anyone who does not subscribe to their views is branded a kafir, subject to the death penalty forthwith.

Their disrespect for the law is shocking — one maulana challenged someone, anyone, to kill Asif Ali Zardari the same way Qadri did Salmaan Taseer, to wild cheers at a Lahore rally. The presence of the head of a banned jihadi outfit, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, at the rally was disturbing, as was the speech of the JUI chief, Maulana Fazlur Rahman. He exhorted Punjab’s new governor Khosa to personally thank Taseer’s family for the seat he now occupies.

After quitting the coalition, the maulana was in danger of becoming irrelevant. So he’s found himself a new cause. As have his co-religionists — the Deobandis, Barelvis, Shias and Sunnis — all of whom, until very recently, were at each other’s throats. The Blasphemy Law is a unifier as well as a life-saver — it will keep them in the spotlight and in the running for the top slot (Forget the likes of Anne Patterson). Closet mullahs — PML-N, PML-Q and Tehreek-i-Insaf — have also joined the ranks.

The ruling PPP has stayed away. But it may as well join them, for its education minister, law minister and interior minister are on the same page as the religious parties. Why, Mr Rehman Malik has even offered to join their long march.

As interior minister for Pakistan, shouldn’t he be giving marching orders to all instigators of murder like theKhateeb of a waqf-run mosque in Peshawar who offered 50 lakhs to anyone who killed Aasiya Bibi, or the maulana who is baying for President Zardari’s blood?

Islam has been reduced to a violent religion by these custodians of morality. Catch them on TV talk shows where they rant about lashings, amputations, beheadings and all such punishments in Islam without putting them into a proper context. There is no attempt to present the peaceful, the just, and the humane face of Islam. When have they ever raised a voice against the bombings of mosques, shrines, mazars and funerals? When have they condemned the use of innocent children as suicide bombers or the murder of innocent minorities? Does Islam sanction any of this?

They continue to run rings of religiosity around you. Any attempt to reason with them about the need to revisit the Blasphemy Law because it has been used to kill innocent Muslims and non-Muslims to settle scores or grab their properties draws a blank.

The enlightened religious scholars with an alternate view have been silenced or forced into exile. The judicial system has been frightened into submission, so that no prosecutor or policeman investigates a case properly and no judge dares to give a contrary judgement. The civil society is also under threat from their intimidatory tactics. A PPP parliamentarian cannot step out of her house because she may be gunned down like Taseer. But the government is unwilling to confront this growing tide of intolerance.

Following the people’s uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, talk of a revolution in Pakistan is gaining ground. The religious extremists are looking to cash in on the discontent of the masses with the government’s corruption and ineptitude, and will try to hijack any such movement.

So, is the government going to allow the Maulana Diesels and Maulana Sandwiches to decide the fate of this country, or are they willing to stand up and be counted?

Pick up your copy of the February issue of Newsline at book sellers and newsstands across the country today.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.