Blasphemy law takes centre stage

by UmairJ on 1/13/2011 · 8 comments

This post was supposed to be on Baluchistan, and its overall importance to Pakistan. But a lot has happened since January 2nd – the blasphemy laws have taken centre stage, and the hypocrisy of religious parties are becoming increasingly clear for everyone to see.  It is appalling, and of course reasonably concerning, to see that the ruling government is not taking a stronger stand. The death of Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was no doubt a huge shock to most in Pakistan, but what was more inexcusable was the government’s inability to take responsible control of the situation and clamp down on those in favour of the blasphemy law.

Instead, the popular Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is calling the assassination a dastard plot against their government. In classic conspiracy-style fashion, they claim that first it was Bhutto and now it is Taseer, further stating that this ‘political’ murder has nothing to do with religion. Even though Mumtaz Qadri has admitted that the actions taken were conceived by him alone (due to  Taseer’s staunch opposition to the blasphemy laws), the PPP refuses to accept this fact. Instead of trying to solve the continually deteriorating situation, the government has opted to stay clear of this heated topic. Many see Qadri as a hero for what he did – he’s been commended by a wave of religious groups, some of which have even gone as far as stating that Taseer himself was responsible for his own murder! Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of one of the largest religious parties (the same party from which the minister in the Hajj scandel was kicked out of cabinet) declared that all people protesting in favour of the blasphemy laws should send a message to the government and anyone willing to change it – that signal being that they  ‘would have to face the same fate (as Governor Taseer).’

Instead of condemning such violence, as one must in Islam, these religious leaders have been condoning these senseless acts, some even going as far as saying that anyone (and alarmingly everyone) is capable of and willing to become a Mumtaz Qadri (Taseer’s killer) in order to protect the faith. This is absolutely ridiculous, and unfortunately a clear repercussion of Zia’s days. The “Zia-ul-Haq generation” that was born and grew up in the 80s clearly has a different interpretation of Islam than previous generations did. The most shocking reality from this generation is the role of lawyers. These lawyers, some of whom played a fantastic and important role in ousting a dictator from power and ushering in much needed democracy, now seem to be defending murder!

There seems to be a disconnect between the true Islamic principles, and the extreme undertones that have seeped into the understanding of the general public. Murder can never be condoned, and it is unfortunate and shocking that even major political leaders shy away from condemning it.

An excellent example of the perplexing situation can be seen through the Interior Minister’s example, Rashid Malik.  Malik, who instead of protecting all the citizens of the nation, instead decided to state that he ‘would shoot any blasphemer himself.’ Instead of standing up for what is right, these individuals have succumbed to the pressure put on them.

Malik went so far as to tell Sherry Rehman, a Karachi based PPP politician, that the government cannot guarantee her security and it is better that she leaves the country. Sherry had tabled an amendment to the Blasphemy law that would get rid of the death penalty for any blasphemer. Sadly the Interior Minister cannot protect his own civilians from the tyranny of the violent.

Pakistan’s government, and especially its military at this point, must decide how much longer it will allow these religious groups to not only advocate their own interests in the public sphere, but threaten Pakistani civilians, both Muslim and non-Muslim. The military, though much more powerful than these groups, must give its full backing to the government, and both must ensure that they terminate the use of militant groups that have been linked to these religious parties in the past. I have said in previous posts, and many more renowned experts on the issue have also noted that, in the long run these groups will only serve as a disadvantage to Pakistan. The blasphemy debate shows just that. It is about time the government grew some backbone and start bringing these groups to justice for their blunt threats and incitements against the opponents of this intolerable law.

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This post was written by...

– author of 22 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Undergrad in Political Science and History. Main area of interest include, Kashmir, Pakistan and Islam and contemporary Middle East in general.

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Mirco January 13, 2011 at 2:19 pm

The Zia Generation in Pakistan appear to have the same of Islam of all generation before it.
Muslims killed Hindus when they partitioned Pakistan from India and before they oppressed Hindus and anyone not strong enough to defend itself.
The violence they are taught to use with unbelievers is easy to turn against other Muslims for the slimmest of the transgressions. This is the way of Islam wherever and whenever it existed and exist.

Grant January 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm

And Hindus killed Muslims during the partition, not to mention recent revelations about Swami Aseemanand and the RSS. You can’t claim it was purely the fault of one side in this matter.

Grant January 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Realistically speaking, how long can Pakistan endure as a state?
The elites are clearly divided and unable to govern a good deal of territory, the state lacks the ability to tax most of the country (and given recent events it won’t have that power soon), the military has a tendency to step in whenever the civilians ruin things just so the military can make things even worse, the economy is horrible and their intelligence seems to have fallen into the trap of seeing terrorist groups as an end in themselves and not a means to an end.

UmairJ January 13, 2011 at 10:21 pm


the question really is how long does Pakistan have. Even if Pakistan does tax it seems that it is coming to such a point that it will still not save the country. The problem is far worse because inflation, lack of jobs and soaring fuel prices make it impossible to tax citizens. These taxes will only work if there are more jobs offered. Its a really vicious circle.

Grant January 14, 2011 at 5:44 am

When I wrote on taxes I wasn’t thinking of just the economy but also control. As Dan Slater* writes in his book taxes are the most basic control a state has over its populace. If the state can’t tax corporations and private citizens then you can’t expect it to either remain connected to the people or to have any ability to control what the people do (short of violence that is).

* A rather interesting political scientist who focuses on authoritarianism.

Jakob January 14, 2011 at 8:55 am

All it is doing is enduring – since it’s inception. And it will continue to do so like the world will continue to predict it’s demise. Manan Ahmed has looked at that in Legends of the Fall.

Jakob January 14, 2011 at 9:17 am

I hope the piece on Baluchistan still makes it. Apart from the fact that the blasphemy debate is already quite far away from ‘Central Asia, All the time’, one malaise of the free English-writing Pakistani media and even more so of the Bloggers is that they tend to cover extensively topics that gather huge attention abroad (not so much with new background but just by copying opinions again and again), but show little effort when it comes to covering and researching stories that are less well known (everything concerning Baluchistan a good example). Every bloggers’ hailing of Taseer/condemning of the laws/Mumtaz Qadri without new insight but just some hearsay analysis does not add to getting the picture – it starts to sound apologetic.

omar January 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm

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