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Editorials

On Dishonest Maulvis, Harsh Laws, and Minority Rights

Last year when the case was being made to alter or abolish the blasphemy laws, the argument from the liberal and progressive minority of Pakistan was mobilized primarily to point out as to how the law could be misused to persecute minorities. At that point, the case of Asia Bibi was at the forefront of the struggle. That debate was stilled soon after the murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhattit.

The case of Rishman (I do not think this is not her real name but I use it to assert her humanity) has taught us that we were right all along. Here is an instance where a local imam himself inserted the pages of the Qur’an in a bag that was brought to him as evidence. His reason: “This would make the case stronger in getting the Christian family evicted.”

There are many things wrong with this action. First of all, it is an immoral act of the highest degree: bearing false witness is a serious offense in Islamic jurisprudence, especially since the punishments are so severe. In fact here is how one Hadith describes it:

Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 8.7  Narrated by  Abu Bakra

Allah’s Messenger (saws) said thrice, “Shall I not inform you of the biggest of the Great Sins?”  We said, “Yes, O Allah’s Messenger (saws)”  He (saws) said, “To join partners in worship with Allah; to be undutiful to one’s parents.”  The Prophet (saws) then sat up after he had been reclining and added, “And I warn you against giving forged statement and a false witness; I warn you against giving a forged statement and a false witness.” The Prophet (saws) kept on saying that warning till we thought that he would not stop!

Secondly, it tells us the absolute internalized intolerance toward minorities that these mullahs and their followers display. If the poor minority citizens of Pakistan are to be evicted from their shanty towns and hovels, where are they expected to go? Why is it necessary to get them evicted through malicious and falsified accusations?

Thankfully, an honest Muslim named Hafiz Zubair, and we need more of them, came forward to testifythat the Maulvi himself had inserted the pages of the Qur’an in the plastic bag, which, according to the definition of blasphemy by the maulvis, is a serious offense. We would now like to see the maulvi taste the same medicine: he should now be tried under the same law, for his act is not only illegal and immoral but also blasphemous according to the very law that he and his ilk support and have killed for.

We Pakistanis often use India as the bogeyman to justify our policies and our communal behaviors, but compared to Pakistan, India is much more complex and tolerant democracy in which minorities do not just live as passive right-holders at the mercy of the majority. It was, let us not forget, the fear of minoritization that had become the main cause for the Pakistan movement. Now that we have been a nation for over sixty years, we have been responsible of the same actions toward minorities that we had feared would be our lot in a united India.

For all of us who believe in human dignity, honesty, and compassion it is imperative to speak up and to challenge all messengers of hate and injustice: If  Islam has to survive and remain pertinent in the modern world, its best attributes must guide us and not its most intolerant interpretations.

 

 

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Editorials

Pakistan Forum: Most Visited Blog Entries this Year

Provided below is a list of posts that have been popular with our readers so far this year:

05/09 : Thinking of Che and The World
05/08 : Of Cuban Cigars, Rum & Coffee
05/06 : Naked emperor, dead rabbit
05/05 : The Osama Kill: A New Era of Hi-tech Death Squads
05/02 : Obama and the End of Al-Qaeda
04/28 : All Politics is Always Local
04/28 : A Case Against HEC Devolution
04/23 : A Weird Knot
04/23 : Sex and Religion
04/21 : Suicide Bomber: A Product of Capital
04/18 : Media Whiz Kids of the Security State
04/14 : Iqbal: The Reluctant Feminist
04/05 : We Are Conformity
04/05 : The Veiled Woman in the Picture: Mystery Solved
04/03 : Review, India-Pakistan: Coming to Terms, By Amit Ranjan
04/03 : Talibanisation of the Heart
03/31 : Maverik Mullah & his Jamiat Ulema
03/31 : Mullahs in Nation-Building
02/06 : Arab revolution in Pakistan!
02/03 : Pakistan’s Hurt Locker
01/18 : Religious Intolerance Sweeping Pakistan
01/18 : Taliban se Qibla-ru Guftagu (طالِِِبان سے قِبلہ رُو گُفتگُو)
01/17 : Dead in My Tracks: Salmaan Taseer, the Mullah of Bourbon St and Freud’s Uncanny
01/16 : Women’s Rights in Islam, By Sayed Mumtaz Ali
01/15 : Suicide Bombing: The Martyr Machine
01/13 : Understanding and removing the barriers: Story of Nazir Ahmad Wattoo
01/12 : Call for Papers: Second Emory Conference on Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding
01/12 : All Eyes on the Prize!
01/12 : Why do people vote for tyrants? Understanding voting patterns in Pakistan
01/11 : CFP: Rethinking Urban Democracy in South Asia
01/10 : After protests, militancy in the Valley
01/08 : Lashkar-e-Zia kills Taseer
01/07 : Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan: Brief Bio
01/05 : HITEC: An Education Miracle Worth Noting
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Commentaries Editorials

Mullahs in Nation-Building

By and large, after the Zia-ul-Haq years, we have totally conceded the public sphere to the mullahs: you cannot think the nation without running into one or the other bizarre articulations

Image From Viewpoint Online

of the nation by one or the other mullah.

There is no doubt in my mind that when Mr. Jinnah mobilized the Muslim identity as a marker of difference from Majority Hindus, it was only a strategic assertion. The creation of a new and separate homeland for the Muslims of India, in Muslim majority areas, depended on this assertion but nowhere in Jinnah’s arguments can we find convincing proof that he had envisioned this future state to be an Islamic state. In fact, Ayesha Jalal (The Sole Spokesman) quite convincingly suggests that Jinnah would have been rather happy in a confederacy in which the Muslims were given a parity in the future national assembly.

However, it is no surprise that the very slogan that was essential to mobilize a nationalist movement has now come to haunt us: the slogan has become the truth. This articulation of the nation, in which the slogan becomes the truth, manifested itself immediately after the creation of Pakistan, Remember, we were told that Pakistan was not able to create and ratify a constitution until 1956: we were taught this in high school. But no one bothered to teach us that, besides other things, what delayed the writing and adoption of the constitution was the fight between the Islamists—who wanted a strict Islamic state—and those opposed to a purely Islamic articulation of the nation. This fight, or aporia, thus is within the very fiber of our national genealogy.

In essence what kind of nation we would be if all that the diverse groups of mullahs continue to insist on from their pulpits, through media channels, and through their published works. Here is a possible sample:
•    A nation in which women have less rights than men.
•    A nation in which non-Muslims have less rights than Muslims.
•    A nation in which feudal system can still thrive, as there are no strictures against it.
•    A nation in which justice is harsh and immediate: sometimes without due process and sometimes meted out by private individuals.

So, in its true essence, the mullahs want to abolish modernity, retrieve an eighth century politics, and then posit it as a recipe for our national future. The constitutive power of this vision, therefore, is always an idealized past upon which the present can have no bearing as the discourse of the present is not authentic enough to form a new constitutive force for the future.

In posting their views about a purely Islamist nation, the mullahs mobilize varied historical narratives without ever acknowledging that history is always inherently textual: we know of it because it has been written down. The mere acceptance of this fact allows us to imagine that if the history is a record then it must contain, unless written by a computer, the temporal, spatial and personal biases and ideologies of those who recorded it. History, therefore, is never unmotivated and if mobilized uncritically can undermine the present and seriously damage the future in the name of tradition.

By and large, after the Zia-ul-Haq years, we have totally conceded the public sphere to the mullahs: you cannot think the nation without running into one or the other bizarre articulations of the nation by one or the other mullah. Somehow, it seems, that their answer to all our problems is more religion. But more religion has not really solved any of our problems. In fact, since the foregrounding of a religious national identity we have become a more intolerant, sexist, racist, and chauvinistic society.
Of course, it is not the religion that is to be blamed for it. But the politicized and militaristic interpretations of certain aspects of religion play an important role in this. In pretty much all debates about the role of religion in the public sphere, the mullahs mobilize religion only as a system of justice. Yes, Islam has certain laws about justice, but is there no love in our religion? And if there is love, mhuhabbah, then how come it does not shine through in our public undertakings.

The recent murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are two important cases in point: both these persons were murdered by “Muslims” because they had, by opposing a destructive law, somehow, blasphemed. What kind of a civil society allows public citizens to be murdered by private citizens as an act of popular justice? And if that kind of murder is permissible, then why have the blasphemy laws? Why not just accept that people themselves have the right to judge and punish their own fellow human beings.

Sadly, the rise of private media has not, in any way, diminished the role of half-baked theories of the mullahs; the private media, in fact, have provided the mullahs with a much larger frame and enabled them to spread their vitriol to larger audiences.

There can be no short-term solution to this problem of perpetuation of hate in the name of tradition and religion. A good start would be to, at least, pass some hate-speech legislation: a law that forbids any acts of rhetorical violence against any group, individual or entity. This could at least regulate speech in the public sphere; it may not affect what the mullahs are saying in their mosques, but at least there they can be told to keep it to their own captive audiences.

On the whole, having read and followed the public debates by most of Pakistani religious leaders and scholars, I, in all due humility, can say very positively that I have found nothing in their articulations of the Pakistani nation that can create a viable, pluralistic, and compassionate nation-state for all those who call themselves Pakistanis.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online)

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Commentaries Editorials

Some Good Pakistani Blogs

Now that we have started aggregating content from selected Pakistan-related blogs, we have found a rich array of blogs dealing with various aspects of Pakistani life. I thought I should take a few moments to introduce some of these blogs. My account of these blogs, of course, is in no way exhaustive. So, please feel free to suggest your favorite Pakistani blogs in the comments and we will include them in our Pakblogs section for our readers.

Art Ka Pakistan: Maintained by Nadia Hussain, this is a personal blog that provides ideas, thoughts, and commentaries of an artist and could be very useful to all those interested in art and artistic pursuits. Nadia describes her blog as follows:

Wannabe artist (except they’re called visual artists now), corrupter of young Pakistani minds, do gooder (and badder), lover, not a fighter and a general procrastinator. And Murree Brewery rocks.

Citizens for Democracy: I strongly endorse CFD’s effort who describe their mission in the following words:

Citizens for Democracy (CFD) was formed on Dec 19, 2010, as a coalition of professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and individuals outraged by the consistent misuse and abuse of the ‘blasphemy laws’ and religion in politics.  We came together at a meeting at Karachi Press Club, convened by Professional Organisations Mazdoor Federations & Hari Joint Committee (POJAC).

CFD calls upon all professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and individuals to join hands for its one-point agenda, to work against the misuse and abuse of the ‘blasphemy laws’ and religion in politics. CFD chapters have subsequently been formed in Lahore and Islamabad. Please see CFD stand and endorsing organisations at this blog. Email: cfd.pak@gmail.com Twitter: @cfdpk.

Desi Flavors: Maintained by Rafia Shujaat, Desi Flavors is a wonderful blog that provides quite a few traditional, some fusion, and some very innovative recipes. I could not recommend this wonderful resource enough.

[We have removed “Hope for Pakistan” as it was mirroring the Pakistani Spectator]

Journeys to Democracy: Maintained by Beena Sarwar, a renowned Pakistani journalist, this blog needs no introduction. If you ever need to find some incisive, thought-provoking analysis of Pakistani current affairs, this is the place to go.

Middle Ground: Defines itself in the following words:

Middle Ground is my place on web where I put together my thoughts. Middle Ground falls in the middle of extremism and liberalism. It shows the picture of tolerance, which is much needed in our country these days, than before.

It is a place on web where I write what ever interests me. Subjects may vary but they will always be something related to my country, Pakistan. I am trying to play my part by contributing in some way to the progressive Pakistan.

Mustafa Qadri: Maintained by Mustafa Qadri, one of our contributing authors and an active journalist and humanitarian, this is the kind of journalistic writing all the bloggers should aspire to and emulate.

Pak Tea House: This is one of the most established blogs of Pakistan and a place to visit for astute political and cultural commentary.

Secular Pakistan: This courageous blog declares its mission thusly:

We are here to advocate the dream of a state where a citizen is recognized because of his/her existence as a human being rather than cast, creed, sect or religion. Contributions, feedback and death threats are all welcome.

The Pakistani Spectator: The spectator is not just a blog; it is rather a newspaper-like multiauthor blog filled with interested commentaries and stories about all things Pakistan.

United for Justice: This is another good blog that aims to fight all kinds of discrimination in Pakistan.

Well, this completes my first round-up of good Pakistani blogs. I am certain that I have missed some very good and important blogs and would love to include them in the next such round-up. feel free to use the comment section below to suggest any blogs that you deem should be included in our next roundup and also in our Pakblogs section.

 

Categories
Commentaries Politics Religion

Pakistani Blasphemy Laws: Resources

The coat of arms of Pakistan displays the nati...
Image via Wikipedia

(From Citizens for Democracy)

Religion or Politics?: Tracing the history and origin of 295-B and C, the most misused sections in the chapter on Offences Related to Religion – by Farieha Aziz, Newsline, Feb 27, 2011

No punishment for blasphemy in Quran – detailed study by the eminent scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, downloadable pdf file

Blind Faith: A short documentary film about the blasphemy law in Pakistan by Sara N. Haq

How Should We Deal With Blasphemy? By Dr Khalid Zaheer (from his blog)

Release Aasiya Bibi, Repeal Blasphemy Laws, Abolish Shariat Court | Baaghi

The non-reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws tells a wider story about Zardari’s failure to foster true democracy – By Ali Dayan Hasan in OpenDemocracy, Dec 30, 2010

Overcoming ‘blasphemy law’ hype – Beena Sarwar « Journeys to democracy, Dec 30, 2010

The blasphemy law by I.A. Rehman, Dawn Nov 25, 2010

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Commentaries Editorials

Hate Speech, Mullahs and the Pakistani Public

While we all have responded in different ways to the recent murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, we also need to push for the regulation, definition, and prosecution of hate-speech so freely aired by the mullahs.

In a recent set of Friday sermons recorded by activists associated with Mashal Books, one aspect of this hate-speech becomes very clear: almost all the mullahs from different sects of Islam are more concerned with demonizing and castigating their sectarian others, instead of focusing on the socio-political issues that affect lives of common Pakistanis.

(Those interested in listening to a sample of these sermons can find them on our blog: http://thepakistanforum.net).

The impact of this unbridled hate-speech is further accentuated by the free expression of such hate through the regular Pakistani media channels. Thus, in case of Pakistan, while the secular public sphere has seriously diminished, the avenues for hate-mongers have increased both in terms of physical spaces and digital and news media.

We saw that in the wake of Salman Taseer’s murder, not many so-called Ulama were willing to speak up against this act of murder and the same happens to be the case with the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti.

The media, in fact, were overeager to show the accolades being offered to the murderer by the people. Some critics have also suggested that Salman Taseer’s murder was probably caused by the false image of Taseer created by the media.

There is, therefore, a need for Pakistani government to legislate against hate-speech and then implement the law against those who still incite hate about other groups, especially minorities.

There is a difference between expressing one’s opinion and making one’s opinion so absolute that only the annihilation of our opponents seems to be the correct option.

We need to force our government to take note of the actions and words of these hate-mongers, for only then we would be able to transform our public sphere into a place for civilized conversations instead of what we have now: a one way street of death.

(Published by Pakistani Bloggers)

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Commentaries

Islamic scholar Attacks Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws, by Declan Walsh

(From Guardian)

by Declan Walsh

A prominent Islamic scholar has launched a blistering attack on Pakistan‘s blasphemy laws, warning that failure to repeal them will only strengthen religious extremists and their violent followers.

“The blasphemy laws have no justification in Islam. These ulema [council of clerics] are just telling lies to the people,” said Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a reformist scholar and popular television preacher.

“But they have become stronger, because they have street power behind them, and the liberal forces are weak and divided. If it continues like this it could result in the destruction of Pakistan.”

Ghamidi, 59, is the only religious scholar to publicly oppose the blasphemy laws since the assassination of the Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, on 4 January. He speaks out at considerable personal risk.

Ghamidi spoke to the Guardian from Malaysia, where he fled with his wife and daughters last year after police foiled a plot to bomb their Lahore home. “It became impossible to live there,” he said.

Their fears were well founded: within months Taliban gunmen assassinated Dr Farooq Khan, a Ghamidi ally also famous for speaking out, at his clinic in the north-western city of Mardan.

The scholar’s troubles highlight the shrinking space for debate in Pakistan, where Taseer’s death has emboldened the religious right, prompting mass street rallies in favour of his killer, Mumtaz Qadri.

Liberal voices have been marginalised; many fear to speak out. Mainstream political parties have crumbled, led by the ruling Pakistan People’s party, which declared it will never amend the blasphemy law.

Sherry Rehman, a PPP parliamentarian who proposed changes to the legislation, was herself charged with blasphemy this week. Since Taseer’s death she has been confined to her Karachi home after numerous death threats, some issued publicly by clerics.

Although other Islamic scholars share Ghamidi’s views on blasphemy, none dared air them so forcefully. “Ghamidi is a voice of reason in a babble of noises seemingly dedicated to irrationality,” said Ayaz Amir, an opposition politician and opinion columnist.

Ghamidi’s voice stands out because he attacks the blasphemy law on religious grounds. While secular critics say it is abused to persecute minorities and settle scores, Ghamidi says it has no foundation in either the Qur’an or the Hadith – the sayings of the prophet Muhammad. “Nothing in Islam supports this law,” he said.

Ghamidi deserted the country’s largest religious political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, to set up his own school of religious teaching. He came to public attention through a series of television shows on major channels. They were cancelled due to opposition from the mullahs, he said. “They told the channels there would be demonstrations if I wasn’t taken off air.”

Three years ago gunmen fired a pistol into the mouth of the editor of Ghamidi’s magazine; last year the police foiled a plot to bomb his home and school. Now the school is closed.

The core problem, Ghamidi said, was the alliance between Pakistan’s “establishment” – code for the military – and Islamist extremists it uses to fight in Kashmir and Afghanistan. “They are closely allied,” he said.

The blasphemy debate has exposed painful rifts in Pakistani society. One Ghamidi follower said his father, a British-educated engineer, called him an infidel for attacking the controversial law. “Our society is tearing itself apart,” he said.

Tariq Dhamial, a lawyer representing Mumtaz Qadri, said more than 800 lawyers had offered to represent the self-confessed killer. “Everyone is behind Qadri. Doctors, teachers, labourers, even police – they believe he did the right thing,” Dhamial said.Dhamial said the police intended to hold Qadri’s trial in jail but the lawyers wanted it heard in open court. The latest hearing is due next Tuesday.

Even when out of Pakistan, Ghamidi features on television shows by phone, often outwitting extremist clerics with his deep knowledge of the Qur’an. But he eschews terms such as “liberal”.

“I am neither Islamist nor secular. I am a Muslim and a democrat,” he said. But even allies question whether religious argument alone can win the sulphurous blasphemy debate.

“When you talk about religion, you only provoke the forces of reaction who become more intolerant. Then governments become frightened and retreat,”

said Amir. “Ghamidi’s is a voice for the converted. But that won’t solve our problem.”

• This article was amended on 21 January 2011. The original referred to Jamaat-e-Islami as Pakistan’s largest religious political party. This has been corrected.

Here is a Video of of a discussion on the Blasphemy Laws:

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Commentaries

The War Within Islam, Pervez Hoodbhoy

(Fron NewAgeIslam.com)

A New Age Islam reader sent the following letter to the editor:

Here is a letter sent by Pakistan’s foremost progressive intellectual and physicist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy to a friend:

I am sharing with you some lines that I have just written for family and friends who are warning me:

Whatever one might think of Governor Salman Taseer‘s politics, he was killed this Wednesday for what was certainly the best act of his life: trying to save the life of an illiterate, poor, peasant Christian woman.

But rose petals are being showered upon his murderer. He is being called a ghazi, lawyers are demonstrating spontaneously for his release, clerics refused to perform his funeral rites. Most shockingly, the interior minister – his political colleague and the ultimate coward – has said that he too would kill a blasphemer with his own hands.

Pakistan once had a violent, rabidly religious lunatic fringe. This fringe has morphed into a majority. The liberals are now the fringe. We are now a nation of butchers and primitive savages. Europe’s Dark Ages have descended upon us.

Sane people are being terrified into silence. After the assassination, FM-99 (Urdu) called me for an interview. The producer tearfully told me (offline) that she couldn’t find a single religious scholar ready to condemn Taseer’s murder. She said even ordinary people like me are in short supply.

I am deeply depressed today. So depressed that I can barely type these lines.

Yesterday a TV program on blasphemy (Samaa, hosted by Asma Shirazi) was broadcast (it’ll be rebroadcast today). Asma had pleaded that I participate. So I did – knowing fully well what was up ahead.  But I could not bear to watch the broadcast and turned it off after a few minutes.

My opponents were Farid Paracha (spokesman, Jamaat-e-Islami) and Maulana Sialvi (Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi and supposed moderate). There were around 100 students in the audience, drawn from colleges across Pindi and Islamabad.

Even as the mullahs frothed and screamed around me (and at me), I managed to say the obvious: that the culture of religious extremism was resulting in a bloodbath in which the majority of victims are Muslims; that non-Muslims were fleeing Pakistan; that the self-appointed “thaikaydars” of Islam in Pakistan were deliberately ignoring the case of other Muslim countries like Indonesia which do not have the death penalty for blasphemy; that debating the details of Blasphemy Law 295-C did not constitute blasphemy; that American Muslims were very far from being the objects of persecution; that harping on drone attacks was an irrelevancy to the present discussion on blasphemy.

The response? Not a single clap for me. Thunderous applause whenever my opponents called for death for blasphemers. And loud cheers for Qadri, the murderer. When I directly addressed Sialvi and said he had Salman Taseer’s blood on his hand, he exclaimed “How I wish I did!” (kaash ke main hota!).

Islamofascism is a reality. This country is destined to drown in blood from civil war. I wish people would stop writing rubbish about Pakistan having an image problem. It’s the truth that’s really the problem.

Am I afraid? Yes, I’d be crazy not to be. And never more than at the present time. The battle for sanity has been lost. Many friends have written to me to leave Pakistan. How can I? One must keep fighting as long as possible. It is what we owe to future generations.

Warm regards,

Pervez

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/NewAgeIslamWarWithinIslam_1.aspx?ArticleID=3953