Archive for August, 2012

Pakistan Should Abolish Overly-Abused Blasphemy Laws

By Arsalan Iftikhar for The Washington Post

My grandfather was one of the most well-known literary figures in Pakistan’s history and once famously told me that, “Anger is the most extravagant luxury in the world.” I am always reminded of my beloved grandfather’s poignant sentiment whenever I read stories about death sentences being meted out in accordance with Pakistan’s blasphemy laws; with the most recent example being the case of an 11-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan who is facing blasphemy charges for allegedly burning pages of the Koran in rural Pakistan.

The child was arrested last week in a Christian area of the capital Islamabad, after a crowd of people demanded that she be punished for allegedly desecrating pages of the Muslim holy book. According to BBC News, it is not clear whether she burned pages of the Koran or was just found to be carrying them in her bag. Additionally, the BBC reported that doctors in Pakistan have examined this young Christian to further determine her mental capacity (some unconfirmed reports stated that she has Down’s Syndrome), with the results due to be presented in a Pakistani court in the coming days.

Pakistan’s Minister for National Harmony, Paul Bhatti, has said she is innocent of the charges and should be released. Shortly after her arrest, Bhatti told BBC News that, “The police were initially reluctant to arrest her, but they came under a lot of pressure from a very large crowd who were threatening to burn down Christian homes.”

As an international human rights lawyer, it is my personal belief that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are one of the most obvious obstacles preventing the nation of Pakistan from protecting its religious minorities (including members of the Christian, Hindu and Ahmadiyya communities). According to Pakistan’s penal code, here are the primary sections dealing with blasphemy charges and their potential criminal punishments:

“Whoever will fully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Koran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life. 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 (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

In recent times, these controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan have created major international headlines and generated debate across the globe. In November 2010, a Pakistani Christian female laborer named Asia Bibi was sentenced to death after a fellow worker accused her of insulting Islam. Her sentence is under appeal, and Bibi is still in jail. Only a few months after Bibi’s death sentence, provincial Gov. Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti – both prominent Pakistani politicians – were assassinated in cold blood after public calls to amend the blasphemy laws.

CNN also further reported that militants attacked two mosques in May 2010 and killed more than 90 worshipers of the Ahmadiya sect, a minority Muslim group often “viewed as heretics and blasphemers by hardline Sunnis” in Pakistan.

As a proud and practicing Muslim, I have written previously on “blasphemy” issues insulting Islam around the world and how modern Muslim societies should respond to such controversies. Most Muslims are aware of a well-known Islamic parable which tells the story of the prophet Muhammad and his daily interactions with an unruly female neighbor who used to curse him violently and then proceed to dump garbage onto him every day from her perch-top window each time he would ever walk by her house.

One day, prophet Muhammad noticed that the woman was not present to throw garbage outside of her window. In an act of true prophetic kindness, he actually went out of his way to inquire about her well-being and then proceeded to visit his hostile neighbor at her bedside inside of her own home when had found out that she had fallen sick.

This genteel act of prophetic kindness toward unfriendly (and overtly hostile) neighbors is the truly Muslim and Islamic standard that we should all use within our collective lives, not threats of violence and/or death sentences which disparately impact religious minorities in Muslim-majority nations. After all, if our prophet Muhammad treated those who cursed him with kindness, shouldn’t other Muslims do exactly the same?

Thus, although Pakistan has a very long way to go in terms of protecting religious minorities within their national borders, it can take a giant step in the right direction by abolishing its overly-abused blasphemy laws and show compassion to people of other religions, something that Islam’s prophet taught us over 1,400 years ago.

Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and author of “Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era.”

The Opposite of American

By E.J.Graff for The American Prospect

The Sikh temple shooting, which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random.

I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him.

The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively political: Liberals are ruining Norway, or abortion clinics are killing babies. Sometimes he’s just crazy—psychotic, or with a deeply disturbing character disorder—but sane enough to follow the cultural script.

Even knowing that the story has a plot that I can strip down to familiar elements, this particular shooting upsets me more than most—because Wade Michael Page shot up a gathering of a religious minority, darker than white, in the bucolic Midwest, in what police are calling an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI has been called in. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page was, as many of us suspected, a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” (Okay, I didn’t guess the band part.) Dave Weigel goes into the background documents and offers up the relevant nuggets in an excellent post at Slate, including a link to one of Page’s hate songs.

Sikhs have been targeted and attacked in hate crimes since 9/11; CNN has a summary of some of the publicly reported attacks here. Many of the news reports quoting Sikhs about this attack emphasize that they’re mistaken for Muslims, as if attacking Muslims would be more understandable. But post-9/11 hatred focused on the “other” hasn’t been that specific; Sikhs are visibly south Asian and, with those turbans, non-Christian. That’s enough for a neo-Nazi or any xenophobe who nurses an irrational resentment.

Here’s why this one leaves me particularly shaky. I grew up in the only Jewish family in my southern Ohio township, and probably the county; for nearly a decade, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in my jam-packed grade school, junior high, and high school. (My graduating class had 675 people.) The area was so German-American white that my medium-brown hair (see picture to the right) counted as dark, and left me irrationally unwilling to date anyone blond, although I’ve known consciously that that’s ridiculous. Somehow, I never had the presence of mind to connect my feeling of exclusion to what my dear friends the Conchas, the township’s Hispanic family, might be feeling, much less how the handful of black kids might have felt; as a child, my focus was on trying to shut off that sense of exclusion. Not until adulthood did I learn, instead, to expand it into empathy.

It’s hard to express how or why this incised me with vulnerable outsiderness so profoundly. Was it the time my friend Patti chased me around at recess, telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and the teacher made me sit in the corner for crying? Was it having to stand every day in fourth grade as everyone said the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew wasn’t mine? (Yes, that came after the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in schools, but I wasn’t yet well-versed enough in the law to object.) Was it getting those little choose-Christ-or-go-to-hell pamphlets in our Halloween bags, which probably went into everyone’s bags but which I interpreted as specifically meant for my Jewish family? Or having my sixth-grade teacher call me into the hall at school, asking whether the class could have a Christmas tree?

Another child might not have felt all this so keenly, of course, but I did. And my friends who grew up in urban or suburban Jewish clusters—Los Angeles, Cleveland Heights, Long Island—had a vastly different experience as American Jews. After I left for college, a Hindu temple moved in, and I was happy that my little brother and sister would have some fellow outsiders to befriend. For me, being the Jewish kid in Beavercreek, Ohio, was a lot harder than coming out later as gay. Which is probably why I never write about this subject, and why it’s so easy, comparatively, for me to write about sexuality and gender.

And it’s why, after 9/11, I was so grateful to march with members of the tiny Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, which sits one street over from the tiny Cambridge synagogue, as befits religions that are such close cousins. However much the 9/11 bombers resembled, say, Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph (who bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Atlanta Olympic games, in that order) in their message of politically targeted hatred, I knew that after 9/11 all Muslims would be slandered as responsible in a way that all white Christians had not been. In fact, the one thing I thought George W. Bush got absolutely right was insisting that Americans should not blame a religion for its most extreme members’ unhinged actions.

Police may not have definitively determined Wade Michael Page’s motive. But I see a group of brown people gunned down in their temple, almost certainly for their religious outsiderness, out there in the hyperwhite Midwest. I grieve for every Sikh in the country, and for every Muslim and Hindu and South Asian and Middle Eastern American who knows the message was aimed at them as well.

Page may have been a shooter like all other shooters: just another grudge-holding male who decided to feel powerful by becoming the lord of death. And yet his bullets nevertheless delivered a specifically white message of “patriotic” hatred: You don’t belong here. You are not us. Go directly to hell.

Will someone—everyone, really—please stand up and say that what Page represents is the opposite of American?

Free Rimsha Masih Now and End The Blasphemy Law Witch Hunts in Pakistan

The latest victim of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, is an 11 year old girl suffering from Downs Syndrome. Rimshah Masih screamed pitifully as she was brutally snatched from her mother by an angry mob intent on killing her. Burnt religious texts had been mischievously planted in a bag she was carrying. We call on the Pakistani Government to take action to stop the ongoing discrimination, persecution and hatred towards minorities living there. We call on the Britisha Government the EU and the Un to intervene on behalf of this poor child and to bring about her freedom.

To bring an end to hatred towards minority faiths in conservative Pakistan and to defend otherwise helpless victims like Rimsha please sign the petition below: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/freerimshamasih

This petition will be sent to the Pakistan Government at the highest levels.

“Whilst the Burmese’s treatment of the Rohingya is indeed appalling and deserves condemnation, our minorities are living in their very own Burma right here in Pakistan.

“As the rest of the country goes about its way, having just celebrated another joyous Eid, spare a thought for a little girl with special needs, languishing in a juvenile jail.

“She is probably all alone, and scared. With her condition, she very well might not even know the reason she is in there.

“But ask her neighbours, some who are frothing at the teeth to have a go at her, and they will tell you that she deserves to die.

“Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old Pakistani girl of the Christian faith, who reportedly suffers from Down Syndrome, was arrested on allegations that she had desecrated the Holy Quran.

“The girl and her mother were severely beaten by an enraged mob that had converged outside their house, while the rest of her family managed to flee. If the police had not intervened, there is no telling what else could have happened….”

Please sign the petition and help free Rimsha and Aasia Bibi and put an end to Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws.

Pakistan Police Arrest Christian Girl After Angry Neighbors Accuse Her of Burning the Quran

By Munir Ahmed, Zarar Khan and Matthew Lee for The Associated Press

A Christian girl was sent to a Pakistani prison after being accused by her furious Muslim neighbors of burning pages of the Islamic holy book, the Quran, in violation of the country’s strict blasphemy laws.

A police official said Monday there was little evidence that pages of the book had been burned and that the case would likely be dropped. But hundreds of angry neighbors gathered outside the girl’s home last week demanding action in a case raising new concerns about religious extremism in this conservative Muslim country.

Some human rights officials and media reports said the girl was mentally handicapped. Police gave conflicting reports of her age as 11 and 16.

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad or defiling the holy book, or Quran, can face life in prison or even execution. Critics say the laws are often misused to harass non-Muslims or target individuals.

Police put the girl in jail for 14 days on Thursday after neighbors said they believed a Christian girl had burned pages of a Quran, gathering outside her house in a poor outlying district of Islamabad, said police officer Zabi Ullah. He suggested she was being held for her protection.

“About 500 to 600 people had gathered outside her house in Islamabad and they were very emotional, angry and they might have harmed her if we had not quickly reacted,” Ullah said.

Almost everyone in the girl’s neighborhood insisted she had burned the Quran’s pages, even though police said they had found no evidence of it. One police official, Qasim Niazi, said when the girl was brought to the police station, she had a shopping bag that contained various religious and Arabic-language papers that had been partly burned, but there was no Quran.

Some residents claimed they actually saw burnt pages of Quran — either at the local mosque or at the girl’s house. Few people in Pakistan actually speak or read Arabic, so often assume that anything they see with Arabic script is believed to be from the Quran, sometimes the only Arabic-language book people have seen.

But one police officer familiar with the girl’s case said the matter would likely be dropped once the investigation is completed and the atmosphere is defused, saying there was “nothing much to the case.” He did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the case.

A spokesperson for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Farhatullah Babar, said the president has taken “serious note” of reports of the girl’s arrest and has asked the Interior Ministry to look into the case.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the case “deeply disturbing”.

“We urge the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens but also women and girls,” she said.

The Associated Press is withholding the girl’s name; the AP does not generally identify juveniles under 18 who are accused of crimes.

The case demonstrates the deep emotion that suspected blasphemy cases can evoke in a country where religion Many critics say the blasphemy laws are often abused.

“It has been exploited by individuals to settle personal scores, to grab land, to violate the rights of non-Muslims, to basically harass them,” said the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zora Yusuf.

Those convicted of blasphemy can spend years in prison and often face mob justice by extremists when they finally do get out. In July, thousands of people dragged a man accused of desecrating the Quran from a police station in the central city of Bahawalpur, beat him to death and then set his body on fire.

Attempts to revoke or alter the blasphemy laws have been met with violent opposition. Last year, two prominent political figures who spoke out against the laws were killed in attacks that basically ended any attempts at reform.

The girl’s jailing terrified her Christian neighbors, many of whom left their homes in fear after the incident. One resident said Muslims used to object to the noise when Christians sang songs during their services. After the girl was accused he said senior members of the Muslim community pressured landlords to evict Christian tenants.

But Muslim residents insisted they treated their neighbors with respect, and said Christians needed to respect Islamic traditions and culture.

“Their priest should tell them that they should respect the call for prayer. They should respect the mosque and the Quran,” said Haji Pervez, one of several Muslims gathered at the local mosque less than 100 yards (meters) from the grey concrete house where the Christian girl lived.

“This is what should have happened. We are standing in the house of God. This incident has happened and it is true. It was not good.”

“Even a 3-year-old, 4-year-old child knows: “This is Muslim. This is Christian. This is our religion,” said shopkeeper Mohammed Ilyas.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The case of this young Christian girl is reminiscent of the case of Aasia Bibi and many other lesser known unfortunate people who have been arrested under Pakistan’s ridiculous blasphemy laws. These laws are draconian and have no place in the country’s judicial system serving only to intimidate Pakistan’s religious minorities and giving the zealots an official tool to harass the country’s Christians, Hindus and other minorities. As we have done before, we call on the government of Pakistan to do the right thing and strike these absurd laws from the books and free the individuals who have been imprisoned under these laws.

The Water Car Fraud

By Pervez Hudbooy for The Express Tribune


Agha Waqar Ahmad deserves a medal from the people of Pakistan for his great service to the nation. In a few short days, he has exposed just how far Pakistan has fallen into the pit of ignorance and self-delusion. No practical joker could have demonstrated more dramatically the true nature of our country’s political leaders, popular TV anchors and famed scientists.

At first, it sounded like a joke: a self-styled engineer, trained in Khairpur’s polytechnic institute, claims to have invented a ‘water kit’ enabling any car to run on water alone. It didn’t matter that the rest of world couldn’t extract energy from water; he had done it. He promised a new Pakistan with limitless energy, no need for petrol or gas, and no more loadshedding. For an energy starved nation, it is a vision of paradise.
Agha Waqar Ahmad is now a national celebrity thanks to Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah. Federal ministers Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani and

Qamar Zaman Kaira have added their commendations. President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed his delight. The cabinet has met three times to discuss the water vehicle, and a fourth meeting is scheduled. Reports suggest millions may be spent on the ‘water fuel kit project’.
The media has rushed in to celebrate the new national hero. For TV anchor Talat Husain, thanks to Agha Waqar Ahmad’s invention, Pakistan’s image can go from a country ravaged by terrorism to one of boundless possibilities. Anchor Hamid Mir and Senator Parvaiz Rasheed drove around Islamabad sitting next to the inventor, wondering how to protect the man’s life from Western oil companies. Anchor Arshad Sharif was euphoric about the $14 billion Pakistan would save on oil imports.

Pakistan’s most celebrated scientists were not far behind. Asked by Anchor Sharif whether a car could run only on water, nuclear hero Dr Samar Mubarakmand replied without hesitation: “jee haan, bilkul ho sakta hai” (yes, absolutely possible). For his part, Hamid Mir asked Dr AQ Khan if there was any chance of this being a fraud. The response was clear: “Main nay apnay level per investigate kiya hai aur koi fraud waraud nahi kiya hai” (I have investigated the matter and there is no fraud involved). The head of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dr Shaukat Parvaiz, went further: “hum nay bhi iss pay kam karaya tha” (we had some work done on this too).

So, what is the problem? It’s that the laws of physics, in particular a fundamental scientific principle known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, impose inviolable constraints. Every machine constructed anywhere uses the Second Law. This is something that I learned in my first year as a student at MIT and have taught for 40 years. No serious scientist would dream of challenging the Second Law. Agha Waqar Ahmad’s ‘water kit’, if one believes science to be right, simply cannot work. What the inventor, the ministers, the anchors and scientists claim on TV is wrong.

To his credit, the only person on TV that seemed to know this elementary principle was Dr Attaur Rahman, a chemist and a former HEC chairman. I have not agreed with all his actions and views in the past, but he alone rejected the claims about the new machine. Sadly, he was not able to hold back the tide of a nation desperate for any answer to its energy woes.

The water fraud will be exposed soon enough and, like a bad posterior smell, will go away. A simple experiment will make this happen faster. Here’s how: take an emergency electricity generator, of which there are thousands in Islamabad. Its engine is similar to that in a car. Remove the fuel tank and make sure the ‘water kit’ contains only water. Then ask the inventor to connect it up and run the generator. Let there be enough sharp-eyed witnesses of intelligence and integrity.

But this episode raises bigger questions. Scientific frauds exist in other countries, but what explains their spectacular success in Pakistan? Answer: our leaders are lost in the dark, fumbling desperately for a miracle; our media is chasing spectacle, not truth; and our great scientists care more about being important than about evidence. It is easy for them all to get away with this. As a nation, we have proven unwilling to do the hard work needed to learn to reason, to be sceptical, to demand proof, to understand even basic science. It is easier to believe the world is run by magic and conspiracies, to wish and wait for Aladin’s magic lamp. We live in the age of jahilliya.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– No Kidding and well said Professor Hoodboy when you mention in the article that: “Pakistan has fallen into the pit of ignorance and self-delusion” We think so too and may God help us all!

Mango Mania

By Huma Yusuf for The International Herald Tribune

KARACHI — Summers in the city — and across much of Pakistan — are relentless. Temperatures typically hit 100 degrees, power outages drag on for hours, heatstroke is common, and while monsoon rains bring some relief, they bring great ruin through widespread flooding. But there is one thing that makes Pakistanis anticipate the torpid summer months — mangoes.

With their golden yellow, blushing pink and pale green hues coloring markets by the cart-full, Pakistani mangoes are a source of national joy and pride. But bad luck — and poor logistics — are now threatening Pakistan’s king of fruits.

The country is the fifth-largest producer and third-largest exporter of mangoes in the world. For as long as I can remember, mangoes have turned oppressive summers into seasons of celebration and amity. Friends and families share crates of the finest mangoes. Rival tribes exchange baskets to resolve arguments. Hotels and restaurants host mango festivals featuring mango puppets or 4-foot-high, mango-shaped cardboard cutouts strung with streamers.

Pakistan’s love affair with the mango is culturally ingrained. Mirza Ghalib, the foremost Urdu-language poet of the Mughal era, was an avid mango eater who measured his health and joie de vivre by the number of mangoes he was able to consume.

Nothing (except perhaps cricket) will stir Pakistani nationalism more than the suggestion that another country’s mangoes could taste half as good as Pakistan’s. The only point of contention is which of the country’s hundreds of mango varieties is the most delicious: chaunsa, langara, sindhri, anwar ratol? (My vote goes to the subtle and aromatic anwar ratol.)

Last summer, Pakistani growers were thrilled at the prospect of countries beyond Asia finally enjoying their mangoes. Not only did the British retailer Asda start stocking Pakistani mangoes, but the first-ever shipment of Pakistani mangoes arrived in the United States in July 2011 after USAID helped Pakistan to meet U.S. standards of pest control and post-harvest management. New exports to Western markets were expected to be a boon to local farmers.

But this summer’s crop has not met expectations — some mango varieties ripened too late in the season, others are too small or are lacking in taste or texture. Pakistan is now likely to fail to meet its mango export target of 150,000 tons by September, instead managing to export only 100,000 tons.

This is partly because of last year’s monsoon and subsequent flooding, which reduced mango productivity by 30 percent. According to some estimates, up to a quarter of all mango farms in the southern province of Sindh were completely washed out.

But a big part of the shortfall is due to poor logistical planning: containers needed to ship mangoes are in short supply; Pakistan International Airlines does not appear to have the proper infrastructure to make shipments; international shipping companies have transported mangoes to the wrong destination or failed to secure the fruit against damage or theft en route; a cumbersome distribution system has caused Pakistan to lose out in the Asian mango market to China and India. Meanwhile, U.N. sanctions against trade with Iran have also caused a loss of $10 million to Pakistan’s mango growers, who previously exported up to 40 percent of their crop to the neighboring country.

All this bodes poorly for the future. Meagre profits — or in some cases, losses — from exports, coupled with last year’s widespread damage to mango farms, could compromise future yields. This would be nothing less than tragic, especially given that a worsening economic and security situation means that there are ever fewer things for Pakistanis to enjoy.

I, for one, am not taking any chances. This summer, I’m scarfing down mangoes at every opportunity. But my real hope is that the Pakistani mango’s reign endures for many years to come.

Huma Yusuf is a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

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