Posts Tagged ‘Minorities’

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

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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

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published as the lead article in Daily Times on August 6, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Minorities in Pakistan have long confronted a nexus of numerous grave issues, the likes of intimidation and seclusion, pushing them against the wall. The situation has turned out to be a can of worms for this unprivileged section of society who now strive for their existence as they face the biggest challenge — of survival in the hostile conditions besieging them. In Pakistan, the ratio of Hindus alone is reduced to 1.6 percent of the total population as compared to 20 percent in 1947. The representation of the other minorities at all ranks has been negligible too.

From the case of Aasia bibi, a mother of five, who has been sentenced to death under the Blasphemy laws by a local court, to the deplorable murder of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, the slain federal minister for minorities’ affairs, the situation seems to spiral out of control. So much so that the prayer leader of the well-known Mohabat Khan Mosque in Peshawar offered Rs 500,000 for killing Asia bibi during one of his sermons at the Friday prayers, adding that the payment would be made from the mosque’s fund. If the unproven case of blasphemy against Aasia bibi and the subsequent murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were not enough to take the bull by the horns, this statement alone should have set alarm bells ringing in society. Unfortunately, though, no action was taken — neither by the concerned authorities nor by the Supreme Court, which has an eye on any chance to take a suo motu action promptly — against those responsible for making the lives of the beleaguered minorities more vulnerable and thus festering the exponentially growing menace of extremism in our insensitive society. The public mindset that condones this kind of extremism was cultured and endorsed under a decade-long military regime of General Ziaul Haq from 1977 to 1988. A whole generation of Pakistanis has grown up with textbooks producing a mindset that conflate Pakistani patriotism with Islamist ‘exclusivism’ whilst another generation is in the making on the same lines of thought.

Contorted Islamisation of those who have altered it by degrees ad nauseam of extremism, manifests when it comes to a show of tolerance and reverence to other religions. It is a society that fervently hails unjust and unscrupulous practices, such as condoning the extremist mindset and glorification of the terrorist figureheads like Osama bin Laden, terming such praxes a great service to Islam. Oddly, a whopping majority of Pakistanis believes that Islam is exactly what they think and whosoever thinks otherwise would definitely end up in the deepest parts of hell for being an infidel. But is it truly indispensable that we have to give the world a sneak peek into our depleted society regularly? From the sickening display of hero-worship of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer of the governor Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, to the blatant marginalisation of the underclass minorities being broadcast live on television, we never cease to stoop lower and lower. Just when I think it cannot get any worse than the monstrosities I have witnessed, it gets worse, making a mockery of my wishful thinking.

The latest nail in the coffin is driven by none other than the unparalleled queen of sanctimoniousness, Maya Khan, which involved converting a Hindu boy to Islam during a primetime Ramazan special show being broadcast live on national television, taking the issue of intimidation and segregation of religious minorities in Pakistan to another level. In a matter of a few minutes, the 20-year-old Sunil officially converted to Islam under the guidance of a cleric to be followed by a packed studio audience congratulating and yelling suggestions for his new Muslim name prior to being renamed to the consensus choice of the zealous spectators — Mohammad Abdullah. Distressingly, the channel did not realise the message that whole escapade disseminates to the minorities living in a country where they already face a number of grievous issues. To any sane person the message was loud and clear — that no other religion in Pakistan enjoys the same reverence as Islam does — and thus the only way of survival for the minorities living in the ‘Land of the Pure’ is to embrace Islam. The ecstasy with which Sunil’s conversion was hailed and the congratulatory messages that followed clearly depicts that the fever of extremism is growing more and more.

Matters of faith, belief and religion are highly personal and they should not be commercialised. Religion should not be bought or sold through a channel’s TRP ratings. Televising the conversion must have been profitable for the channel but inevitably, it has further strengthened the trend of commercialisation of Islam. Religious beliefs are polymorphous in nature and they do not happen or change overnight. This was exactly the reason why Sunil replied incoherently about his intentions when asked what motivated him to accept Islam, as most of his responses gyrated around praising Sarim Burney Trust where he worked. What his work environment had to do with his conversion remained an elephant in the room. To me Sunil has just landed in hot water, as he has to make some other decisions quite soon. One of them being which school of Islam he would follow as there is a variety of options available, each calling the other inferior and in some cases, ‘infidel’.

I believe it is not just Maya Khan and her escapades of chasing couples in parks or converting Hindus to Muslims; the crisis is definitely more serious. The quandary lies in the mindset that makes many feel that it is in line with the ethical parameters of any civilised society and to get that distorted school of thought on track, a biased and controversial media is barely a solution. A much needed code of conduct, which has been vehemently opposed from the ranks of the electronic media, is found missing. Thus, its absence is one of the major reasons why such bizarre shows are aired without any system of checks and balances. Article 25 of the Constitution states, “All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of law”, whilst Article 36 maintains, “The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.” It is high time we as a society recognised the need of living in a culture of respect and tolerance for those who differ ideologically from a particular set of beliefs. Media needs to mend its ways and come up with a code of ethics to be followed by all channels operating under PEMRA. In the holy month of Ramazan, media should be spreading the message of peace and inter-faith harmony instead of airing such codswallop that propagates negative propaganda about Islam, making a mockery of religions followed by scores of people out there. With the psyche represented by the likes of Khan, there is an identity crisis among the minorities, alluring the fanatics rather than admonishing their practices and their diktats. Those who have been trying to gag the voices and slaying minorities — be it Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis (religious minorities) or Shias (populace minority) — in the name of religion, are achieving pyrotechnical Pyrrhic victories against humanity. Religious intolerance will only aggrandize fanaticism because intolerance will eventually make reasoning dead and people parochial in their way of thought.

SourceDaily Times – VIEW : Coup d’état and pandemonium of extremism — Ali Salman Alvi