Ar­rest­ing the rot

Southasia - - Comment -

You are free; free to go to your tem­ples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of wor­ship in this state of Pak­istan. You may be­long to any re­li­gion or caste or creed - that has noth­ing to do with the busi­ness of the state.” This is the road map of reli­gious tol­er­ance that the founder of Pak­istan, Quaid e Azam Muham­mad Ali Jin­nah laid out for the na­tion at the time of in­de­pen­dence. As it were, it has turned out in re­cent decades that reli­gious tol­er­ance is one among the pil­lars of the mod­ern state of Pak­istan that has been per­mit­ted to erode so dread­fully. This is ev­i­dent from the fact that the coun­try’s blas­phemy laws have be­come in­creas­ingly in­com­pat­i­ble with the na­tional as­pi­ra­tion to be­come a pro­gres­sive, demo­cratic Mus­lim state and suc­ceed­ing gov­ern­ments have shied away from re­vis­it­ing these laws, The Pak­istan Pe­nal Code pro­hibits blas­phemy against any re­li­gion and penal­ties are pro­vided, rang­ing from a fine to death. As such, an ac­cu­sa­tion of blas­phemy com­monly sub­jects the ac­cused to harass­ment, threats and at­tacks and such ac­cu­sa­tion can also lead to vig­i­lan­tism and ri­ot­ing.

Blas­phemy is ac­tu­ally an ex­tremely sen­si­tive sub­ject for Mus­lims all over the world. De­fil­ing of the sa­cred name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) or the Holy Qu­ran is bound to hurt their sen­si­tiv­i­ties. Sal­man Rushdie’s Sa­tanic Verses cre­ated quite a furore back in the 1980s. The Dan­ish car­toons and many other sim­i­lar episodes be­fore and since have been a source of provo­ca­tion for the Mus­lims. Re­cently, a highly offensive film has been pro­duced in the US de­pict­ing the Prophet Muham­mad (PBUH). The film has ig­nited a mas­sive re­ac­tion across the Mus­lim world. Protests em­anated from the Mid­dle East and North Africa, lead­ing to the death of the US am­bas­sador and three other Amer­i­cans in Libya; the vi­o­lence soon spread to the rest of the Mus­lim world. In Pak­istan, prom­i­nent fig­ures like Sal­man Taseer (the for­mer gover­nor of Pun­jab) and Shah­baz Bhatti (the Fed­eral Min­is­ter for Mi­nori­ties), have lost their lives on this count in re­cent years. There have been other cases in the same vein as that of Aa­sia Bibi and Dr. Mo­ham­mad Younus Shaikh. An­other re­cent ex­am­ple is that of Rimsha Masih, a mi­nor Chris­tian girl suf­fer­ing from Down’s syn­drome, who has been ac­cused of blas­phemy.

As al­ready de­manded by cer­tain quar­ters, there is an ur­gent need for a na­tional de­bate in Pak­istan on the blas­phemy laws and the need to over­haul all such laws that can be abused by cer­tain mis­chievous el­e­ments with ul­te­rior mo­tives. It is high time that the state, ju­di­ciary, par­lia­ment and civil so­ci­ety stepped for­ward to play a proac­tive role in dis­si­pat­ing the deep-rooted cli­mate of fear sur­round­ing the blas­phemy is­sue. Now is the time to check the rot and to save the Pak­istani so­ci­ety from tak­ing an­other route to self-de­struc­tion. The Mus­lim world in gen­eral must also re­view its cus­tom­ary re­ac­tion to reli­gious provo­ca­tions and de­vise a col­lec­tive strat­egy to demon­strate reli­gious tol­er­ance.

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