October Issue 2012

By | Editorial | News & Politics | Opinion | Published 12 years ago

When witnesses turned up in a court in Rawalpindi to testify against the cleric who had planted burnt pages of the Holy Quran in Rimsha’s house to implicate her in a blasphemy case, one was heartened and relieved.

It was too good to last. Three of the four witnesses are now reported to have turned hostile. And not without reason: the religious extremist lobby is so powerful that anyone attempting to cross their path must know that it is fraught with danger — death, in most instances.

As two leading luminaries of Pakistan — a governor and a minister —learnt to their own peril not so long ago, for ‘daring’ to suggest that the blasphemy law be revisited to stop its abuse.

One of the slogans that was heard at the recent Namoos-e-Risalat rally held to protest the anti-Prophet (PBUH) film made by a Coptic Christian in the US, was, “Release Mumtaz Qadri.” Qadri is on death row for murdering in cold blood, before numerous witnesses, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. But in their warped view he has done no wrong, for it is perfectly legitimate to kill in the name of religion.

In a startling development, a minister of the secular, non-violent ANP of stalwarts like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Wali Khan has offered 100,000 USDs (whose dollars are they, anyway?) as head money to anyone who kills the filmmaker and has, in fact, called upon the Taliban and Al-Qaeda — murderers of thousands of innocent men, woman and children, including several ANP workers — to rise to the occasion. The offer won him plaudits from religious extremists, who now wish to award him.

So, should one expect to see more ministers adopt the agenda of the fundamentalist lobby henceforth, in order to save their own skin or curry favour with them? Why, our effervescent interior minister went to the extent of announcing a national holiday to express his solidarity with religious groups — among them banned extremist groups — who had announced the holding of demonstrations to protest the film. So as our ‘holy fathers’ played politics once again, and the government pitched in, what could have been a day of peaceful protests against an injustice perpetrated by a US-resident, turned out to be a day of looting, burning and killing one’s own. All in the name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), who unequivocally reiterated the need to protect minorities and would surely have been appalled at the vile acts of these belligerent marauders in his name.

At the end of the day the headlines screamed ‘23 killed, 200 injured, several dozen vehicles and five cinemas torched, innumerable shops looted, a church in Mardan burnt’ — all within the spate of a few hours.

While Muslims in the rest of the world marched in dignified silence to express their outrage, we further tarnished the increasingly fragile image of a quintessentially humanitarian religion across the globe.

Meanwhile, the rulers ensconced themselves within the cool environs of the PM’s secretariat in Islamabad, while mobs ruled the streets of Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar.

The question is: should a constituency that garners but a few seats in every general elections be allowed to dictate the country’s narrative?

It’s time those in the driving seat take them on, instead of pursuing a policy of appeasement that is emboldening the extremists to strike at the very foundation of this country.

This article was originally published in the October issue.

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