Archive for the ‘ blasphemy laws ’ Category

Pakistan Christians Increase Security

As reportd by UCA News.com

 Worried Pakistani Christians have stepped up security following the assassination of minorities minister Shabhaz Bhatti last week, according to Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore.

The country’s 2.5 million Christians fear for the future more than ever before and as a result security had been increased so much that his Sacred Heart Cathedral was “like Fort Knox,” he said in an interview with the charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“The murder means that we have lost a great leader in our community. Our people are quite down. They are fearful of the future – more so than before. People feel like second-class citizens. We cannot speak out. We feel oppressed, repressed and depressed.”

Accusing the government of failing to tackle fundamentalism effectively, he said: “The religious parties have put a lot of pressure on the government which is very weak and cannot make a stand against the menace of extremism.”

However, Archbishop Saldanha told ACN: “Our people are very resilient and determined. For centuries, they have been suffering. This is nothing new for them. They have always been under the thumb. We carry on with God’s grace.”

The archbishop was speaking five days after Bhatti, the only Catholic minister in the federal government, was gunned down on the streets of Islamabad, and less than two months after Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was killed by his own bodyguard.

In its report of the interview, the London office of ACN pointed out that both men had spoken out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. It said their criticism came amid widespread concern that extremists use the laws “as the pretext for acts of violence in response to unproven allegations of disrespect towards Islam.”

Shahbaz Bhatti, Modern Day Martyr in Pakistan

By Terry Mattingly for The Pocono Record

In the early days of Christianity, martyrs often gave their final testimonies of faith to Roman leaders before they were crucified, burned or fed to lions.

Times being what they are, Shahbaz Bhatti turned to Al-Jazeera and YouTube. The only Christian in Pakistan’s Cabinet knew it was only a matter of time before his work as minister for minority affairs got him killed. Threats by the Taliban and al-Qaida kept increasing.

“I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of the cross and I follow him on the cross,” said Bhatti, in a startlingly calm video recorded several weeks before his assassination on March 2.

“When I’m leading this campaign against the sharia laws for the abolishment of blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christian and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me. … I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles.”

The last straw was almost certainly the Catholic statesman’s defense of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death last November for the crime of blasphemy after she publicly defended her faith in a village argument. The verdict — which must be upheld by a higher court — further polarized a tense nation and sparked a global firestorm.

Then again, in 2009 Bhatti received the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s first medallion for the promotion of religious freedom. A year later, he met with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss interfaith work and religious liberty in Pakistan. Bhatti was not hiding his convictions.

The blasphemy laws in question went into effect in 1986, during the dictatorship of Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. They ban, among other actions, the 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) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

These blasphemy laws have been used against hundreds of Muslim dissenters and Ahmadi sect members, whose approach to Islam is specifically attacked in the laws. In practice, conversion from Islam to another faith is considered blasphemy, as are attempts to advocate or defend minority faiths, such as Christianity or Hinduism.

Vigilantes often kill those formally or informally accused of blasphemy — making trials irrelevant.

This was the case with Bhatti’s death in a wave of machine-gun fire into his unarmored car. Pakistani officials had denied his request for an armored car, despite the constant threat of drive-by shootings.

Formalities were also irrelevant on Jan. 4, when Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. This outspoken Muslim also defended Bibi and called for reform in the use of blasphemy laws.

Adoring crowds showered Taseer’s assassin with rose petals and garlands as he arrived to face a magistrate, while moderate Muslim leaders remained silent. Pakistan’s legislators observed a moment of silence for Bhatti, since it probably would have been fatal for anyone to offer a prayer in his honor.

After all, pamphlets left by those who killed Bhatti warned that they would keep fighting “all the world’s infidels, crusaders, Jews and their operatives within the Muslim brotherhood. … This is the fate of that cursed man. And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell, God willing.”

Apparently, many radicals in Pakistan have concluded — a perfect Catch-22 — that it is blasphemy to oppose the blasphemy laws.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani conference of Catholic bishops is preparing to render a judgment of its own. Later this month the bishops will review a proposal to ask the Vatican to designate Bhatti as a martyr.

“Bhatti is a man who gave his life for his crystalline faith in Jesus Christ,” Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan told a Vatican news agency. “It is up to us, the bishops, to tell his story and experience to the church in Rome, to call for official recognition of his martyrdom.”

-Terry Mattingly is director of the Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

In Pakistan, Justifying Murder for Those Who Blaspheme

By Aryn Baker for Time

“I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us,” the doomed man said, staring straight into the video camera. “And I am ready to die for a cause.” Shahbaz Bhatti had no hesitation in his voice as he responded to a question about threats from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. “I’m living for my community … and I will die to defend their rights.” It was his last answer in a four-month-old self-produced video that was to be broadcast in the event of his death. But the radicals had the final say. On March 2, Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, was shot dead in Islamabad. Pamphlets scattered on the ground claimed the act for a new alliance of “the organization of al-Qaeda and the Punjabi Taliban” and asserted that other infidels and apostates would meet the same fate.

Bhatti’s death had been foretold not just by himself but also in the nation’s response to a previous assassination, that of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer on Jan. 4. Taseer, a self-made millionaire, had turned his largely ceremonial post into a platform for a campaign to amend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Bhatti, the only Christian in the Cabinet, refused to be a token and swore to battle intolerance. Both men supported clemency for Aasia Noreen, a Christian woman who had been accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Taseer’s stance on the issue infuriated a large part of the population that, thanks to religious leaders and school curriculums, believes that blasphemy is a sin deserving of execution. In the weeks leading up to his assassination, Taseer had been denounced at Friday prayers, excoriated in the media and largely abandoned by his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for fears that his campaign would prove politically toxic. The witch hunt culminated in a bodyguard’s pumping 27 rounds into his head and chest in the parking lot of a popular Islamabad shopping center.

Within hours of Taseer’s death, telephone text messages celebrating his assassination made the rounds. “Justice has been done,” read one. “If you love the Prophet, pass this on.” A Facebook fan page for assassin Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri garnered more than 2,000 members before site administrators shut it down. Even the leaders of state-funded mosques refused to say funeral prayers for the slain governor. When Qadri was transferred to a local jail, he was garlanded with roses by hundreds of lawyers — the vanguard of a movement that in 2008 helped unseat a military dictator — offering to take on his case for free.

At his court appearance a few days later, Qadri told the judge that he believed in a Pakistan where loyalty to the Prophet eclipses all other rights. According to Taseer’s daughter Shehrbano, her father “wanted an egalitarian society where open debate is protected and people are not killed for speaking out.” And Bhatti dreamed of a nation true to founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision, one where “you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship.” Which vision prevails — Qadri’s or Taseer and Bhatti’s — will decide the future of the country.

The Roots of Extremism

 
It is not news that Pakistan has a lunatic fringe. What is disturbing is that after Taseer’s murder, when the silent majority finally spoke up, it praised Qadri, not his victim. The public reaction exploded the myth of Pakistan’s moderate Islam; Qadri belongs to a mainstream sect that routinely condemns the Taliban. “The Pakistan we saw in the wake of Taseer’s killing is the real Pakistan,” says Amir Muhammad Rana of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. For the past two years, Rana’s organization has conducted in-depth interviews with a broad spectrum of Pakistani citizens. “They might dress Western and eat at McDonald’s, but when it comes to religion, most Pakistanis have a very conservative mind-set.”

Pakistan’s religious parties rarely do well at the polls — a fact often cited by those countering concerns that the country is going fundamentalist — but their street power is considerable. The furor over blasphemy appears to be partly in response to significant losses for the religious right in the 2008 elections. With the current government on the verge of collapse and popular sentiment against the PPP mounting, the religious parties are betting on significant gains if fresh elections are called. The case of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor accused of killing two Pakistanis during what appears to have been a botched attempt to rob him, demonstrates the state of Pakistan’s politics. It has gone virtually unremarked in Pakistan that Qadri, a confessed murderer, has been hailed as a national hero, while Davis — who, whatever his background, seems to have been acting in self-defense — is considered worthy of the death penalty. Over the past few weeks, street rallies led by the religious right have simultaneously called for the release of Qadri and the hanging of Davis. (Read: “Pakistan’s Christians Mourn, and Fear for Their Future.”)

Using religion to shore up political support is nothing new in Pakistan. Founded as a Muslim nation carved from a newly independent India in 1947, Pakistan has long struggled to unite a diverse population divided by language, culture and ethnicity. Islam was the common denominator, but Jinnah was famously enigmatic about its role in government.

Then, in 1977, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, an Islamist military general, overthrew the democratically elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was already retrenching his secular vision of Pakistan in an effort to win religious support. To further appease Muslim religious leaders, Zia-ul-Haq strengthened the colonial-era blasphemy laws, mandating that breaches should be answered by the death penalty. Since then, more than 1,274 cases have been lodged. As repeating blasphemous words could be considered to be perpetuating the crime, many cases are accepted without evidence, a system well primed for the pursuit of vendettas. That nobody has yet been executed by court order is hardly reassuring: 37 of the accused have been killed by vigilantes. (In 1929, Jinnah famously defended an illiterate carpenter who shot to death a Hindu publisher accused of blasphemy. The plea failed, and after the carpenter was hanged, Taseer’s father was one of the pallbearers.)

The Uses of Blasphemy
When a nation rises up in support of a murderer instead of his victim, it’s hard not to believe it is heading down a dangerous path. “What is happening now won’t matter in five years,” says Shehrbano Taseer. “It will matter in 25 years. What we are seeing now is the fruit of what happened 30 years ago. If people had stood up against [Zia-ul-Haq], we would not be here today. Because of that silence we have madrasahs spewing venom, a true Islam threatened by the same people who claim to serve it, and a cowed majority too afraid to speak.”

President Asif Ali Zardari, an old friend of Taseer’s, condemned the murders but didn’t go to either funeral. After paying his respects to Taseer’s family, Interior Minister Rehman Malik gave an impromptu press conference outside Taseer’s house during which he announced that he too would kill any blasphemer “with his own hands.” A few days later, the Prime Minister announced that he would drop the issue of the blasphemy laws altogether. Meanwhile, the government is under pressure to go through with Aasia’s sentence, and now her two champions are dead.

Reaction to Bhatti’s murder has been muted, characterized mostly by denial. What little newspaper coverage there was focused on security lapses or the role of the country’s Christian community rather than on the motives of the killer. On television talk shows, members of the religious parties and right-wing commentators spun a conspiracy theory that alleged that Bhatti’s murder had been “a plot” hatched by “outside forces” to “divert attention from the Raymond Davis affair.” There was no mention of the fact that Bhatti was campaigning alongside Taseer on the issue of blasphemy.

The PPP was founded in 1967 with the goal of bringing secular democracy to a nation under military rule. It vowed to give power to the people and promised to protect the nation’s downtrodden. That Pakistan’s most progressive party — one that has already endured the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — should cave in the face of religious fundamentalism speaks volumes about the strength of the religious right. A candlelight vigil promoting a progressive Pakistan a few days after Taseer’s assassination drew nearly 1,000 supporters; a religious rally in Karachi the same day had 40,000 in the street chanting Qadri’s name. “Taseer’s murderer was tried in the court of public opinion, and he has emerged a hero,” says a woman shopping for vegetables in the same market where the governor was killed. “If someone kills me because I criticize Qadri, will he too be called a hero?” She declined to give her name. (Read: “Murder in Islamabad: Pakistan’s Deepening Religious Divide.”)

Of course, few Pakistanis would ever go as far as Taseer’s or Bhatti’s killers. But their ambivalence can easily be manipulated. “Just because we are religious does not mean we will all be reaching for guns the next time someone says something wrong,” says Malik Khan, a university student who spent a recent afternoon at a shrine in Lahore dedicated to a revered Islamic saint. “But Salmaan Taseer was an extremist as well. He should not have touched the blasphemy law.” Khan received a text message praising Qadri and exhorting him to pass it along. It posed a moral quandary: “I don’t agree with the message,” he says. “But I love the Prophet. My thumb hesitated a long time over the delete button.” In the end, he passed the hate along.

Qadri himself was the religious-minded youngest son of a family just stepping into the middle class. Like his brother, he joined the special-forces branch of the Punjab police in 2002. He had been flagged as a security risk because of his strong religious leanings but was nevertheless appointed to Taseer’s security detail when he visited Islamabad. In his confession, Qadri said he had been inspired by the teachings of his local mullah, Hanif Qureshi. At a rally a few days later, Qureshi claimed credit for motivating Qadri. “He would come to my Friday prayers and listen to my sermons,” he said. Then he repeated his point: “The punishment for a blasphemer is death.”

But is it? Two weeks after Taseer’s murder, I visited Qari Muhammad Zawar Bahadur, the head of one of Pakistan’s mainstream religious groups and a co-signer of a statement that advised Muslims not to show “grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the Prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy.” For more than an hour, he justified his group’s stance, telling me that the Koran was clear on the issue. I asked Bahadur to show me the exact verse that detailed the punishments for blasphemy. He mumbled that “there are several passages,” as if there were so many, he couldn’t decide which one to quote. When pressed further, he consulted a Koran and read aloud a passage that spoke of killing a man who had once harmed the Prophet.

That verse has routinely been dismissed by leading Islamic scholars as referring to a specific case and having nothing to do with blasphemy. They say there is no definition of blasphemy in the Koran, nor any prescription for its punishment. “Nobody challenges these mullahs, and that is our problem,” says Omar Fazal Jamil, who runs a p.r. firm in Lahore. “We can’t invoke liberal secular values anymore. I have to have the knowledge to contradict these men who distort our religion for their own political gain. I have to be able to say, ‘No, this did not happen, this is not right, and show me where it says in the Koran that blasphemers should be shot on sight.’ ”

The Sin of Silence
In the absence of such challenges, those favoring religious intolerance will continue to have things go their way. In late 2007, Benazir Bhutto released an updated manifesto for her father’s party. “The statutes that discriminate against religious minorities and are sources of communal disharmony will be reviewed,” it said. Less than a month later she was dead, killed in a bomb attack just 13 km from where both Taseer and Bhatti were murdered. Her death was an opportunity to rally the nation against the forces of extremism. Instead the party focused on consolidating power. The manifesto remains an empty promise, and two more voices of tolerance have been silenced. For evil to prevail, goes the old aphorism, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.

With reporting by Ershad Mahmud / Lahore and Omar Waraich / Rawalpindi

The Myth of ‘Moderate Pakistan’

By Sadanand Dhume for The Wall Street Journal

It’s time to bury the myth of moderate Pakistan. You know the one: the notion, repeated ad nauseam in magazine articles, think-tank reports and congressional testimony—as though saying it often enough will make it true—that Pakistan is an essentially tolerant country threatened by a rising tide of fundamentalism. Here’s a news flash: The tide has risen.

The most recent reminder of this came last Wednesday in Islamabad, when suspected Taliban militants shot dead Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s 42-year-old minister for minority affairs and the only Christian in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation’s cabinet. His crime? Supporting the repeal of a barbaric blasphemy law that makes insulting the prophet Muhammad punishable by death.

The law is often used to settle scores with hapless religious minorities, especially Christians such as Asia Bibi, an illiterate peasant sentenced to hang last year after she allegedly badmouthed the prophet during a row with Muslim coworkers. Bhatti’s assassination comes two months after a bodyguard murdered Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer for visiting Ms. Bibi in jail and speaking out against abuse of the law.

To be fair, Pakistan’s claim to relative moderation has been kept alive thus far by more than just wishful thinking. Overtly Islamist parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami have rarely commanded more than a fraction of the national vote. Women enjoy freedoms in the public square that their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Iran could only dream of. At great personal risk, a small but courageous group of activists, intellectuals and politicians speak out publicly against bigotry and religious intolerance.

Scratch the surface, however, and a bleaker picture emerges. Islamist parties may not garner large-scale electoral support, but Islamist ideas are widely tolerated by mainstream political parties. The major opposition party, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, flaunts its closeness to sundry Islamists, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent organization of the international terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Ostensibly secular, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party supported both Kashmiri militancy and the Afghan Taliban in the past. In its current incarnation it appears permanently cowed by the country’s legion of vocal fundamentalists. President Asif Ali Zardari failed to attend the funerals of either Taseer or Bhatti. His government has made it clear that it will not touch the controversial blasphemy law. Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared that he would personally kill anyone who dared blaspheme Muhammad’s name.

As for Pakistan’s undeniably brave activists and intellectuals, unfortunately they appear to have more admirers overseas than among their compatriots. Hand-wringing in the pages of Dawn and the Friday Times, two of the country’s leading English-language newspapers, has not prevented Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer’s murderer, from becoming a national hero.

Not surprisingly, anti-American sentiment—often a reliable shorthand for a society’s paranoia and self-loathing—is rampant. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, American favorability ratings stood at 17% last year, the lowest of all countries surveyed. On the streets, bloodcurdling yells for the execution of alleged Central Intelligence Agency operative Raymond Davis, accused of killing two Pakistanis in January, have prevented the government from granting Mr. Davis the diplomatic immunity that the U.S. claims he is entitled to. This despite personal pleas by President Barack Obama and Sen. John Kerry.

By now the reasons for Pakistan’s predicament are well known. They include the intolerance embedded in the nation’s founding idea of a separate “land of the pure” for Indian Muslims, the malign shadow of Saudi Arabia on religious life, blowback from the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, and the overwhelming influence that the army and its thuggish intelligence wing, the Inter-Services Intelligence, wield on national life. The army’s very motto, Jihad-fi-Sabilillah, or jihad in the path of Allah, is an exhortation to holy war.

For the international community, the long road to fixing Pakistan begins with the simple recognition that the country’s true face is not the urbane intellectual making reasoned arguments, but the frenzied mob showering rose petals on a murderer for his services to the faith. Over time, Pakistan can only be saved by re- arranging the basic building blocks of the country.

This means backing provincial autonomy and linguistic identity as an alternative to the centralized pan-Islamism used by the military and its supporters to weld the country together. It means deploying social networks and satellite television to open the door to reasonable discourse about religion. It means channeling aid to ensure that children are no longer taught to glorify Islamic conquest and reflexively mistrust the West and India. It means accepting that the most poisonous madrassas—such as Jamia Binoria in Karachi and Darul Uloom Haqqania outside Peshawar—must be shuttered if they can’t be reformed.

Needless to say, none of this will be easy. But the consequences of the alternative—pandering to fundamentalists while blaming outsiders for all the country’s ills—can be seen in the freshly turned soil of Bhatti’s grave.

-Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist for WSJ.com.

Our Noblest Selves

By Marvi Sirmed for Newsweek Pakistan

Be careful. After the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities, on March 2 and of Salmaan Taseer, governor of the Punjab, two months before that, friends and family put out the same, simple message. Be careful. But with two brave men slain so violently and so publicly, can we afford to be careful?

Everything changed after the governor’s assassination. For Taseer’s killer, there are shrines on Facebook and rose petals. For those of us who, accurately, refer to Taseer as a martyr, there is concern from well-wishers—and death threats from others. Lawyers lined up in the hundreds to defend and garland Taseer’s self-confessed killer, while cleric after another refused to lead his funeral services. The right’s pundits called Qadri a ghazi or holy warrior, while state-owned Pakistan Television dropped shaheed or martyr for Taseer within hours of his death. Qadri supporters brandished their bloody hands at rallies that pulled in tens of thousands, while those who mourn Taseer and what he represented struggled to manage mere hundreds at vigils. The polarization and plight of Pakistan have never before been so painfully obvious.

Like Taseer, Bhatti, too, gave his life up for a cause that must be owned by those who run our country. But people everywhere are being careful. And this just won’t do.

Bhatti was one of those rare public figures who never sought the spotlight, who spoke softly, who had no skeletons in his closet. Bhatti could have played it safe. He began receiving death threats after the Gojra massacre. These picked up after he championed the cause of Aasia Noreen, a Christian mother convicted under the blasphemy laws, which the Pakistan Peoples Party had committed to review in order to prevent their misuse. After Taseer’s death, Bhatti could have played it safe and gone quiet. He did not. He was not “careful.” He was laid to rest in Faisalabad on March 4 with thousands turning out to honor him.

What can we do? We need to be honest with ourselves. Bhatti was killed by a group that calls itself the Punjabi Taliban. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has taken exception to interior minister Rehman Malik highlighting this fact. Terrorists are a national problem, they are not Punjabis or Sindhis, says Sharif, who is also the home minister of his province. What more has to happen before the chief minister, a compassionate man by most accounts, finally acknowledges that we have a problem in the Punjab?

Second, we need to stop passing the buck and offering contrition practiced for television. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly offered his resignation to the cabinet the day Bhatti was assassinated. There have been two shocking high-profile murders in Islamabad in as many months and not a single soul has been sacked. There’s no shortage of candidates who deserve the ax. Let’s start with the state-employed clerics who refused to perform Taseer’s last rites.

Third, name and shame the members of Parliament who refused to raise their hands in prayer for Taseer and Bhatti. There was a prayer for Taseer in the National Assembly, but, infamously, not in the Senate. Bhatti got two minutes of silence in the National Assembly on March 3 and a walkout from all parties—including, oddly, the ruling party—against the government’s failure to protect Bhatti, but no prayers. What have we come to when we cannot bring ourselves to pray for the departed and their devastated families? This is not coldhearted or remotely Islamic, but pure evil.

Fourth, we need to enforce a strict ban on hate speech. Incitement to murder, character assassination and hate words cannot be provided mainstream platforms—whether print or electronic—under the pretense of free speech. Some channels promoted the false impression that Taseer had blasphemed, and they publicized fatwas against him. They also hyped up pro-Qadri rallies. It never came to light that these processions, while big, were limited to three cities. Responsibility will not suddenly dawn on our lawless media. To keep television honest and to counter the state’s halfhearted ban on militant groups, corporations need to step up and withhold ad spend from channels providing support to the jihadists. Consumers can then hold these corporations accountable by buying or boycotting their products.

The brave among us refuse to be careful when they see the rapid undoing of their motherland, and whose faith in man’s goodness speaks to our noblest selves. We are not a nation of murderers and monsters, but we sure are close.

Sirmed is a rights activist in Islamabad.

Not much Islamic about Islamic Pakistan

By Haroon Siddiqui for The Toronto Star

In the failing state of Pakistan, a junior cabinet minister is killed. Shahbaz Bhatti was a member of the Christian minority. He had taken up the cause of a poor Christian woman condemned to death for allegedly defaming Islam. He knew he was a marked man. But on a recent visit to Canada, where his brother lives, he said he was determined to carry on.

Eight weeks ago, a veteran politician was gunned down for the same sin. He, too, had championed the woman’s cause and condemned the blasphemy law that imposes the death penalty for insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. Salman Taseer was the governor of Punjab, the most populous and prosperous province, and an influential billionaire tycoon, a socialite and an unrepentant liberal in a society that’s becoming militantly conservative. He was a Muslim.

Bhatti was gunned down by unknown assailants. Taseer was assassinated by a member of the elite security unit assigned to guard him. More shockingly, the assassin was hailed a hero. Hundreds turned up at his house, chanting “we salute your bravery.” About 500 clerics signed a statement calling him “a true soldier of Islam.” When he appeared in court, young lawyers showered rose petals and kissed him. At a rally in cosmopolitan Karachi, marchers waved his portrait.

This is a sick society. There’s little Islamic about the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The blasphemy law may have been enacted by the British colonials in 1860. But it was toughened by the Muslim rulers of Pakistan in the name of Islam. And both in its wording and implementation, the law violates the most basic principles of Islamic jurisprudence. In allowing hearsay evidence and innuendo, it ignores the necessity of incontrovertible proof for a finding of guilt.

The act is allowed to be abused in personal and property disputes. (A majority of those charged have been Muslims, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a voluntary organization). Or it is wielded as a weapon in political and religious vendettas. In one particularly horrific case, two Christian brothers were framed with a handwritten note defaming the Prophet, found in a marketplace with their home address and phone number.

Yet local police and magistrates dare not toss out such trumped-up charges. Cases have to be taken to higher courts to be overturned. Not a single person has been executed under the act. Yet more than 30 people charged or acquitted have been killed.

Under Islamic law, such jungle justice constitutes a greater crime than the alleged original one. It is deemed particularly egregious when the innocents prosecuted are poor and powerless.

The blasphemy law is just one of many flashpoints.

Christian churches have been bombed. So have been mosques belonging to the minority Ahmadi sect, deemed heretic. So also mosques of the minority Shiite Muslim sect. So also Sufi shrines, along with the devotees who turn up for the anniversary festivals of dance and music dedicated to those saints.

Not just that.

Pakistani Taliban and other militants have been killing fellow Muslims who won’t side with them. Such attacks were once restricted to the remote Afghan-Pakistan border but now they are routine in the populated south. Tens of thousands have been killed, including Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in December of 2007.

Yet the government is too weak to provide basic security and too corrupt to care — both egregious Islamic crimes. The politicians and the bureaucrats are not the only ones on the take. Too many clerics are also money-grabbing machines.

Several reasons are proffered for this sad state of affairs.

One is that Pakistan has had too many military dictators, and that the longest-serving one, Zia ul-Haq (1977-88) Islamized Pakistan, which he did. But he did so in tandem with the American-led effort to Islamize the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Another inconvenient truth is that while the military used jihadist proxy militias against India and Afghanistan, political parties use them as vote banks and to flex street muscle.

The secular-Islamic divide is also cited. Yet both religious and secular elites have pandered to extremists. It was the wine-sipping prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who in the 1970s restricted liquor and declared the Ahmadi sect non-Muslim. It is his People’s Party, once again in power, that abandoned backbencher Sherry Rahman after she proposed amendments to the blasphemy law.

Meanwhile, the economy is in ruins. Inflation is rampant, the currency is losing value and the central bank is printing more rupees.

Don’t be surprised if Pakistanis begin clamouring, yet again, for the return of the military to power.

Haroon Siddiqui is the Star’s editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears on Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

Assassinations are a blemish on Pakistan’s soul

By Shahina Siddiqui for The Montreal Gazette

The assassination by terrorists of Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, follows the brutal killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer a couple of months ago. Both were targeted by extremists because they called for the reformation of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. These and other attacks on Christians and Muslims in the name of blasphemy laws is a blemish on the national soul of Pakistan that cannot be washed away by empty rhetoric and the muted cowardly condemnations by the political and religious leadership in Pakistan.

There is no place for laws in Muslim countries that are the very antithesis of the spirit, soul, and letter of Islamic law. Prophet Muhammad in his lifetime was insulted, ridiculed and physically hurt, and yet he never ordered, condoned or recommended the killing or even harming of these individuals. There are documented cases where the prophet intervened to save the perpetrators from the wrath of his companions. We do not honour the prophet by murdering the innocent in his name. We honour him by practising compassion and dealing with mercy toward all of God’s creation, yes, even those who hurt us.

There is no justification for the blasphemy laws in the form they exist in Pakistan. The misuse and abuse of these laws have caused the security of religious minorities to deteriorate and be exploited, and it has become a licence to kill people, to destroy property and to create havoc for personal and political interests.

The terrorists are using this law to paralyze an entire nation into submitting to their whims through fear and trauma. The inept political leaders of Pakistan are more interested in maintaining their power and control on the country’s wealth then in actually working for the betterment of their country. The few who dare to stand up to this injustice find themselves isolated and without support.

The genuine religious leaders, on the other hand, are afraid to be labelled by these pseudo-religious terrorists as supporters of blasphemers, and thereby fear losing their own support base, their lives and their reputations. The socalled religious political parties are supporting these laws unconditionally, manipulating the love the masses have for their faith and their prophet, to ensure their own popularity and political gains.

In such a vacuum of moral, religious and human courage the terrorists thrive, the extremists dance in the streets and the ordinary Pakistanis struggle to survive. This ugly situation in Pakistan calls for an uprising of the silent majority. But the disconnect between rural and urban, rich and poor, and the excruciating poverty and illiteracy are barriers that make this an unlikely scenario.

Pakistanis, unlike their coreligionists in the Middle East, face brutality on many fronts: the war on terror that is consuming the country’s resources, the drone attacks that are killing hundreds of innocent civilians, the Talibanbacked terrorists who kidnap, torture, brainwash and blackmail poor rural youth into becoming suicide bombers who target fellow Pakistanis on an alarmingly frequent basis.

The indifference of the ruling elite – political and feudal – and the tyrannical pseudoreligious extremists seem to have paralyzed this nation into a pathological resignation to its “fate.” There is no credible leadership at the national level that is nurturing national pride, identity and vision. The people are adrift, holding on to any straw, no matter how fragile, that will keep them afloat.

In spite of these many challenges, however, I am confident – having observed firsthand the courage, resilience and moral strength of non-governmental organizations, selfless philanthropy by the affluent, and the development and growth of civil society – that Pakistanis will rise and can defend their nation. They must, however, break the chains of fear that are choking their conscience, and stand up for justice.

My prayer is for Pakistan to realize the vision of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah: a vision in which all Pakistanis are granted freedom and security to practise their religions and maintain their places of worship, and where all Pakistanis thrive together, as equals under the law, regardless of ethnicity, gender and religion.

Uniting Pakistan’s Minority and Majority

By Mohsin Hamid for The Express Tribune

There’s a nurse I know in Lahore. She’s tall and stocky, middle-aged. She is on call 24 hours a day and works six days a week. She’s also a freelance headhunter, placing cooks and drivers and maids. She sleeps little. She has five children she hopes to give better lives. Last year, she donated time and money to flood victims.

She is a Pakistani Christian. And on Wednesday, I saw her weep.

She was staring at a TV set. It was reporting the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, a Roman Catholic. “What’s going to happen to Christians in this country?” she asked me.

I had no answer. But her question is searingly important. A country should be judged by how it treats its minorities. To the extent it protects them, it stands for the ennobling values of empathy and compassion, for justice rooted, not in might, but in human equality, and for civilisation instead of savagery.

Pakistan ought to be exemplary in this regard. After all, ours is a nation of minorities: A patchwork of cultures, ethnicities, languages and sects. Since independence, we’ve tried to use Islam to bind us together, to undo our inherent and pervasive minority-ness. After the country split in 1971, these appeals to religion expanded under ZA Bhutto and reached previously unimaginable extents under Ziaul Haq. They have continued to intensify ever since.

One problem with this approach, of course, has been that our religious minorities, a twentieth of our population, have been left out of our grand national narratives. Five per cent may seem like a small proportion, but in absolute numbers it includes almost 10 million Pakistanis, which equals everyone in Tunisia, or one-and-half times all of Libya. If Pakistan’s religious minorities were a country, they would be more populous than half the members of the UN.

So how have they been treated by Pakistan? Shamefully. They are looked down upon, discriminated against, physically threatened and not infrequently killed. They are second-class citizens in every sense. Nor has our state offered them much support. Indeed, our state has been actively involved in their oppression.

None of this is new, of course. So, for those of us fortunate enough to belong to the religious majority, does it even matter?

Yes. Desperately. Minority relations are a microcosm of society. Each individual human being is, after all, a minority of one. And, as Pakistan becomes a country at war with its minorities, it is becoming a country at war with its individuals, with itself, with you and with me, with the human desire to be allowed to believe what we believe. In this direction lies Orwellian Newspeak, an inability to say what we mean, a condition of external dishonesty that inevitably leads to internal dishonesty. Orwell imagined the result of this to be something he called doublethink: People holding “simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them.”

I find it difficult to imagine a better description of many of our TV talk show hosts — or much of our public discourse — today.

There are three main political positions we hear over and over in Pakistan, and all three are suffused with doublethink. There is the national security position: ‘America is our enemy; America should give us more aid.’ The privileged liberal position: ‘There should be equal rights for all; I should not have to share my riches with the poor.’ And the (remarkably similar) ambitious cleric position: ‘Religion makes us all equal; only I decide what religion says.’

It is unsurprising that the privileged liberal position is the one most often associated with attempts to protect the rights of religious minorities in our country. It is also unsurprising that it has been largely unpersuasive.

The good news, from a religious minority standpoint, is that the other positions are equally incoherent. (The bad news is that they are much more willing to resort to violence in support of their arguments.)

What Pakistan’s religious minorities need, therefore, is a new position, a position that champions equality while, and this is the tricky part, also championing equality. In other words, a position that dispenses with the illusion that equality can be enhanced in a society prostrate before either its rich or its clerics.

Such a position would also be to the benefit of the country’s economic majority, its poor. For they, too, are looked down upon, discriminated against, physically threatened and not infrequently killed. They, too, are second-class citizens. They, too, have been actively oppressed by our state.

At its heart, our country’s toxic treatment of its religious minorities is intertwined with its toxic treatment of its impoverished majority. Both groups suffer from the denial of our common humanity. And that, paradoxically, offers great hope. For we can reject false dichotomies between our clerical and our liberal positions, between our minorities and our majority. We can begin the search for common ground that has eluded us as a nation thus far.

We might, for example, shift from disputes over blasphemy laws to actually delivering due process of law, from arguments over curbing radical madrassas to actually building a high-quality state education system, from alternately buying off and fighting tribal chieftains to actually empowering local tribespeople.

Our problems are not insurmountable. Pakistan is, simply put, a land that mistreats its minorities and its majority. It is ripe for a revolution, except that it already has many trappings of democracy: Elected assemblies, free media, independent judges. A revolution in our thinking and behaviour, brought about by sustained pressure from below, is what is really called for.

Let us be clear: The messy but effective compromises we require can only come about through the dramatically improved functioning of our democracy. But a better-functioning democracy is feared by many with vested interests who benefit from the impaired system we currently have. They must be convinced otherwise.

Above all, we must convince our powerful national security state. Rationally, it is clear that under our current policies, Pakistan is becoming ever less secure. The stability and growth that a well-functioning democracy could bring is our country’s best chance of escaping from its ‘eagerly-dependent-on-enemy-America’ strategic incoherence. Unless, that is, our national security doublethink really boils down to this: ‘I will protect you; you are the threat.’

For the sake of our vulnerable, which is to say, in different ways, just about all of us, I hope this is not the case. Too much Pakistani blood has already been shed and too many Pakistanis have already gone to bed hungry.

Obama Condemns Assassination in Pakistan

As reported by The Associated Press

President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the assassination of the only Christian member of Pakistan’s government, calling the slaying of Shabaz Bhatti a “horrific act of violence.”

Republicans and Democrats in Congress echoed Obama’s outrage, hours after Bhatti was gunned down outside his mother’s home. His slaying came just weeks after the killing of liberal politician Salman Taseer. The two men had pushed to change laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

“He is literally a modern-day martyr,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Bhatti, a campaigner for human rights causes, had been aware of threats to his life. Obama said Bhatti “fought for and sacrificed his life for the universal values that Pakistanis, Americans and people around the world hold dear” — including rights to free speech and religious freedom.

Assailants from al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban Movement in Punjab province claimed responsibility, calling Bhatti an “infidel Christian.”

Obama said that whoever committed the crime should be brought to justice, and people who share Bhatti’s vision of tolerance and religious freedom should live free of fear.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who recently met Bhatti, called him “a patriot and a man of courage and conviction.” She said in a statement that the United States remains committed to working with the government and people of Pakistan “to build a more stable and prosperous future for all — a future in which violent extremists are no longer able to silence the voices of tolerance and peace.”

More than half a dozen lawmakers, many of whom knew Bhatti, called on the Pakistan government to change the laws. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who said he prayed with Bhatti, said the events need to be a “game-changing moment.”

“No matter what your religion, his murder is an affront to God,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

They showed a videotaped message from Bhatti in which he said he received death threats and was “ready to die” for the country’s often persecuted Christian and other non-Muslim minorities.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., said Bhatti’s death reflects the growing climate of intolerance in Pakistan and urged all Pakistanis to stand united against violence and intolerance.

What motives led to Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder in Pakistan?

By Aamer Ahmed Khan for BBC

It is hard to find an immediate motive behind the murder of Pakistan’s Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti.

The courageous battle he had vowed to fight against the country’s draconian blasphemy laws had already been abandoned by the government in the wake of Punjab governor Salman Taseer’s murder.

In fact, the final surrender had come from no less a person than Pakistan’s prime minister who had only last month pleaded with a large gathering of religious personalities to believe him when he said that his government had no intention of reviewing the blasphemy laws.

And unlike the slain governor – a veteran politician, a high profile socialite and one of the president’s many billionaire friends – Mr Bhatti neither had the status nor the political clout to influence the state’s agenda.

Some evidence of that also comes from the eerie silence on social media, from the extremists’ side.

All that one sees are some anguished rants from some of Pakistan’s best known liberals, many of whom are not even resident in the country.

Even hours after the assassination, we have seen none of the fierce onslaught against free speech that erupted on social media within minutes after Mr Taseer’s murder.

Nor have we seen eulogies of his killers mushrooming on Facebook as they did after Mr Taseer’s murder. It is a silence smug in the knowledge that their agenda is not at risk.

So why kill a man who considered himself – and was indeed considered by the world around him – to be so ineffective that he had not even bothered to seek proper security for himself, despite being constantly threatened by Pakistan’s millions of faceless fanatics?

The answer perhaps lies in the difference between the commitment of the government and the extremists to their respective agendas.

Politics v ideology

The government had unambiguously decided to lay off the blasphemy laws after Mr Taseer’s murder, its ministers hinting privately that it was a hornets’ nest best left untouched.

The country’s liberal political and social leadership had meekly followed suit and perhaps understandably so.

In their silence had rested a hope that by abandoning their agenda to rationalise any legislation-feeding extremism, they would perhaps be able to keep the extremists quiet.

It was never about any ideological commitment, just hard, cold politics that made tactical sense.

For the extremists though, it is all about ideology. It didn’t matter if Mr Bhatti’s battle had proved to be a non-starter or if he was an ineffective and powerless minister.

What mattered was that he had spoken against blasphemy laws in the past and was likely to do so again if a situation arose. That made him a legitimate target, not to be tolerated, not to be ignored.

Mr Taseer had said that he would continue to fight against blasphemy laws even if he was the last man standing. He could not stand for long.

And the ideology that led to his assassination has now sent another determined and deadly message to the state – that it will continue to fight till the last liberal falls.

This is how different the two commitments are. And for the liberals in Pakistan, this is how hopeless the situation seems to be.

Pakistan: Yet another Christian accused of blasphemy

By Speroforum for Spero News

A Christian woman, Agnes Nuggo, was accused of blasphemy and arrested in the Diocese of Faisalabad, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The Catholic Church, which is handling the case, expressed “extreme concern”  over the affair.

The Commission for Justice and Peace in the diocese reported that Agnes (50) is married to Bashir Masih, has children and lives in the Christian quarter of Waris Pura. She was accused of blasphemy after a dispute over a piece of land that had already created controversy with his relatives. Some Muslim neighbours accused her of having made insulting statements against the Prophet Mohammed and against Islam. On 16 February, the local police registered a FIR (First Information Report) pursuant to art. 295/a of the Criminal Code and arrested her. Agnes professes her innocence and says the accusations are completely fabricated.

Fr. Nisar Barkat, Director of the Justice and Peace Commission in Faisalabad, reported “Bishop Joseph Coutts has become aware of the case and asked me to follow it closely.” Fr. Nisar was in court and obtained a copy of the complaint against Agnes, who will have her first court hearing in two weeks. The church will find her a lawyer and will take care of her family.

According to some sisters who know Agnes personally “the case is quite complicated: the woman was lured into a trap. Some people wanted to take revenge on her, because in the past Agnes had agreed to testify in court for money.””

Fr. Pascal Paulus, a Dominican priest in the Waris Pura area, said that “the situation is critical for us Christians. We need to be very careful. The Islamic radicals want to exploit these cases to attack the Christian minorities. We are exposed to spurious attacks, which have already been happening.”

Asia Bibi, another Christian woman accused of blasphemy, has been imprisoned for several months and has been condemend to death under Islamic law, Haroon Barket Masih of the Masihi Foundation said of Nuggo, “She is a new Asia Bibi. Agnes’ case is one of many cases of persecution that continue to occur. Most of the episodes don’t leave a trace and do not reach the clamour of the spotlight. Only when the victims’ families trust in the Churches, foundations and NGOs, then the injustices come to light. Families often keep silent for fear of retaliation. And institutions are absent: in this situation, what can Christians do?”

Rosemary Noel, head of the Pakistan Catholic Women’s Organisation said, “Being a Christian woman in Pakistan is a dual challenge. Even the status of women is itself exposed to discrimination, violence and abuse. Women struggle to gain access to education and the world of work. Those Christians are doubly discriminated against. They are considered as objects by Muslims and suffer all sorts of abuse and injustice to general indifference.”

According to data provided by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Bishops, including Agnes, there have been 16 Christian women accused and imprisoned between 1987 and 2010 (in addition to a Muslim woman and a Hindu), but many other cases escape inclusion, because they did not end with a formal complaint.

It is The Women Who Have the Guts in Pakistan”

By Bina Shah for Dawn

In Pakistan, Salman Taseer’s assassination in early January has blown the lid off the seething cauldron that has been bubbling in Pakistan for the last several years: the divide between Pakistan’s extremist forces and its minority liberal community is now so wide that it seems nothing can bridge the gap anymore. Worse, the extremists greatly outnumber the liberals, endangering whatever advances have been made in the Pakistani society.

But the women intelligentsia of Pakistan is determined not to let the religious right gain any more ground in the struggle for Pakistan’s soul. They have responded to the onslaught of the right wing with such ferocity that a Pakistani man said on Twitter: “I definitely see more women out on the streets after Salman Taseer’s killing. Does this mean that it is the women that have the guts in this country?”

It all started with a woman: Aasia Bibi, the hapless Pakistani-Christian mother of five who made the mistake of getting on the wrong side of a group of malicious village women. One moment Aasia Bibi was offering her coworkers a cup of water; the next, she was facing the death penalty for having supposedly committed “blasphemy”

Activists and women’s rights groups, aghast at the blatant abuse of human rights that Aasia Bibi’s case represented, agitated for the country’s leaders to have her acquitted. Pakistan’s progressives, especially women, got in touch with the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer through his Twitter account – one which he used mostly to tweak rival politicians’ noses, share his favorite Urdu poetry, and communicate with his daughters. They besieged him with 140-character-long appeals to save Aasia Bibi’s life, hoping against hope that he would listen.

Taseer not only took Aasia Bibi under his protection, but he widened his scope to take aim at the blasphemy law itself. But Taseer’s strong voice was silenced on January 4, when his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, shot him 27 times with his state-issued Kalashnikov.

After the initial shock of the assassination, women activists vowed to use it as a rallying point: not just because they feel for Aasia Bibi, the first woman in Pakistan to face the death penalty for blasphemy, but because they know that women are the first to lose their freedoms when extremism takes over a nation. They are organising candlelight vigils, rallies, and media campaigns to defend their hard-won rights, despite knowing they are outnumbered by the other side.

One of the bravest women in today’s Pakistan is Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of the slain Governor, who wrote several pieces for the newspapers protesting the death of her father and the way in which his killer was showered with rose petals by lawyers who vowed to defend him in court. For this, she received threats from extremists: “She should remember the fate of her father and refrain from issuing statements.”

Taseer, a graduate of Smith College in the US, draws inspiration from other brave women in Pakistan who came up against the same forces: Asma Jehangir, Benazir Bhutto, Jugnu Mohsin, Sherry Rehman (who is now living under virtual house arrest in Karachi because of death threats she has received for her stance against the blasphemy law), Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Beena Sarwar, and Marvi Sirmed are some of the women whose struggles against injustice in Pakistani society have inspired her.

And of course, there is her father’s legacy: “My father’s fire has come inside me … I don’t wish for any other family to have suffered what mine has had to.”  Her father’s violent death has illustrated most vividly to her how both men and women in Pakistan have worked together for generations in the name of social activism. “Men and women have marched on the streets together and sacrificed a lot, so I don’t feel one sex is more dominant than the other in this regard.”

But it is not enough. The men in Pakistan need to step it up greatly when it comes to supporting women in social activism. Nuzhat Kidvai, a human rights activist in Karachi, says, “In general, men are more active in the left and labour movements – they will march for economic or political reasons. But when it comes to supporting women’s issues, they just aren’t there.” Her husband, Zaheer Kidvai, a long-time proponent of social activism in Pakistan, agrees that “women are certainly more engaged in this battle and despite bad attacks – lathis, jail, beating, and even rapes by the police! – they have moved this forward against all these odds. If there is any way for this society to evolve further, it’ll have to have even more women come out.”

So, back to the original question: is it really the women in Pakistan who have the guts? When it comes to fighting for their rights, definitely. Life in Pakistan is hard for women, but they don’t give up easily. Perhaps this is why they haven’t yet suffered the fates of their compatriots in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and other supremely conservative Muslim countries in the region.

Who is behind the war on Sufism?

By Dr Ehsan Azari Stanizi for Eurasia Review News & Analysis

On October 25, 2010 an al-Qaida affiliated militant group turned a majestic Sufi shrine into a bloodbath in the Punjab province of Pakistan, by detonating bombs hidden in milk cans, killing and wounding scores of innocent people. This was the latest of a spate of gruesome attacks on Sufism and dead Sufi saints this year alone, leaving hundreds of innocent people killed or wounded. Such violence has brought a new upheaval to Islam, shaking its ethical and moral foundations and reducing it to a merely a radical political ideology.

The ideological driving force behind this violence is religious extremism which considers everyone outside its ideological league, Muslim or non Muslim, dead or alive, as an enemy and an infidel deserving to be killed. The fanatics blow up ancient relics, Sufi heritage, Sufi shrines and the Sufi way of life everywhere they can. They want to micromanage social, cultural and individual life. They condemn gatherings and ceremonies in Sufi saints’ graves, shaving beards, wearing charms, music and painting as heresy. All this is like the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

The history of Islam is not alien to violence against Sufism. The root of the current upheaval lies in Wahhabism, which has been gradually institutionalised from a tiny band of theologians into a political ideology by the Saudi ruling dynasty. The Wahhabi religious movement was originated by Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792), essentially to challenge the influence of the Ottoman Empire in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudi petrodollars and Pakistani military ruling elite have helped the spread of this fanatical form of Islam.

In addition, the vision of this ideology was empowered in the Middle East and South Asia by another extremist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood which originally emerged in Egypt in the 1920s. The Brotherhood copied much of its ideological agenda, political structure, revolutionary features and a violent persuasion from Marxism. Like the latter during the Cold War era, the Brotherhood’s ultimate objective has been to topple the state by violent means and extend a radical ideology to the West. The Iranian revolution of late 1970s gave further impetus to this ideology, which began to justify the export of Islamic revolution as an Islamic obligation everywhere in the world.

Like Saudi rulers, the secular Pakistani cunning and sly generals began to use the most lethal religious radicals for domestic security and as a tool to promote its foreign policy in Afghanistan and India. Pakistan served also as a gateway for the spread of Wahhabism in the region. At present they are pinching American coins in return for carrying out the Pashtun genocide.

As it was hinted, war on Sufism is not a new phenomenon. Hussein Al-Halaj, a great Sufi poet and teacher was condemned for heresy when in a state of mystical trance he exclaimed, “I am the Truth”. He was cut to pieces and his remains were burnt by a mob in Baghdad in 922 AD. He was the first Sufi martyr.

During the 17th-century Persian Safavid Empire, Sufis were suppressed, during the Indian Moguls, it flourished but in the twentieth-century the die-hard Turkish secular leader Kamal Atatürk banned Sufi monasteries and Sufi rituals in Turkey.

Sufism (comes from Arabic noun, suf, literary meaning course wool and the Sufi is the one wearing woolen garments) is the name of Islamic mysticism. The word Sufism was coined in the West for the first time by the German scholar August Tholuck in 1821. It has been divided into two practical and theoretical parts: To those who practice it, Sufism means a quick spiritual foray into a space where the presence of the divine could be experienced. To those who are concerned with its theory, it is a mystical and spiritual theology, a body of knowledge and an epistemology interwoven with Islamic metaphysical texts.

The Sufi philosophy was developed and promoted by the medieval Muslim philosophers such as Ibn-Arabi, Averroës (known in Islamic world as Ibn-i-Rushd), Avicenna and Farabi, who, for their Islamic Aristotelianism, were often referred to as the Oriental Peripatetics. This school of thought was greatly saturated with Plato and Aristotelian metaphysics. The Sufis also have created a vast body of a literary and poetic heritage.

As an elixir of wisdom and an intellectual Yoga, Sufism has been known, cherished and even practised in the West since time immemorial. It is hard to find a single great Western poet or thinker who has not been inspired by Sufism. Dr Johnson loved Sufi Oneness and pantheism; Voltaire in Candid saw Sufi philosophy as an antidote to religious extremism of his time. Goethe loved Sufi poetry, Richard Burton and Robert Graves were keen on practicing Sufism.

Sufism was cherished by Australia’s greatest poet professor Alec Derwent Hope. Hegel draws on Sufi thought in his works. Danish fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen was the first who brought the news about the Sufi music and dance known as “Whirling Dervishes” to Europe.

Nobel laureate, Doris Lessing is the doyen of contemporary Sufis in the West. She identifies Western admiration of Sufism since the 1960s as ‘a Sufi craze,’ and ‘Sufi bandwagon’. For Lessing, Sufism was a kind of universal feeling, emotion, a quick fix and an access with no intermediary. “Sufism is something one experiences on one’s own,” she would say. In my own lectures in Australia and Europe, I came across with an enormous interest in Sufi philosophy and literature.

The al-Qaida zealots and the Pakistani militants will never win over Sufism. They might destroy their tombs on earth but cannot steal away Sufism from the hearts of people in the East and the West.

The 13th-century great Sufi poet and the founder of the Whirling Dervishes, Rumi knew this. He believed that fanatics will never extinguish the Sufi torch or destroy Sufi tombs as he says “when we are dead, see not our tombs in the earth, but find it in the hearts of the people.” And the 17th-century Pashtun Sufi poet Rahman Baba, known in the West as the Nightingale-of-Peshawar to the vandals:

We are all one body, whoever tortures another, wounds himself.

Last spring (2010), his mausoleum was bombed by the Punjabi Taliban. Rumi declared the Sufi manifesto of universal love, tolerance of nonbelievers, pluralism and interfaith harmony in one of his quatrains:

Come, come whoever you are, An unbeliever, a fire or idol-worshiper, come, Our convent is not of desperation, Even if you have broken your vows a hundred time,
Come, come again.

Thou Shalt not Mock or It May Cost You Your Life!

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

In the wake of the murder of Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab a couple weeks back, I did a great deal of contemplation about the situation in Pakistan and the current state of affairs of Pakistan and indeed in much of the Muslim world.

The current situation, especially in Pakistan and when it concerns the rights of the non-Muslims, is apparently the worst of anywhere in the Muslim world. Indeed, the plight of Asia Bibi, (also known as Aasia, Ayesa Noreen) Islam and Islamic Blasphemy laws have come under rightful scrutiny as of late.

One question that tugs at the heart of the debate for me is why is it that Muslims seem to get so very offended to the point they want to KILL you over a remark or something that comes out of your mouth? As Americans, we wonder to ourselves, “Haven’t they ever heard of sticks and stones may break my bones, but words don’t hurt me?!

Sadly, what the fundamentalist preachers at all the podiums of their Friday sermon or khutbah, nor any of their brethren on the run and in caves like the Taliban and Al Qaeda fail to realize that we are all God’s children. And God, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, or whatever name you assign him, he is One and the same God of all religions. He is too big to fit into just one religion, concept, version or story of him.

And we all are his creations. Not one of us is superior over the other in his eyes and he judges us all equally. To him, the children of these three religions and its offspring’s are all related to each other. Adam being the first man, then Eve, and then all the Biblical figures and names such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, yes especially Jesus. He is their Messiah too!

Jesus, in fact is mentioned some 28 times in the Muslim holy book, Qu’ran whereas their own prophet Muhammad is mentioned only 4 times. And the fact that Jesus is also considered by Muslims to be the Messiah, it is sad that his followers should get such abject treatment in Pakistan and sadly, many Muslim countries.

If only the bad guys realized the connections between Christians and Jesus only then would a Pakistani Christian woman, suffering needlessly in a cell tonight going on 2 years away from her children in solitude, and constantly fearful for her life, would see her horrific ordeal come to an end.

These people are incapable of understanding basic rights, freedoms and even the unhindered concept of free will. No, they are primitive minded in their their spiritual and daily lives. They fail to see that a Christian’s God and a Muslim’s God are the one and the same. And he never would agree to laws like Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws at all. Why? Well because the Muslim God is known first and foremost as a Gracious, Merciful, Compassionate God.

In fact, the Arabic phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim is a beautifully poetic phrase which offers both deep insight and brilliant inspiration to the average Muslim who says it countless times as he or she starts each day and till they rest their head to sleep. “ It has often been said that the phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim contains the true essence of the entire Qur’an, as well as the true essence of all religions. Muslims often say this phrase when embarking on any significant endeavor and the phrase is considered by some to be a major pillar of Islam. This expression is so magnificent and so concise that all except one chapter of the Qur’an begins with the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.”

The common translation:”In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate” essentially is saying that God is compassionate, and full of grace. So how would this God punish Asia Bibi? What would he do if he is so full of compassion and mercy? Would he even punish her? And if he is such a gracious and a compassionate God, then wouldn’t he feel that nearly a two year jail sentence in solitary is already far more than her crime not to mention being away from husband and children and being worried about mob vengeance on her or the death penalty?

That God may act in a multitude of ways and we cannot ever know till said Judgment Day. That is what Judgment Day is all about after all. In fact, this is probably one day when the man upstairs works overtime judging all of us mankind, from the beginning with Adam to the last standing comes till Tribulation and the End of Days. It is only he, the Creator who will do the judging and this is something that the men with the loudspeakers who climb to the top of the minaret five times a day to call the faithful to prayers, just do not really understand, in my opinion. They apparently constantly seem to forget and pass judgment from the pulpit and this in turn helps set the “popular” opinion amongst the ultra-religious faithful of Pakistan’s society.

My only prayer to this Creator is that may he keep Asia Bibi safe tonight and continue to give her strength. And if God should call her home and have her die a death at the hands of the real savages those that not only kill but shockingly, in your name, then please Allah grant her heaven just as you should governor Salmaan Taseer, a man who was only defending the rights of all your children, including those of other faiths. He was being compassionate and gracious towards a fellow human being God, as he was only trying to emulate his creator, You Lord. Ameen.

And while you are at it Lord, will you also please let the imam at the microphone know that “Thou shall not mock, should not cost you your life.” Afterall, “Thou shall not kill is one of your top 10 commandments, whereas mocking prophets or religious figures does not make the list!

Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is a Sufi Muslim who is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com and at other websites such as www.DigitalJournal.com, www.Allvoices.com, www.Examiner.com and www.open.salon.com as a freelance journalist and writer. He asks that you like the Official Facebook Page of Pakistanis for Peace to get the latest articles as they publish here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Pakistanis-for-Peace/141071882613054

Pakistan Confronts Deepening Radicalism in Wake of Assassination

By Sarah A Topol for AOL News

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When Vice President Joe Biden made his surprise visit to Pakistan this week to shore up the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaida, he warned against the implications of increasing radicalism in Pakistani society in light of the assassination of a liberal governor by his bodyguard.

“The governor was killed simply because he was a voice of tolerance and understanding,” Biden said at a news conference Wednesday. “As you know all too well … societies that tolerate such actions end up being consumed by those actions.”

But when President Barack Obama meets Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari later today in Washington to discuss counter-terrorism in Pakistan’s lawless frontier, he greets a president facing a new fight against radicalism deep in the heart of Pakistan’s urban centers.

Since Mumtaz Qadri unloaded over two-dozen bullets into Salmaan Taseer’s back because the outspoken liberal called the country’s blasphemy laws a “black law,” ecstatic crowds have flocked to shower Qadri with rose petals at his court appearances. Facebook fan pages and a fawning YouTube video cropped up within hours of the murder.

The glorification of a confessed killer by the masses has shocked the country’s small liberal minority. But most troubling has been the reaction of Pakistan’s urban middle class, whose support the United States needs in its war against terror and against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

From lawyers to tech-savvy Web users, the reaction of the educated middle class has most clearly illuminated the toehold that Islamic extremists have found when it comes to religious issues in Pakistan, even as the country continues to resist the allure of Islamic militants. Some see the reaction of the middle class as the expression of latent social outrage over how Islam is treated by the West, combined with a growing confusion over how to follow their faith in the modern world. This dormant indignation has found an outlet in the murder of a liberal governor.

“Taseer is a victim of religious extremism, but this religious extremism is wrapped up in a class and culture war, between the have-nots and the have, between the socially disposed and the possessors of society, between the globally connected and the globally disconnected,” Mosharraf Zaidi, a political analyst and policy development adviser in Islamabad, told AOL News.

Zaidi sees the convergence of educated Muslims around Qadri as a sign of confusion among the middle class over how to rationalize their modern lifestyle with Islamic tenets, prompting them to defer to radical right-wing mullahs when it comes to certain religious issues, like blasphemy.

“The Islamic narrative in Pakistan is dominated by a small religious establishment who has no viability electorally and who has limited social appeal. But on a number of specific issues they’re able to tap into something much deeper than what’s apparent in a day-to-day situation that awakens the inner radical,” Zaidi said. “The middle class is increasingly susceptible to the symbolism of the little guy taking on the big guy.”

Among Qadri’s most stalwart supporters are some of the same jurists who staged months of protests against Pakistan’s military dictator in 2007 and 2008, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf removed the country’s chief justice.

“We were supporting rule of law, the supremacy of the constitution and the independence of the judiciary,” said Mohammad Faisal Malik, who notes he was an active participant in the movement. “It was the most memorable year of my life.”

Dressed in a dapper black suit, Malik has a neat mustache and carefully styled sideburns that don’t suggest a picture of extremism taking root in Pakistan’s judicial system. But today he is among the group of lawyers who have been throwing garlands and chanting slogans in support of Qadri outside the district courthouse in Rawalpindi, and he is also one of the 500 lawyers signed on to represent Qadri.

Malik does not see a contradiction in supporting both the rule of law and a man who took the law into his own hands.

“Mr. Qadri reacted under certain provocation, feeling hurt from the remarks of the deceased governor. He acted like any Muslim will act when anyone uses filthy language against our prophet. … We were chanting and raising slogans against all those sectors that are using objectionable language against Muslims, against our holy prophet and against our religion. That was our message,” Malik explains in nearly flawless English, expressing a sense of global victimhood common among his compatriots.

In Pakistan, the day-to-day injustices in an impoverished society find no legal outlet. Corruption here is rife, and the rich can bribe their way out of anything. The lawyers supporting Qadri express an understanding of why the security guard picked up a gun.

“He took the law into his own hands when he thought he was helpless. He’s not in a position to initiate criminal proceedings against Mr. Taseer, so he reacted in this manner,” Malik said.

But some say the passivity of the educated class toward radical strains is not merely a product of a class and culture struggle but part of a larger generational gap in Pakistani society. Under the rule of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, Pakistan underwent an Islamization campaign as the military dictator sought to unify the country and encourage jihadists to fight against Indian control of Kashmir and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Today, some suggest, the younger generation is the product of state-sponsored radicalization.

“The state as a machinery is supporting and promoting religious extremism, and it happens through various means. It happens through media messages, it happens through textbooks,” said Marvi Sirmed, a human rights activist and blogger.

“The literate, quasi-educated urban population is the most vulnerable to these extremist propagandas, because they are exposed to electronic media and the outside world through social networking,” Sirmed said. “And I see a lot of stuff coming out through these sources that if you are naive, they can make you a suicide bomber very easily.”

It is this middle class, struggling with its faith in an age of global media and inter-connectivity, that the U.S. needs to win over, and it is precisely this sector it appears to be losing.

Pakistan’s middle class sees the United States not as a model of liberal values to be followed but rather as a country that inflicts repeated indignities upon Pakistanis’ culture and sense of worth with its military forays into the region in the past 10 years.

“We have to pay attention to the narrative of indignity, because it’s fueling things that start only as rhetorical and verbal but could very well link to Faisal Shahzad’s Nissan Pathfinder,” said Zaidi, referring to the failed Times Square bomber, an educated Pakistani who knew the United States only too well.

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