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Pakistan's blasphemy laws instill fear

The furore over the killing of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer for allegedly licentious behaviour is merely the latest and most extreme example of an appallingly divisive issue, writes Declan Walsh in The Guardian.

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  • Pakistan
  • October 4, 2011
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So he's going to swing – perhaps. On Saturday a Pakistani judge sentenced Mumtaz Qadri, the police bodyguard who assassinated the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, to death by hanging. The young policeman smiled and thanked God. "My dream has come true," he reportedly said. (Declan Walsh, The Guardian)

It was a predictably theatrical turn from Qadri, a former nobody who murdered Taseer in cowardly fashion – shooting the governor 27 times in the back – and who has since revelled in the notoriety of his blood-stained celebrity. Equally predictable, alas, was the reaction on the streets outside.

...

The clerics engineering the protests – old men with soft palms and tinder-dry beards – issued po-faced statements decrying the sentence. Qadri was a good Muslim, they insisted, and Taseer got what he deserved. The governor had offended them by advocating reforms to Pakistan's antiquated blasphemy laws. In particularly they hated him for defending Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five sentenced to death under those laws last November. He deserved to die, they said.

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In theory, Pakistan is a country that welcomes all creeds and castes. But in practice it is proving to be anything but. Ask Faryal Bhatti, a teenage girl recently expelled from school for the crime of bad spelling.

A week ago last Thursday, the 13-year-old Christian girl was sitting an Urdu exam which involved a poem about the prophet Muhammad when she dropped a dot on the Urdu word naat (a devotional hymn to the prophet), accidentally turning it into lanaat, or damnation. Spotting the error, her teacher scolded her, beat her and reported the matter to the principal. The news soon flamed through her community in Havelian, 30 miles north of Islamabad.

Mullahs raged against Bhatti in their sermons; a school inquiry was hastily convened to examine the matter. Bhatti was expelled; her mother, a government nurse, was banished to another town, and the family has since fled Havelian in fear of their lives. All over a missing dot.

What accounts for such madness? In some parts Taseer's death has inspired a McCarthyite atmosphere in which nobody wants to seen to be soft on blasphemy. But there is also a more profound reason. Devotion to the prophet Muhammad is central to the faith of the Barelvi Sunnis, who make up the majority of Pakistani Muslims. Even a whiff of insult to the prophet can whip up feverish anger.

FULL STORY

Pakistan's blasphemy laws have left even judges in fear of their lives (Guardian)

PHOTO CREDIT

www.steveconover.info on Flickr

CC BY-SA 2.0
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