Blasphemy Law and Pakistan’s Blackmailers

Name of the Prophet (pbuh) being used to justify sinister agendas
Developing Just Leadership

Tahir Mustafa

Rabi' al-Awwal 23, 1440 2018-12-01

News & Analysis

by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 10, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1440)

To say that Pakistan is a complicated country to govern would be a gross understatement. Take the example of the riots that erupted after the Supreme Court of Pakistan on October 31 exonerated an uneducated Christian woman of blasphemy charges. The case dates back to 2009. The poor woman, Aasia Bibi had spent nine years on death row.

The group, Tehreek-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP), spearheaded the riots. The group insisted that the Christian woman in her late-fifties was guilty of blasphemy and should be executed. For them, an allegation is enough to prove her guilt. The Supreme Court judges, after examining the evidence, found it full of contradictions that failed to meet even the minimum requirements of justice.

The case had started in 2009 when two Muslim women got involved in a dispute with Aasia Bibi because she had used a cup belonging to them for drinking water. The two accused her of “polluting” their cup! As often happens in remote villages, personal disputes are given a religious twist to punish the other party. Since Aasia is Christian, the allegation of blasphemy was a handy tool. Religious zealots, always on the lookout for those they think have committed an act of blasphemy, ran with the allegation.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Saqib Nisar issued a statement following the eruption of riots stating that the court could not convict any person without evidence. This is where Pakistan’s dilemma lies. All kinds of obscurantist groups use the name of the noble Messenger (pbuh) to advance their political agendas. The Tehreek-e Labaik Pakistan is no different.

It emerged in 2015 and in the July 2018 elections it got some 2.3 million votes. It claims to love the noble Messenger (pbuh) — a highly admirable quality indeed — but their conduct leaves much to be desired. For instance, their leaders openly utter profanities. In the most recent riots that lasted three days (October 31– November 2), the group’s followers blocked highways, set on fire buses, motorcycles, and rickshaws. For good measure, they also looted bananas from a poor vendor boy who had loaded them onto a donkey cart.

If these people had any sense, setting aside their claims that they love the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), they would have asked themselves what is the fault of the bus owner, the motorcyclists or rickshaw owners to have their assets destroyed in this manner? Why set buildings on fire; does that restore the honor of the noble Messenger (pbuh)? Would he approve of such conduct; did he ever tell people to indulge in such behavior?

Sent as a “mercy to all the worlds” (21:107), the noble Messenger (pbuh) forgave all his enemies at the time of the liberation of Makkah. If we truly love the noble Messenger and want to honor him, we should imbibe his spirit of forgiveness. He would pick up a stone from the path and set it aside so that no one trips over it. People that place huge stones on highways blocking traffic are doing exactly the opposite of what the noble Messenger did. So what kind of love are these people expressing?

The TLP has issued threats against the Supreme Court judges, their staff, and Aasia Bibi’s defence lawyer. The latter had to flee the country. Aasia Bibi’s family also faces threats. After three days of rioting, the government sat with the leaders of TLP to work out a negotiated settlement. In return for ending the riots, the government agreed to not challenge the appeal lodged against Aasia Bibi’s acquittal. Her name is also to be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) because the TLP leaders suspected she and her family would be whisked out of the country and granted asylum abroad.

Protestors belonging to the agitation group Tehreek-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) hold an image of Aasia Bibi during a rally following the Supreme Court’s decision to acquit her of blasphemy. After reaching an agreement with the government to end the rioting and property destruction, TLP leader Pir Afzal Qadri said at a press conference that there would be consequences if it came to light that Bibi had already left the country. He said that if she was found to be abroad “a war would immediately begin in the country and there [would be] a call for revolution.” A week after Pakistan’s Supreme Court vacated Bibi’s conviction and death sentence for blasphemy, she was apparently put on a flight to an unknown destination, according to her lawyer who had fled to the Netherlands. Although the family appealed to the UK for asylum, the British government denied the request, forcing the family to look elsewhere.

The government negotiating team, however, skillfully manoeuvred the TLP leaders to distance themselves from the rioters. If they had owned the rioters, they would be liable for damages and perhaps sent to prison. By disowning them, the TLP could not claim later that the government was “victimizing” its supporters if the police went after the culprits. Many have been arrested and will face trial and if convicted, jailed as well as face fines for damages caused.

The TLP-led riots were compounded by the murder of Maulana Sami ul-Haq, head of the Jami‘at-e Ulama-e Islam (Sami-group), on November 2. He was stabbed to death in his house in Rawalpindi. Commonly referred to as the “father of the Taliban,” he was head of the Haqqaniya Madrassa in Akora Khattak, his hometown. The late Taliban leader Mullah Umar was a graduate of this madrasah. Under the circumstances, it was sensible for the government to settle the matter with the TLP and restore peace as quickly as possible.

This, however, was not acceptable to the armchair revolutionaries in the print media or the TV talking heads. Political parties, too, created a racket accusing the government of caving in to rioters. They accused the government of not being able to uphold the court’s verdict or impose the writ of state.

These are valid points but those clamoring the loudest for imposing the state’s writ are also guilty of violating that writ. This is where contradictions pile up: rules should apply to others, not to them.

The government’s first priority, however, is to maintain law and order. It does not have to be by force of arms. If people can be persuaded to end riots and then go after those responsible for causing damage, that is a much more sensible approach. Is it always necessary to smash heads and break bones? Such tactics would only harden attitudes and create more problems.

The loudest criticism against the deal with the TLP came from Dawn’s armchair revolutionaries. The Karachi daily seems to have a special grudge against Prime Minister Imran Khan. Some commentators accuse Dawn of working for a foreign agenda. The newspaper, its other media and business empires have strong links with India and the US, both avowed enemies of Pakistan. The two regimes (in Delhi and Washington) also resent Khan’s independent thinking and his desire to make Pakistan stand on its feet and restore its honor and dignity. Their other beef is Pakistan’s strong and now deepening relations with China.

While the TLP’s disruptive tactics must be condemned, blackmail and strong-arm tactics are not restricted to this particular outfit. There are many other anti-social groups. Their obnoxious habits are quite prevalent in Pakistan. One is the notion of self-importance; every two-bit player thinks he/she is important and must be accorded due deference. While it is important to be important almost everywhere, in Pakistan it has assumed maniacal proportions.

There are land and property mafias. These include the former rulers and their henchmen. Millions of people cheat on their tax liability. It is not merely cheating on tax; millions of them do not pay any tax at all while they live in palatial homes and have an army of servants at their disposal. These are the elite of society. Is it any wonder that Pakistan is unable to make progress?

The case of poor Aasia Bibi is only symptomatic of a much deeper malaise afflicting society. Unless the elite abandon such anti-social habits, there is little likelihood of Pakistan making much headway.

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