Friday, November 7, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Nov 8, 2014

Time for repeal Pakistan is being subjected to one horror after another every other day. Close on the heels of the brutal, barbaric torture and burning of a Christian couple and their unborn child in a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan, comes the report of a policeman hacking a prisoner to death in a police station in Gujrat who had been detained for alleged blasphemous utterings. As usual in such cases, there are contradictory versions of the events leading up to the bloody murder. According to the murderer, ASI Faraz Naveed, the detainee, Syed Tufail Haider, had been saying blasphemous things continually since he was brought in, and finally, the police officer could not control his emotions and axed him to death. Gujrat District Police Officer Rai Ijaz Ahmed however, revealed that the detainee had used swear words, which infuriated the murdering police officer. The victim had been picked up by police after a scuffle with some people who alleged that he had uttered blasphemous words. It also transpires that the police were aware of the presence of the victim in Gujrat much earlier as he had been found using expletives at various points on the city streets, was briefly detained on more than one occasion, and finally freed on the grounds that he appeared mentally unstable. The question this case therefore boils down to is whether Haider was killed for blasphemy or using foul language, and whether he was fully in control of his senses. The fact that the murderer claimed blasphemy after the act reminds one of how the blasphemy law has been misused and abused in so many cases that on deeper examination are based on settling scores or gaining some material advantage. The Christian brick kiln workers mentioned above had a monetary dispute with the owner of the kiln where they worked and may have been eliminated for alleged blasphemy when the real reason was more materialistic and therefore even more sordid. The blasphemy law provisions have emerged as a convenient catchall justification for literally murder. All one has to do to eliminate a rival or someone from whom some material benefit can be derived is to accuse them of blasphemy, mobilise a vigilante mob with the help of some local frothing-at-the-mouth cleric, and the deed is done. Why such witch-hunts and lynchings are becoming ‘popular’ and more and more frequent is because the courts have proved incapable of punishing false accusers and murderers in this context. Take the case of Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri. Despite being sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court (whose judge had to flee the country for fear of his life), he languishes reportedly in comfort and with the freedom to proselytise and instigate prison staff to commit similar atrocities because the Islamabad High Court in its wisdom is still sitting on his appeal against the death sentence. Justice delayed is justice denied, the old saying goes, but in this case this is not the only tragedy. Mumtaz Qadri has proved himself a threat to society by instigating another jail official to shoot dead one blasphemy accused and wound another inside Adiala Jail. Failure to punish murderers using the blasphemy cover for their heinous objectives has encouraged others to utilise this loophole and the inability of the judicial system to provide justice. In the climate that is abroad in the country, the mere accusation of blasphemy, true or false, often seals the fate of the accused. Our descent into fanatical barbarism is accompanied by our inability to face up to the challenge. Civil society’s protests and condemnations fail to create a critical mass of opinion that could change things. Political society’s response too is lip service to condemnation without lifting a finger to alter the state of affairs. Even one of the largest parties in the country, the PPP, failed to come to the aid and support of its own Governor Salmaan Taseer, who was literally thrown to the wolves by his party’s pusillanimous leadership and torn apart by religious fanatics and right wing opinion makers even before he was brutally gunned down in a cowardly attack by his security guard. All it takes for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing to combat it. This is where we stand today as a society. It is time to revisit the blasphemy law with a renewed vision that even fresh legislation to provide safeguards against false blasphemy accusations will not do since the accused is likely to be killed anyway. The blasphemy law must simply be repealed. The time has come. Neither Allah nor his Prophet (PBUH) need our puny and misguided efforts to defend them.

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