Archive for the ‘ blasphemy laws ’ Category

Pakistan’s Mosques, Media and Intolerance

By Zeeshan Haider for Reuters

Pakistan has been fighting Islamist militants for years, but tough measures are needed to overturn a system breeding religious intolerance after the long failure of authorities to confront mullahs and hardline groups.

Analysts say the notion of religious mistrust is deeply entrenched in the predominatly Muslim country — even in the school system — and it is now up to leaders to mobilise public.

Last week’s massacre in the city of Lahore of more than 80 Ahmadis – a minority religious sect deemed non-Muslim and heretical by the constitution – has generated a heated debate in Pakistan, a U.S. ally, on how to tackle the issue.

In a sign of how hatred is propagated, The News newspaper said one of the two surviving gunmen caught by security forces said he had been persuaded that Ahmadis were “blaspheming” Islam.

Identified as Abdullah, he told investigators that his mentors had him believe that Ahmadis were drawing caricatures of Prophet Mohammad during a recent online contest and “so their bloodshed was a great service to Islam”, the newspaper said. That raised alarm bells in a country combatting militancy.

“The nagging feeling that the government has already lost the battle against extremism has now acquired the force of conviction,” Zafar Hilaly, a former ambassador, wrote in The News last week.

After joining the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Pakistan mounted a crackdown on militancy, outlawing several groups, arresting hundreds of suspects and warning hardline mullahs against delivering hate speeches and distributing hate literature.

The government also vowed to reform tens of thousands of Islamic seminaries, known as madrassas, many of which are considered as breeding grounds for militancy. Almost none of these measures, however, has been implemented.

Most outlawed groups have re-emerged under new names. Radical clerics still deliver fiery speeches against sects. The U.S. Embassy acknowledged the difficulties, given the importance placed on Pakistan helping Washington battle al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

“We recognise this is a problem,” an embassy official said, adding that the embassy encouraged Pakistanis to take part in exchange programmes to see a multi-faith United States.

Analysts say Pakistani leaders dating back to the 1970s, however popular, took no action to counter radicals. Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political and security analyst said governments have lacked the stomach to implement reforms, particularly in school curricula.

“In textbooks used in government schools, Pakistan is equated with Muslims…They teach Pakistan is a country only for Muslims. They don’t teach that non-Muslims also live here,” he said.

Journalist and analyst Ahmed Rashid described school programmes as “the most sensitive issue. But it is an issue in which any attempt to change the curriculum would have a whole host of fundamentalist groups oppose you.”

In 1974, Pakistan’s first popularly elected Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, bowed to Islamic groups and won approval of a constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims. He also switched the weekly day off from Sunday to Friday.

But much of the upsurge in militancy occurred in the late 1970s and 1980s during the “Islamisation drive” by late military leader General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq and Pakistan’s support for the U.S.-baked Afghan jihad or holy war against the Soviet invasion which saw a rapid growth of radical groups and madrasas.

Haq introduced several laws, such as the notorious blasphemy law, which are deemed discriminatory against non-Muslim minorities and fuelled tensions between different Muslim sects. Subsequent governments did nothing to reverse the laws.

Military dictators, who ruled Pakistan for more than half of its existence, have also used militant groups to further policy objectives in Afghanistan and India and marginalise liberals.

“In earlier years, in order to pursue its foreign policy using the instrument of jihad, the state actively sought to create a religiously charged citizenry,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist and analyst. “But, now that the Pakistani military and political establishments have become a victim of extremism, they are foundering in confusion.”

Former President Pervez Musharraf, a military ruler, though he espoused a modern and liberal version of Islam, repeatedly failed to get the laws reviewed while in office from 1999-2008.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a pro-West politician and a vocal opponent of the militants, was killed in December 2007 in a suicide attack blamed on militants linked to al Qaeda. Civilian leaders are made even more cautious now in tackling radical groups by the tremendous fear of militants who have unleashed bomb and suicide attacks across the country.

“Religious intolerance is getting worse in Pakistan because the political leadership lacks the will to fight this,” said analyst Rizvi. “They don’t want to face the wrath of mullahs.”

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Facebook in Pakistan: Islamists vs. Liberals

By Adam B Ellick and Ahmad Ziadi for The New York Times

When Facebook was recently banned in Pakistan for hosting a “Draw Muhammad Day” fan page, one thing became very clear: Islamists here operate with organized precision, able to mobilize the masses in an instant, while the liberal voice remains paralyzed by fear and passivity.

Some media experts predicted that the ban – which a Pakistani court has now ordered the government to lift – might motivate the nation’s deeply disconnected liberal elite to take on the Islamists. After all, while members of the urban elite have been largely immune to the recent rise of violent militant attacks, the Facebook ban presented them with a personal vendetta.

In a nation without bars, and where entertainment options such as music concerts are rare, Facebook serves as a precious tool for the elite to organize discreet private events with music, drugs and alcohol. It has also helped mobilize social movements, including the lawyers’ march in 2009.

But the fervor that has followed the Facebook ban has been entirely one-sided in favor of the Islamists.

As the rest of Muslim world remains largely indifferent, tens of thousands of anti-Facebook Pakistanis protested in urban centers by burning American flags. A poll conducted by an IT portal called ProPakistani showed 73 percent out of about 8,000 voters favor a permanent ban on Facebook.

How did it get to this? There has been a widespread SMS campaign perpetuating a false narrative that Pakistan’s ban has brought a behemoth anti-Muslim company to its knees. One SMS attributes the recent fall in the Euro to the ban. Here’s another SMS I received:

THE BOYCOTT MADE BY MUSLIMS AGAINST FACEBOOK SINCE LAST 2 DAYS

CHARGE DEM A LOSS OF 2 BILLION EUROS..AND IF ITS CONTINUED AFTER 7 DAYS IT WOULD

REACH AROUND 40 BILLION EURO…. PLZ SPREAD AS MUCH AS U CAN.

Facts suggest otherwise. Facebook is not a publicly traded company, therefore, its earnings are not published. Still, some venture capitalists have valued Facebook at about $8 billion. Its annual revenue is estimated between $500 to $800 million.

In addition to the SMS campaign, this week, two new Muslim-friendly alternatives to Facebook have been launched. One of them, www.millatfacebook.com, was inaugurated by the bar association of the same Lahore court that banned Facebook. Millat means “Nation” in Urdu.

The site wooed more than 20,000 users with its slogan: “A site for Muslims by Muslims where sweet people of other religions are also welcome!!” Members are asked to specify if they drink alcohol. The founders are enraged at Facebook for curtailing Nazi-related hate speech while refusing to curb the Muhammad cartoons.

Their website says “Let’s prove to the world that if we can generate revenue for Facebook.com then we can also run our own website. Prove to the world that we are independent Muslims…” The other alternative site, www.Buddyflick.com , aims to “create/build/run our own network.” But where are Pakistan’s liberal and moderate voices?

Speaking out against the ban can be as hazardous as the forbidden cartoons. When those against the ban held a small news conference, the press mostly ignored it. After the press conference, several anti-ban activists were aggressively confronted by a large crowd of opposing activists as they left the venue. As tensions escalated, the anti-ban activists retreated into the building and waited for the crowd to dissipate.

One friend who is especially furious about the ban wouldn’t dare to speak out. “Nobody has the guts to go out and do something about it. The issue of Muhammad is so sensitive that you just never know.”

Instead, liberals are hashing out their frustrations in the low-traffic comment sections of liberal blogs and leftist newspapers, and, ironically enough, on their actual Facebook pages. Some have hacked into the banned site from the confines of their gated homes. Among the comment section in one newspaper is the latest joke: What’s the difference between Facebook and Lashkar  e Taiba? Answer: Facebook is banned!

Pakistani minister promises to revise blasphemy law despite death threats

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 Islamabad, Pakistan- The minister for minority affairs of Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti,  promised to work to amend the blasphemy laws used to target non-Muslims in Pakistan such as Christians and Hindus and said he was ready to die fighting for this cause.

A Member of Parliament and head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), Shahbaz Bhatti was visiting Washington DC at the invitation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which awarded him a first-of-a-kind medal for championing the rights of minorities in Islamic Pakistan.

A Catholic member of President Asif Ali Zardari’s administration as a federal minister for minority affairs, he took over the job last year when it was made a cabinet level position in Zardari’s cabinet.

Bhatti said he has received threats for his work on numerous occasions. Earlier this month, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister was wounded in an assassination attempt in Islamabad that left his driver dead.

“I personally stand for religious freedom, even if I will pay the price of my life,” Bhatti said. “I live for this principle and I want to die for this principle.”

Pakistan’s law against blaspheming Islam carries the death penalty. While no one has ever been sent to the executed for the crime, activists say the law is used to exploit others out of personal vendettas by some in the Muslim community against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhist minorities in Pakistan.

A 25-year-old Christian jailed on blasphemy allegations earlier this week died in prison. Authorities said he committed suicide but civil rights activists suspect that he was tortured by the police.

The death came several weeks after an angry mob killed seven Christians in an arson attack that destroyed about 40 houses in the town of Gojra in central Punjab province.

Christians and other religious minorities have a long history of persecution and discrimination in all walks of life in Pakistan by the Muslim majority. This is a sad reality and a country such as Pakistan that was founded for religious freedoms for the Muslims of India in 1947, has to do a much better job at protecting the 3 to 5% of the population that does not share the Islamic faith.

Unfair, subjective and antiquated laws such as Pakistan’s blasphemy laws need to be urgently amended so that the non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan do not live in fear of an upset neighbor calling the authorities and falsely claiming an individual blasphemed the religion of Islam. Furthermore, if an individual is indeed ever guilty of blasphemy, the death penalty is a rather harsh punishment for simply stating one’s opinions, no matter how offensive to the faithful.

Although he may face strong resistance by some of the extremist and ultra religious members of Parliament in Pakistan, many moderate and enlightened Pakistanis support the minister for minority affairs and hope that he is successful in amending this archaic law.

Christian Pakistani Children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reported by Manzer Munir for www.PakistanisforPeace.com

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