That day is not far when people in Pakistan will be accused of blasphemy for making a few quips about a televangelist like Dr Amir Liaqat and will be awarded death sentence by a TV anchor
"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."
The barbaric lynching of a mentally unstable man, charged with blasphemy, in Bahawlpur by some 2000 religious fanatics on July 4thand the subsequent silence observed by the media, the government and civil society evoke the apprehensions expressed by the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King years ago.
The harrowing incident in southern Punjab---the breeding ground for jihadi outfits and sectarianism--- indicates how deeply the rhetoric of bigotry is entrenched in the collective consciousness of Pakistani society which seems to begradually taken over by a lunatic fringe partly because of the apathy of its silent majority. Displaying their hallmark incompetence, the law enforcing authorities of Bahawalpur and the Punjab policelet the crazy mob burn Ghulam Abbas alive but the Chief Minister, totally absorbed in his own duel with the YDA, did not even bother to issue a single statement of condolence or ask for an inquiry. Law minister of Punjab, RanaSanaullah - always concerned about the ‘princely state of Bahawalpur’ during the debate on the creation of new provinces - remained completely unaware of the outrageous event taking place in that ‘state’ or expressing any condemnation of the act. The PMLN is known to have close affinity with the right wing jihadis while its law minister has been allegedly aiding the chief of South Punjab’s sectarian militia LeJ thus any case involving blasphemy will naturally provoke no comment.
The progressive or liberal PPP’s reaction to the mob justice too was not much different either.The son of the Seraiki soil Yousaf Raza Gillani and his twitter savvy daughter also forgot to take notice of the tragedy that tainted the land of the Sufis with the blood of a mentally ill man. Perhaps the formal utterance of shock by the President was nothing unusual from the PPP which adheres to ‘less is more’ when it comes to show its progressive colors. After all the PPP government, throughout its tenure, has been pondering more upon the 'creation' of new provinces in Punjab than the 'existence' of an increasing number of madressahs in the province propagating jihadi ideologies. As for Imran Khan, having read his statements terming the contempt of court bill ‘against sunnah’ it seems really absurd to argue further.
Needless to mention why the suo motu generator of the Supreme Court (SC) also failed to bring out the usual reprimanding statement scolding the provincial authorities or ‘pitying the senses of the nation’which turned an insane person into ashes on the count of blasphemy. After all, it was this honourable SC which had sealed the blasphemy law with death penalty back in 2009 leaving no space for the persecuted communities and victims of hatred.
While the pursuit of happiness has already become a Sisyphean task for Pakistanis given the grim economic and social atmosphere, the rampant vigilantism, coupled with a dogmatic self-righteousness, has made the quest for knowledge or reasoning quite impossible too. A recent legal action taken against the administration of National College of Arts by the Lahore High Court shows that even the stretch of imagination and flow of creative freedom cannot go beyond the confines of obscure religious dictates in Pakistan. According to some reports the petitioner had accused the editorial board of the college magazine Sohbat, of promoting homosexuality, publishing content which had ridiculed religious values while ‘hurting feelings of Muslims’. The petitioner’s counsel, initially failed to register an FIR under blasphemy law, had warned that the matter could ‘lead to riots’. Mullah brigade’s obsession with obscenity is a chronic phenomenon of Pakistani society however what is distressing is its unobstructed intrusion in the spheres of public and private discourse.The far reaching impact of these moral policeon free speech is evident in principal NCA, Sajad Kausar’s immediate decision, who yielding to the religious bullying had to ‘ban’ the publication and suspend the director research Sarosh Irfani. Once again not only did the media play down the harassment of the staff of country’s prestigious art college but the civil society also refrained from turning this ‘sensitive matter’ into big news.
For mullahs, all forms are obscene, each word is profane, and all expression is blasphemous since their puritan quest emanates from a sheer guilt within. Any society, religious or secular, can never define the social or legal parameters compatible with the whims of puritan obscurantisms. Blasphemy is also a crude notion which was ambiguously inserted into the constitution of Pakistan with an overt intent to victimize the minorities e.g. Ahmadis and Christians. Bahawalpur lynching is not the first one when the religious vigilante delivered justice to an alleged ‘blasphemer’, a couple of similar mob attacks had also taken place in Karachi and Quetta last month. Absence of a rational debate, on the status and legitimacy of ‘blasphemy’, has created a situation so forbidding and obscure that uttering the word ‘blasphemy’ alone can lead to deadly rampages. One can observe the audacity of the religious zealots through their cyber jihad now threating those who ridicule the ‘beard’, ‘hijab’ or the ‘revered ulema’. One of these ‘ulemas’ has declared mockery of turban and beard a mockery of sunnah. The inspiring brethren of this ilk, the Muslim Brotherhood in Eygpt has already started teaching lessons to those making fun of religious values or the authority of ulemas by filing suits against them. That day is not far when people in Pakistan will be accused of blasphemy for making a few quips about a televangelist like Dr Amir Liaqat and will be awarded death sentence by a TV anchor.
The insanity is bound to prevail if the humanist and rational voices of Pakistan will continue to maintain the tone of compromise and gestures of retreat. The ‘social entrepreneurs’ and the liberals of Pakistan’s vivacious social media will have to come out of the virtual world and expand their ‘activism’ to the ‘real society’. Instead of brooding over the ‘religious rallies’ or ‘mullah culture’ day in day out on social networking portals, the liberals have to get out of their comfort zones to reclaim the public space from the hate mongers. The dilemma of Pakistani progressive faction is that, the extremist forces it loathes, have penetration in a ‘real society’ while the ‘liberal agitation’ -often marred by egotism and self-promotion, is more or less confined to the cyberspace.
It is sad that no one amongst the civil society or rights activists seems to challenge the wacky petitioners and wages a war on the prejudiced courts koshering and policing the society through warped injunctions of the Islamic jurisprudence. The proponents of justice and human rights tend to overlook the implications of seemingly ‘insignificant incidents’ and dedicate their activism more to high profile cases like ‘memo gate’ or ‘Bahria gate’. If only the Pakistani civil society had drawn world’s attention towards the predicament of the likes of Asia Bibi years ago, rather than the world pressurizing to abolish blasphemy laws following the assassination of top political figures, the ill-fated lady would have been released causing no hullabaloo. If a mob of illiterate devotees can rally around to kill people in the name of religion then why can’t the most educated put their differences aside to save humanity?
|Duriya Hashmi is a passive activist, blogger and aspiring film maker who writes to vent anguish and believes in art as a catalyst for change. Her cyber self can be followed at