State and intolerance

Daily Times

Taking a cue from Gojra, some people on Tuesday killed the owner of a factory in Muridke just outside Lahore. Before killing him they accused him of having “desecrated the Holy Quran”. Ridiculously, they announced an old calendar on the owner’s office wall as the Holy Quran before committing the heinous crime. In Gojra, the announcement from the mosques had alleged that the Christians had defiled the Holy Quran. No evidence was in place.

Many people ask the question: why has intolerance increased after the enactment of the laws against blasphemy and desecration of the Quran? A law is brought in to stop a criminal trend, but why has the opposite happened in the case of Pakistan? No satisfactory answers are given, but that doesn’t mean that there are no answers. One straightforward observation is the weakening of the state in the face of elements that propagate a severe interpretation of the faith.

The next question is: why has the state become weak? The answer should be sought in what the state has done in the last quarter of a century. The state has relied on the military strategy of using non-state actors in covert wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Mujahideen were selected from the seminaries and religious parties who were made to develop their jihadi wings. This empowerment — nursing fully armed warriors within civil society — dictated the negative transformation of Pakistan as a society.

The state that promotes jihad with non-state actors will have to brace itself against change that might come from the jihadi mind. In Pakistan’s case, the state reacted “homoeopathically”; it changed itself through laws that appeased the new tough approach to matters of religion. The blasphemy law was enforced in violation of all norms of law-making. Section 295-C says: “Use of derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. 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 Mohammed (PBUH)...” About the Holy Quran, Section 295-B says: “Defiling, etc, of copy of Holy Quran. Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life”.

The laws are phrased in anger, not in moderation, which is the meaning of justice (adl) in Islam. Some years ago, an angry sitting judge of the Lahore High court spoke out at a public function and said that Muslims should kill a blasphemer on sight and not go to the court of law. Pushed by the ulema empowered in varying degrees by jihad, the laws were kept on the statute book despite clear defects. In most cases any page with Arabic printed on it lying on the ground arouses people to violence which vents itself on public property. The individual victims are mostly poor communities who cannot defend themselves.

In 2006, the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII) thought that the laws had no deterrent value against false accusations and suggested procedural amendments, but the proposal was shot down by the clerical faction inside the CII. The sessions courts that award the death sentence to blasphemers are hardly free agents, intimidated by armed non-state actors besieging the court. Even a high court judge has been killed by a fanatic.

Christians, the most frequent victims, are also the poorest section of the population. It normally takes five to six years for a convicted blasphemer on death row to get relief from the Supreme Court. The state has yet to punish a blasphemer; but hundreds languish in jails falsely accused of blasphemy, including a group of under-age school children from Layyah rotting in a DG Khan jail.

The blasphemy law doesn’t care for evidence, has no concern for “will” behind the act of blasphemy, has set aside the concept of “tauba” (contrition), and is subject to a widespread misuse by criminal elements of society who conflate blasphemy with desecration of the Quran. The state, impotent after its “jihad” phase, extends lame excuses, blaming incidents on the ubiquitous “foreign hand”. Its executive knows that the state is weak-kneed and therefore sides with the empowered jihadi non-state actors as they enter the town with murder on their minds.

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