Happy new year?

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Kamran Shafi

WELL, hope­fully, what with the ob­scu­ran­tist forces back on the march in an at­tempt to blud­geon into sub­mis­sion those who ad­vo­cate the im­per­a­tive and im­me­di­ate need of mak­ing the blas­phemy laws in this coun­try less dra­co­nian, less ob­nox­ious; what with the gas load­shed­ding that makes even cook­ing a meal an up­hill task, let alone heat­ing the house dur­ing this cold snap; and what with the power out­ages, five ev­ery day where we live in the La­hore can­ton­ment.

Com­ing to the blas­phemy law and to what seems to have im­pelled their ho­li­nesses to take up cud­gels at this time against this much-mis­used law which mis­use has seen many in­no­cent peo­ple killed bru­tally be­fore any blas­phemy could be proved against them. It is cu­ri­ous that Maulana Fa­zlur Rehman should have been one of the lead­ers of a con­fer­ence called to gather other ho­li­nesses un­der the ban­ner of the Ta­ha­fuz-i-Namoos-i-Risalat and to agi­tate the mat­ter through protests and pub­lic meet­ings so soon af­ter one of his party's fed­eral min­is­ters was sacked from the cabi­net. Nor is this the only mat­ter that points to the maulana's too-clever-by-half po­si­tion on the blas­phemy law. When con­fronted with the ques­tion that the law should be changed be­cause it is of­ten mis­used, the maulana asked that if a sec­tion of the Pak­istan Pe­nal Code (PPC) was also mis­used did it mean that it should be changed. He also said that the law was mis­used against Mus­lims mainly, and less against mi­nori­ties (so there is no need to change it).

For the first, one can im­me­di­ately say that if cer­tain sec­tions of the PPC were open to mis­use and a tweak­ing of those would make them fairer, they should be tweaked and changed and made fairer. As to the sec­ond as­ser­tion of the maulana, it is as im­por­tant that the law be changed to ben­e­fit in­no­cent Mus­lims as it should be changed for ben­e­fit­ing mem­bers of the mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties. Who can for­get the hor­rific murder of a hafiz-i-Qu­ran in Gu­jran­wala in 1994 at the hands of a mob egged on by the imam of a lo­cal mosque?

The poor man was beaten mer­ci­lessly, tied be­hind a mo­tor­cy­cle and dragged through the streets, and then set on fire. And all be­cause he and the imam could not see eye to eye on cer­tain mat­ters. Some said at the time that the imam was less lit­er­ate and less knowl­edge­able about re­li­gious texts than the vic­tim, who was con­sulted more on mat­ters the­o­log­i­cal by the lo­cals than the imam. It is fright­en­ing, is it not, that the same peo­ple who ad­mired him were his mur­der­ers too. Such is the power of a mis­used pul­pit in a highly emo­tive mat­ter such as blas­phemy. Who can for­get the case of Sala­mat Masih, a 12-year old, il­lit­er­ate Chris­tian boy who could nei­ther read nor write, and who was ac­cused, var­i­ously, of writ­ing words and sen­tences blas­phe­mous of our Holy Prophet (PBUH) on the walls of a mosque, and of writ­ing blas­phe­mous things on pieces of paper, wrap­ping a brick­bat in that paper and fling­ing it into the mosque and on to those at prayer.

In short, ev­ery man­ner of im­pos­si­ble story was spun around poor Sala­mat Masih and his un­cle too. All the ev­i­dence at the time pointed to the fact that the whole drama was staged by the lo­cal big­wig who asked favours of Sala­mat Masih's sis­ter, favours that were not granted.

Pray look at the af­ter­math of this hor­ren­dous case: Masih's un­cle was gunned down one day as un­cle and nephew were wait­ing for a bus af­ter the hear­ing of their ap­peal by the La­hore High Court. And the judge who ac­quit­ted Masih was him­self shot and killed in his lawyer's cham­bers when he went back to prac­tis­ing law af­ter leav­ing the bench.

There are many other heartwrench­ing sto­ries of murder and may­hem to do with the blas­phemy law, one of the most sad the torch­ing of Chris­tian homes in Go­jra on the pre­text of one of the res­i­dents com­mit­ting blas­phemy when the real rea­son was that some in­flu­en­tial peo­ple wanted to grab the Chris­tian's land.

So far we have only talked about Chris­tians; that other much-per­se­cuted com­mu­nity made up of our Ah­madi coun­try­men and women, our sis­ters and our broth­ers, has also been made the tar­get of this law, about which I have writ­ten reams in the past.

I would call upon all God­fear­ing Mus­lims, es­pe­cially our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, to come to­gether and join the move­ment to make changes in the blas­phemy law which are nec­es­sary to en­sure that it will never again be used to set­tle scores. If we are half as civilised as we say we are, we sim­ply must open our hearts to our mi­nori­ties. We must give them suc­cour, for they too are the Almighty's chil­dren. Oth­er­wise His will be a ter­ri­ble ac­count­ing. Happy New Year (hope-fully!).

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