Posts Tagged ‘blasphemy’

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in Daily Times on December 29, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

The reprehensible murder of Bashir Bilour is not only the Awami National Party’s (ANP) loss but it is a dent in the war against extremism that is fought by all progressive and peace-loving Pakistanis. “It is our fight and we will die fighting,” said Senior Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bashir Bilour just a day before he was martyred in a suicide blast. It was the third assassination attempt on his life that proved fatal. Despite having survived two suicide attacks earlier, the ANP’s stalwart remained undeterred against the Taliban and their ideology of barbarity.

The ANP’s leadership has been relentlessly targeted by the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan for their staunch stance against them. Almost 700 party workers and four leaders of the ANP have been killed by the Taliban. A man of his word, Mr Bilour, indeed died fighting terrorists and their nefarious plans of hijacking Pakistan. His murder is not about just Peshawar, the ANP, Pashtuns, KPK or Pakistan for that matter; it is about humanity that was brutalised, terrorised and butchered. Terming it revenge for the murder of Sheikh Naseeb Khan, the TTP claimed the responsibility of the blast that also left nine others dead and 17 wounded. Khan was an instructor at Darul-Uloom-Haqqania, a religious seminary located in Akora Khattak, dubbed the ‘University of Jihad’ due to methods and content of instruction along with future occupations of their alumni. The seminary propagates the Deobandi trend of Sunni Islam and was founded by Maulana Abdul Haq, father of Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, along the lines of Darul Uloom Deoband. It is also famous for having many senior leaders of the Afghanistan Taliban among its alumni, including Mullah Omar, and its role in supporting the Taliban. Not to mention that Pakistan’s FIA has claimed that the plan to assassinate Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was hatched at the same seminary.

Lest you forget, dear reader, let me remind you a joint protest was staged by the workers of the JUI-F, JUI-S, Jamaat-e-Islami and Sipah-e-Sahaba (Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat) in front of the Peshawar High Court demanding the arrest of the killers of the same cleric whose murder is avenged by the Pakistani Taliban. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that the radical groups that have been dismantling peace are all affiliated with the TTP. The workers of these parties share the same school of thought as that of the Taliban. On the other hand, the apologetic discourse of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban is empowering the one outfit that is responsible for callous atrocities on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. While the bad Taliban are responsible for thousands of ruthless murders in Pakistan, the good Taliban are the perpetrators of massacres of the thousands of Shias in Mazar-e-Sharif and Bamiyan. There is no difference at all between the two categories of the Taliban.

With terrorism peaking in Pakistan, the only institution — the Pakistan army — that has the potential to halt the ever-increasing menace of terrorism is reluctant to take the bull by the horns. For more than two decades, the elite of Pakistan army and some government officials envisaged the Mujahideen and then the Taliban as strategic assets to be used to foster their interests on the other side of the Durand Line.

Presently, Pakistan is going through one of the most crucial phases in its history given many tribal areas are without any writ of the government. War is upon us and we are being attacked every day. More than 40,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives and we are still not ready to own this war waged upon us. Probably every war is fought on at least two grounds: one is the battleground and the other is the minds of the people via propaganda. Nothing has hurt Pakistan more than the propaganda of the good and bad Taliban. It has essentially turned our nation in a mob with confused minds. According to this propaganda, those Taliban who are present in Pakistan but operate on the other side of the Pak-Afghan border against the occupational forces are good Taliban, while those who are carrying out terrorist activities inside Pakistan are bad. Have the genius minds behind this theory spared a thought about the situation in the region after the US-led coalition mission ends in December 2014? Will the good Taliban lay down their arms and start selling miswak sticks for a living? What will keep these overenthusiastic jihadists limited to Afghanistan?

Wars are fought and won by nations and not only the armed forces. Pakistan army is fighting the extremists but this war can only be won with the support of the public and not with a mob with split minds and depleted souls. If we are unable to root out this monster now, terrorism and extremism would eat up the entire body fabric of our society.

During the 1990s when the Taliban movement, thanks to the Pakistani mullah-military alliance, was on the rise in Afghanistan, a group of mullahs gathered outside the Lahore High Court on May 15, 1994. They were chanting slogans ‘Kabul kay baad, Islamabad. Taliban! Taliban!’(After Kabul, Islamabad. Taliban! Taliban!). They had assembled for the hearing of a review petition on the capital punishment awarded to two Pakistani Christians, the 14-year-old Salamat Masih and 46-year-old Rehmat Masih. The Lahore High Court judge, Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti, acquitted both of them only to be killed in his chamber later by an unidentified man for giving that very verdict. Last month, an Additional District and Sessions Judge granted bail to the man accused of killing Shahbaz Bhatti. Need I say more?
As the demands for a military operation in North Waziristan grow, it is pertinent to note that Pakistan cannot win this war by launching operations in only the restive areas. The hand that is feeding and sponsoring the centres of these militants — the religious seminaries — that continue to produce fresh stocks of militants and thus keep providing recruiting grounds to the militant outfits of the likes of LeJ, TTP and al Qaeda must be chopped. If the intent is clear and sincere then we have to eradicate the root cause of terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. If the objective is to launch another operation for the sake of an operation then I see no hope of having peace in Pakistan.

Since its independence, Pakistan has become a strategic player in the subcontinent free of terrorism, which has begun feeding itself on the home turf now. Pakistan has to move ahead with global giants whereas internal crisis is weakening the might of an otherwise prospering nation where the common Pakistani is facing the brunt of terrorism. Of course, sovereignty of the state of Pakistan matters the most, without any external interference. The onus now lies upon government in the upcoming elections, which will weed out germination of terrorism.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear,” wrote Mark Twain. Bashir Bilour resisted and mastered the fear with unparalleled courage. He had the guts to stand up to his views unlike many other cowards who live on fake and hollow slogans of America bashing. His ruthless murder is a serious blow to the aspirations of peace in Pakistan but the resolve of his son to not to surrender to the Taliban is a ray of hope. Mr Bilour, I would always remember the courage you showed against the TTP and anti state elements in the face of death. We have lost a true hero in you. May you rest in eternal peace, Sir.

Source: VIEW: Blackguards of fanaticism silenced Bashir Bilour —Ali Salman Alvi

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Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published in The Friday Times on September 28, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the write-up on my blog from The Friday Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

In July this year, an enraged mob of more than 2,000 people in the Chanighot area of Bahawalpur snatched a mentally unstable man accused of burning pages from the Holy Quran from police custody and burned him alive.

Last month, a 14-year-old Christian girl suffering from Down’s syndrome was accused of burning pages from the Noorani Qaida. As communal tensions rose, Christians began to leave the area in fear. Subsequently the investigation officer told the court that there was proof the prayer leader who incited the mob, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, had in fact tampered with the evidence and added the pages into the bag of trash that Rimsha had burned.

These incidents and many others like them indicate that a serious effort is required to prevent the misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue that needs to be handled with great care.

Pakistan has a 97% Muslim population while Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other minorities comprise the rest of the 3%. In a country where minorities are already concerned about their safety, it is not likely that a sane person would commit blasphemy on purpose. Whether and allegation is true or false can only be ascertained in a court of law, and not by mob justice.

Only seven cases of blasphemy were registered since the inception of the law in 1927 to 1986, according to the National Commission for Justice and Peace. In 1986, the Gen Ziaul Haq regime added Section 295-C to the Pakistan Penal Code, making blasphemy punishable by death. Since then, a staggering 1,058 cases have been registered. Of the accused, 456 were Ahmadis, 449 were Muslims, 132 were Christians and 21 were Hindus.

Apparently, Section 295 has become a handy legal mace to settle measly personal scores and threaten rivals for monetary gains, predominantly in small towns and rural areas. Judges in the lower courts usually come under pressure to convict the accused charged under the statute.

Over the years, attempts to amend the statute have seen rigid opposition from religious parties and invited threats of bloodshed from militant groups. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto tried to amend the blasphemy law to make sure it was not misused to intimidate religious minorities, but she failed. Even Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf, a secular military dictator, could not amend the blasphemy laws because of imminent and severe retaliation. Major political parties are reluctant to call for amendments in the law to ensure that it is not misused, because they fear similar retaliation.

In 2010, Article 10 of the constitution was amended to introduce the clause of due process into the criminal justice system. The amendment provides that a person charged with a crime is entitled to due process. This due process clause applies to the blasphemy statute as well. Pakistani courts must not apply the blasphemy statute disregarding the due process and basic fundamental rights of life, liberty and freedom of religion protected under the constitution.

I am not proposing that Pakistan should allow blasphemy, but that blasphemy cases should be thoroughly investigated. The first and foremost priority should be to establish whether the charges filed under the blasphemy statute are genuine. Section 295-C must be used in cases of malevolent attacks on the Muslim faith and even in such cases it should not be construed and applied in a manner that negates the right to due process and to the rights given to religious minorities under Islam as per Article 227.

Source: COMMENT: A word of caution by Ali Salman Alvi

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published in Daily Times on September 29, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Our history is witness to the fact that on the planet earth we have no competitor when it comes to self-torment and making an exhibition of ourselves, thanks to our unparalleled expertise in shooting ourselves in the foot. No foreign agency — be it RAW or MOSSAD — has the potential to inflict even an iota of the damage we can inflict on ourselves, that too, quite voluntarily. Just when the world thinks we have hit rock bottom, we shock it by stooping to new depths of insanity. Be it the barbarous public lynching of two brothers in Sialkot that left us with our heads hung in shame or the deplorable murder of the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer by his own security guard and the subsequent glorification of the killer as a hero of Islam, we never cease to stoop low. In July this year, a mob of more than 2,000 enraged people snatched a mentally unstable man accused of burning pages from the Holy Quran from police custody and burnt him alive in Chanighot area of Bahawalpur. I feel sorry for the psychiatrists who try to look into the reasons behind our intolerant behaviour of going violent on little things since this mental disorder of ours is not only incomprehensible, it is rather incurable. How did torching that man strengthen Islam? What purpose has it served? Where is this frenzy driving us? What message are we sending to the world? We better figure it out sooner rather than later.

 

In the latest development in the Rimsha Masih case, the investigating officer has submitted an interim charge sheet before a trial court claiming that the complainant, prayer leader Khalid Jadoon Chishti, was in fact guilty of tampering with the evidence by adding Holy pages in the bag Rimsha had been carrying. There was no evidence or witness to prove that the blasphemy-accused girl was seen desecrating the Quran. It is high time that a serious effort was made to stop the abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

 

Blasphemy is an extremely susceptible issue that needs to be handled with great care. No Muslim even of the weakest faith can disregard the sacrilege of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) or the Holy Quran. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has a staggering 97 percent Muslim population while Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other minorities comprise the rest. Yet, looking at the rate of blasphemy cases being registered, presumably, Islam faces almost all threats, existential in nature, from the land of the pure. In a country where minorities are already facing almost all kinds of challenges, why would any sane person dare to commit blasphemy? If the person charged with blasphemy is rather fortunate, police would arrest her or him; otherwise, mob justice is served to the accused.

 

Laws are made on the basis of creating order and promising peace where governance is challenged, whereas statistics suggest that the blasphemy law has only polarised our society. As per a group of Pakistani Christians, only seven cases of blasphemy were registered in all in un-partitioned India and Pakistan from 1927 to 1986. The National Commission for Justice and Peace says that in the last 25 years, 1,058 cases of blasphemy were registered. Of the accused, 456 were Ahmadis, 449 were Muslims, 132 were Christians and 21 were Hindus. Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code comprise its blasphemy laws. During Ziaul Haq’s regime, another addition to the blasphemy statutes was legislated in 1986. Section 295-C reads: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” Section 295 has gradually become a handy legal mace to settle measly personal scores, threaten rival families for pecuniary gains and practise myopic versions of Islam, predominantly in small towns and rural areas. Judges in the lower courts usually come under pressure to convict the accused charged under the statute.

 

Azam Tariq, the slain head of the outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, now working under the deceptive label of Ahl-e-Sunnat wal-Jamaat, wanted to expand the blasphemy statutes to another level by including the defiling of the companions of the holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) as a punishable offence. In a bill he submitted in the National Assembly, known as the Namoos-e-Sahaba bill, he proposed death or life imprisonment for any person who by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the companions of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The bill was, quite understandably, aimed at persecuting the Shia community that has its own set of inveterate views about a few of the Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH)’s companions (the bone of contention between two major sects of Islam, i.e. Shias and Sunnis), lawfully. Thankfully, the bill was never taken up by parliament for voting.

 

Legislation when it encompasses any aspect of a particular religion requires extra care and vigilance. Religion always ignites passion, emotions, whereas laws require evidence, proof and witnesses. Religion always creates torrential ripples of disagreement if ideologies tend to differ whereas laws are made to hold society in unison. Minorities’ exodus through any form is questionable in a republic that upholds the rights of its citizens. Polarisation of society on a large scale can cause a civil war and wars fought on/over religion have no end because they are beliefs of various individuals. Thus laws should be such as to allow cohesively all religions to flourish peacefully.

 

Over the years, attempts to amend the statute have aggravated rigid opposition from religious parties and invited threats of bloodshed from militant groups. When Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister of Pakistan, she tried to amend the blasphemy statute as it was being misused to intimidate religious minorities, but she could not succeed in doing so. Even General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, a secular military dictator, could not amend the blasphemy laws, anticipating an imminent and severe retaliation. For the same reasons, major political parties are found reluctant to correct the law. Realising the political difficulties of amending it, I ask the authorities and the judiciary to build safety measures around the inherent faults of the blasphemy statute, particularly Section 295-C of PCC that attracts capital punishment. While the castigatory part of the statute is lucid, the definition of blasphemy remains vague and open to an individual’s interpretation.

 

In 2010, Article 10 of the constitution was amended to introduce the clause of due process into the criminal justice system. The amendment provides that a person charged with a crime is entitled to due process. This due process clause applies to the blasphemy statute as well. Pakistani courts must not apply the blasphemy statute disregarding due process and basic fundamental rights of life, liberty and freedom of religion, protected under the constitution. I am not proposing that Pakistan should allow the defiling of the Prophet (PBUH) but blasphemy cases need to be thoroughly investigated and the first and foremost priority should be to establish the genuineness of the charges filed under the blasphemy satute. I submit that Section 295-C must be reserved only for malevolent attacks on the Prophet (PBUH) and even in such cases, it should not be construed and applied in a manner repugnant to due process and Article 227 that reads: “All existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” Religious minorities enjoy certain undeniable rights under Article 227, which no other law can take away.

Source: VIEW : Abating tolerance and blasphemy laws — Ali Salman Alvi