Archive for the ‘ US Commission on International Religious Freedom ’ Category

Death Sentence in Slaying of Pakistani Governor

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

A court on Saturday sentenced to death an elite police guard who assassinated a leading secular politician he had been charged with protecting, a slaying that sent shockwaves throughout Pakistan and was seen as a clear marker of the growing religious intolerance and extremism in the country.

The news made international headlines not just because of the prominence of the politician killed, Salman Taseer, but because the killer was celebrated by many in Pakistan, including lawyers who showered him with rose petals and garlands at a court appearance.

Judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah announced the sentence for the guard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, in an antiterrorism court at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. “Nobody can be given a license to kill on any pretext,” the judge was quoted as saying after the conclusion of the trial, which was held under tight security.

The ruling was unusual in Pakistan; frightened justices in recent years have been cowed into releasing Islamic militants or letting them off with light sentences. The judgment was especially noteworthy in such a high-profile case against a man whose popularity only grew with his confession and defense of the killing on religious grounds.

Mr. Taseer was the governor of Punjab Province and one of the country’s most outspoken opponents of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, which mandate a death sentence for anyone convicted of insulting Islam.

Liberals and rights activists were encouraged by the verdict, but noted that it could be overturned in appeals that can drag on for years.

“Today’s judgment is a positive development whereby norms of justice have prevailed,” said Raza Rumi, a political analyst and columnist in the eastern city of Lahore. “Pakistan cannot be allowed to become a vigilante society, and the state — its judges and prosecutors — need to uphold the law.”

No matter what happens with the case, however, Mr. Taseer’s death cast a pall over discussions of the blasphemy laws — which had become something of a test case for broader debate of how religion and politics mix in Pakistan. That trend continued Saturday. The usually voluble Pakistani press dutifully covered the story, but news broadcasts were mainly devoid of the normal commentary or debate.

“Local media’s muted coverage of the sentence is reflective of the fear factor and the polarization within the society which includes media personnel,” Mr. Rumi said.

Mr. Qadri, 26, was convicted of murder and committing an act of terrorism, and was handed two life sentences.

No date for the execution has been announced, and Mr. Qadri has a right to appeal within seven days. Raja Shuja-ur-Rahman, a lawyer for Mr. Qadri, told the DAWN television channel that an appeal would be filed.

Mr. Qadri killed Mr. Taseer in a hail of bullets on Jan. 4, shooting at close range as Mr. Taseer was getting into his car.

Mr. Taseer, a businessman and a liberal politician, had emerged as a leader in a fight against the blasphemy law, which rights groups say has been used to persecute minorities, especially Christians.

The law was introduced in the 1980s under the military dictatorship of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq as part of a policy of promoting Islam to unite Pakistan’s deeply fractious society.

Mr. Qadri was hailed as a hero by Islamist lawyers, several mainstream politicians and religious leaders.

On Saturday, dozens of supporters of Mr. Qadri gathered outside the jail and chanted slogans against the sentence, while the judge slipped out a back door.

“We will free you! We will die for you!” 20-year-old Mohamemd Aslam was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. Others yelled: “Long live Qadri, long live Qadri!”

“By punishing one Mumtaz Qadri, you will produce a thousand Mumtaz Qadris!” shouted another man.

The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, to which Mr. Taseer belonged, has been accused of distancing itself from the cause of repealing the blasphemy law since the assassination.

Muslims in America: A mosque rehabilitates its image

Conversations / Live Q&A Washington Post

ABOUT THE HOST
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik serves as the director of Community Outreach for the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center. He was the first Muslim Chaplain installed at Howard University. The imam is the former chair of Government Relations for the Muslim Alliance in North America [MANA founded by Imam Siraj Wahhaj] and is the founding President of the Muslim Society of Washington, DC Inc and Associate Imam of First Hijrah Islamic Center in Washington, DC.

Known nationally for his fundraising efforts for masjids, schools and relief organizations, Imam Johari is a founding member of the Muslim Advocacy Commission of Washington, D.C. and “Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence” [MMADV] and has edited a book on”What Islam Says About Domestic Violence”.
ABOUT THE TOPIC
Dar Al-Hirjah is one of the largest mosques in America, and it can be linked to many terrorism suspects in some way. Imam Johari Abdul-Malik discussed the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque, rehabilitating the mosque’s image after 9-11, how 9-11 has affected Muslim life in America, and more.

Read: Imam serves as public face of an embattled mosque
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
Salaam-Shalom-OmShanti-Peace,

I would like to thank The Washington Post and especially William Wan and Jahi for their work on this article. I pray that it will inspire more bridge building

– September 19, 2011 11:03 AM Permalink
Q.
CHANGES IN SENSITIVITIES
What are examples of what you have heard from fellow Muslims to any changes in how they have been treated since 2001? How much of a difference has there been? How often do they find themselves in a situation where someone has said or done something offensive or hurtful?
– September 19, 2011 10:43 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
The overall experience has actually been positive. However, the negative experiences have been structural (Homeland Security, etc) but I expect that those things will change with time. I am a very positive person and I expect things to continue to only get better

– September 19, 2011 11:06 AM
Q.
AMERICAN MUSLIMS
Salaam alaykum, Imam Johari I am a devout American Muslim woman (and a convert like yourself), but after reading this, I would be terrified to attend your masjid. Instead of honoring your women, you make them go through a separate entrance in the back, for what? To protect men from seeing their wives and daughters? In the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, men and women prayed in the same space. So my question is this, how can you hope to move from simply defending your community to integrating them into the country at large? This type of isolation and anger only breeds mistrust and silently encourages the behavior of men like Aulaqi. I truly wish you luck and will pray for your community. Please believe that there is another way. My masjid in Brooklyn is nothing like this.
– September 19, 2011 10:57 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I agree with you that the architecture of the mosque is not women friendly. I am working first to change to minds of people who attend the mosque and then we have to work on reconstructing the bricks to be more women and family friendly.

– September 19, 2011 11:09 AM
Q.
SHARIA
Do you agree with sharia?
– September 19, 2011 11:02 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
Firstly, “sharia” for me, is similar to keeping kosher for Jews. I don’t believe that my beliefs or practices should be enforced on others. In short, I don’t believe that stoning or cutting off hands are what the Qur’an intended for the 21st century

– September 19, 2011 11:09 AM
Q.
PEDOPHILIA
Do you think its OK for a 53 year old man to marry a 6 year old girl? If so, why?
– September 19, 2011 11:03 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I would advise you not to do!

– September 19, 2011 11:10 AM
Q.
COEXISTENCE
What kind of outreach are you doing to local Christians and Jews?

– September 19, 2011 11:09 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
We have been working with several churches and synagogues in the DC metro area for the past decade and have built many strong relationships…

– September 19, 2011 11:13 AM
HALEY CRUM :
What’s the most common question you usually get?

– September 19, 2011 11:15 AM Permalink
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
The most common question to me is as a convert “how did you become a muslim?”.

– September 19, 2011 11:15 AM
Q.
FGM
Where do you stand on female genital mutilation?
– September 19, 2011 11:05 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
FGM: Is not a practice of Islam and although many cultures before Islam practiced it and this unislamic practice continues. I am working with relief organizations and interfaith organizations to end this horrible pracitice.

– September 19, 2011 11:15 AM
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I wanted to mention here that it is my hope that terms such as “non-Muslim” and “Muslim World” will cease to be used as I see those terms as divisive. I always make it a point to correct anyone that I hear use these terms. I prefer “people of other faiths/traditions” when speaking of those that do not share my faith

– September 19, 2011 11:21 AM Permalink
Q.
AMERICAN MUSLIMS
But how do we change hearts and minds? Especially in a climate that seems to have grown more hostile to us? It’s difficult to tell other Muslims, especially conservative immigrants that they should embrace change and their new country when we’re being told we can’t build mosques. Park51 (aka the supposed Ground Zero mosque) is the perfect example. We worked so hard and against so much opposition for this place. Yet when I attended services a couple Fridays ago, a community member began berating a young Muslim woman for leading two male journalists in for both being uncovered and talking to a man. It’s humiliating.
– September 19, 2011 11:17 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I have learned so much from the examples of great people and the prophet Muhammad and Jesus (peace be upon them). We have to increase our efforts for the positive, try to understand the other. New immigrants have their baggage as everyone does. Dr. King said, ‘Let us overcome them with our capacity’ to love

– September 19, 2011 11:30 AM
HALEY CRUM :
What has the Muslim community done for America lately – is America a better place because of Muslims? – rickdumbronski

– September 19, 2011 11:30 AM Permalink
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
First of all, there is single “Muslim community”. There are many different “communities” of Muslims with many diverse ethnic groups and sects. Secondly, there are Muslims in the US Armed Services and working within Homeland Security (including the FBI) that are serving their country with honor. Thirdly, there are many Muslim civilians that are working with law enforcement and are the very key to keeping us safe from terror plots. Without the help of Muslims, it would be much more difficult to fight terror

– September 19, 2011 11:30 AM
Q.
HOW TO COMBAT SHARIA STEREOTYPES?
I’m a humanistic Jew, and while I do not practice traditional Jewish law, I’m well versed in them. I personally don’t see a difference between Sharia and the Talmudic laws that also dictate not just keeping kosher, but divorces, shabbat, how, when, and where to pray, conversions, and all other sorts of elements of daily life. There are orthodox rabbinic courts, Beit Dins, that are sometimes used as alternative dispute resolution mechanisms instead of regular secular courts. The Catholic Church has ecclesiastical courts that gives annulments and hears other similar sorts of cases. How can we better express that Sharia is no different from the rules and institutions of other systems?
– September 19, 2011 11:21 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
You are right on brother! We all need to speak this truth from the hill tops. Criminal law needs to stay in the hands of law enforcement.

– September 19, 2011 11:32 AM
Q.
THE ETHICS OF A FAIR FIGHT
Salam dear brother. Islam, as a way of life, prescribes an appropriate way to deal with oppression and systemic injustice. While it was recently reported that Muslims in the U.S. are less likely to justify attacks on civilians (Source – http://www.gallup.com/poll/148763/Muslim-Americans-No-Justification-Violence.aspx) than other groups, there are specific limits on what is acceptable when engaging against an oppressive military, even in self defense. Could you provide an example of a just war, at level of a country, based in what Islam teaches us? Could you provide an example that could apply to daily life at an individual level? Salam!
– September 19, 2011 11:28 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
The “just war” theory seems to have only been applied to justify war. As they say, “war is hell”.

– September 19, 2011 11:37 AM
Q.
SHOUDLN’T YOU LEAVE THE COUNTRY?
In view of the past associations like Awlawki and the obvious distrust with which you and your mosque are held, don’t you think it is time you moved to a country like Pakistan or Yemen where you would find a more positive response to your preachings? Face the facts you don’t really fit in here.
– September 19, 2011 11:29 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I take great issue with the hate speech of Anwar Awlawki.

I’m from Brooklyn, NY. I am the decendent of enslaved Africans – I have every right to live in my own country. The first amendment affords me the right and responsibility to practice my faith alone with my fellow Americans.

– September 19, 2011 11:37 AM
Q.
TRUST
Mosques are places of public worship. What is wrong with the FBI monitoring places of interest in these times of distrust and international Islamic terrorism? Muslims in the West must accept a reasonable amount of observation given the facts. Muslims rooting out and identifying the dangerous extremists amongst them is not an unreasonable expectation of the non-Muslim citizenry. Trust has to be built by both sides. – Cretius

– September 19, 2011 11:19 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I agree that trust works both ways. My issue is the engagement with the leadership of the mosque as a partnership. I have worked with law enforcement on many cases but they only come to me after the fact. There have been instances where had they been a partner early on perhaps our security as a nation could be better secured. I like president Obamas new a approach – “Empowering Local Partners to prevent violentextremism in the US” . We are safer when we work together.

– September 19, 2011 11:37 AM
Q.
MUSLIME IN THE WEST
Many Muslims who came in an earlier age, assimilated well — but the new iimmigrnts refuse to assimilate but continue to wear Muslim dress, demand we set aside muslim holidays in our schools etc. don’t you think these muslims would be better off staying in a country which is predominately muslim.?
– September 19, 2011 11:37 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
The question remains: Is American the great melting pot or the mulligan stew.

In the melting pot – all of the ingredients get boiled down.

I believe that what makes the great dish are the spices of every culture that adds to the favors of America, while still being able to identify the fruits.

– September 19, 2011 11:42 AM
Q.
ON TO THE NEXT
Do you think people view Muslims as “the enemy” now and will move on to another religion/ culture when the next big attack happens from another group? Is this a vicious cycle?

– September 19, 2011 11:40 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
While Islam is the issue of time, we should not be in denial about the violence that is besieging our societies. All ideologies that promote violence as a mechanism for social change are dangerous whether they are so-called Muslims, White Supremist or drug cartels….non-violent resistance for social change must become the new revolution.

– September 19, 2011 11:46 AM
Q.
PART OF THE PROBLEM.
Don’t you think that your and your mosque are part of the problem and not part of the solutions? After all when you see the number of terrorists who have passed through your mosque, how can you not see yourself as part of the problem?
– September 19, 2011 11:45 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
knowledge is power! I think the article addresses this issue well. I believe that my work is to counter-radicalization.

– September 19, 2011 11:52 AM
Q.
AMERICAN A MELTING POT FOR WESTERN EUROPE
The American melting pot, a description beloved of so many who know no history, forget that that melting was for people from W. Europe who came from similar backgrounds as Americans. The melting pot image lack veracity when you include non Westeners in the picture – it is they who have created the problem and ripped appart the melting pot immage.

– September 19, 2011 11:48 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
With the melting pot only being for W Europeans, you are forgetting that there were slaves that were brought here from Africa 400 years ago. What is to happen to their decendents? We must work together -ALL OF US – and build bridges and not fantasize about an all white country that will never happen

– September 19, 2011 11:55 AM
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
This has been a wonderful conversation and only increases the need for more dialogue and understanding. I would like to thank the Post for this wonderful medium of exchange – The On-Line Chat. Please share your experience with you friends and family –

‘You have been created into tribes and nations that you might know each other..verily the best among you are those who have faith and good deeds’-Quran

Park 51 Photo Exhibit Features American Children From All Over The World

BY Jessica Jenkins for Groundswell

NYChildren, a new photo exhibit at the Park51 community center in downtown Manhattan highlights the diversity of American identity by featuring New York City children from all parts of the world. A slideshow in the New York Times highlights a dozen portraits from the NYChildren exhibit. The photographer, Danny Goldfield, says he was inspired by a 2004 encounter with the brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Sikh man who was murdered at his Mesa, Arizona gas station on September 15, 2001. That encounter led Mr. Goldstein to think about what constitutes American identity, and his project to photograph a child from each country of the world. So far Mr. Goldstein has photographed children from 171 different countries, all living in New York City.

It’s been a year since the Park51 community center was besieged by Islamophobic attacks from across the nation for its proximity to Ground Zero. Park51 has since scaled back its plans to build a new community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan but nevertheless has continued to offer events and faith services to the local community in its existing building. On its website, Park51 says about the exhibition: “We live in a world with far too much fear and misunderstanding. This exhibition is about finding the courage to meet and get to know neighbors to build trust and friendship.” We can’t think of a better way to set a tone of resilience, tolerance and hope.

In This Country, Religious Freedom Is Real

By Imran Hayee for The StarTribune

My childhood memories of celebrating Independence Day are no different than those of my fellow citizens — except that it was on Aug. 14th instead of July 4th.

I grew up in Pakistan, which obtained its independence from British rule on Aug. 14, 1947.

As a child, I marked Independence Day year after year without having a clue about what independence really meant. As I grew older, I read from a speech of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, which he had delivered immediately after the nation’s independence was announced.

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples,” he said. “You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

This was Jinnah’s dream, the founding principle behind the independence of Pakistan as he himself stated in the same landmark speech: “We are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. We should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in due course, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

Growing up in Pakistan, as a Muslim, I never saw Jinnah’s dream materializing. The constitution of Pakistan defines who is a Muslim — any “impersonator” is subject to imprisonment or death. Temples, churches and mosques not ascribing to a single distorted version of Islam are routinely attacked.

What caused the secular ideology of Jinnah to take this U-turn?

Soon after the nation’s creation in 1947, and Jinnah’s demise a year later, Pakistan’s rulers succumbed to the demands of religious extremists who wanted to convert Pakistan into a puritanical fundamentalist state.

Gradually, the monster of religious fundamentalism grew large enough to devour Jinnah’s philosophy of spreading freedom and equality.

I never experienced independence until I came to America 18 years ago. For the first time — when Independence Day was being celebrated on July 4th instead of Aug. 14th — I wanted to rejoice once again.

I was unaware of the history behind America’s Independence Day, but still, I saw freedom and equality prevail all around me. I could freely go to my mosque without having to fear the state’s interference.

As I learned more about the history behind July 4th, it reminded me of the same philosophy of freedom and equality that Jinnah dreamed for Pakistan. What made the difference in America was that its rulers never succumbed to extremists’ demands.

Rather, its forefathers risked their wealth and lives to uphold the principles of freedom and equality. Their sacrifices paved the way for a Muslim like me to emigrate from a Muslim country and practice Islam the way I wanted to but could not do in the country of my birth.

More recently, while some European countries have banned building minarets on mosques and the wearing of veils by Muslim women, U.S. courts have struck down any such attempted restrictions as unconstitutional.

Addressing the Muslim world in Cairo, President Obama proudly announced, “Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.”

As a Muslim-American, I feel proud and honored to be in America and find many reasons to celebrate Independence Day on July 4th. Among others, let me add that the founding principles of America’s Constitution are in perfect harmony with the Qur’an.

The Qur’an (2:257) proclaims, “There is no compulsion in religion. Surely, the right way has become distinct from error.” It further declares fundamental human equality: “O mankind, We have created you from male and female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognize one another” (Qur’an 49:14).

These golden principles of freedom and equality have been implemented — in America. In fact, I find the American Constitution to be more Islamic than the constitution of Pakistan or of any other Muslim country in the world today.

Imran Hayee is a professor of engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Slain Pakistani’s Daughter Takes Up His Cause

By Nahal Toosi for The Associated Press

A day after her father was gunned down by an Islamist extremist, a grieving Shehrbano Taseer wrote on Twitter, “A light has gone out in our home today.” It wasn’t long before the 22-year-old realized something else: Her father’s death had lit a fire in her.

In the months since, the daughter of the late Punjab province Gov. Salmaan Taseer has emerged as one of Pakistan’s most outspoken voices for tolerance. Through her writing and speaking, she warns any audience who will listen of the threat of Islamist extremism, and impatiently waits for her father’s killer to be brought to justice.

And yes, sometimes she gets scared. She’s received threats from militants, who’ve warned her to remember her father’s fate.

“These extremists, they want to tell you how to think, how to feel, how to act,” says Taseer, a slim, elegant young woman with intense brown eyes. “It has made me more resolute that these people should never win.”

Salmaan Taseer was assassinated on Jan. 4 at a market in Islamabad by one of his own bodyguards. The confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, boasted that he’d carried out the slaying because the outspoken politician — a liberal in Pakistani terms — wanted to change blasphemy laws that impose the death sentence for insulting Islam.

To the horror of Taseer’s supporters, many Pakistanis praised the assassin. Islamist lawyers showered Qadri with rose petals, and major Muslim groups, even ones considered relatively moderate, said Taseer deserved to die because, in their view, speaking out against the blasphemy laws was tantamount to blasphemy itself.

Two months after Taseer’s killing, gunmen killed Shahbaz Bhatti, the sole Christian minister in the government and another opponent of the blasphemy laws, which have often been used against Pakistan’s Christian minority. Bhatti’s killers left a note promising to target others who pushed to change the laws.

Shehrbano Taseer still has trouble remembering those first moments and days after her father’s death — her brother telling her their father was gone, the rush of grief, the hundreds of people flooding her family’s home in the eastern city of Lahore. Mostly, it’s a blur.

“I’d never lost anyone in my life, not a friend or anyone,” she says. “For everyone else it was the governor and their leader and this man, and it was this big, sexy story and it was so sensationalist. But for me, it was my father.”

Taseer majored in government and film at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and is by profession a journalist. She spends much of her time now writing columns and traveling in and beyond Pakistan to speak about Islamist extremism.

Salmaan Taseer, a father of seven, was not afraid to be blunt — a trait that attracted both enmity and grudging respect. On Twitter, Salmaan Taseer openly taunted and trashed extremists, once tweeting that he’d never back down on the blasphemy issue, “even if I’m the last man standing.”

His daughter, who tweets under the handle shehrbanotaseer, is more gentle but just as firm. Her more than 9,000 followers on Twitter often receive notes that criticize Pakistan’s discriminatory laws, especially blasphemy claims that have reached the courts since her father’s death.

When she singles out a politically marginalized community, either on Twitter or her other outreach, Taseer recalls how well her father treated that group, how he was often the only public official to visit their homes after an attack or publicly speak on their behalf.

Once, Salmaan Taseer took his daughter along on a visit to meet Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani woman whose case attracted international attention because of allegations that she was gang-raped on the orders of a village council. The governor asked Mai to put her hand on his daughter’s head, so that Shehrbano Taseer could gain the same courage to stand up for her rights.

Like her father and Bhatti, the Christian leader, Taseer wants the blasphemy laws amended to prevent their misuse.

The laws are vaguely written, and often used to persecute minorities or settle rivalries, rights activists say. The state has not executed anyone under the law, but the accused may spend years in custody. Some defendants have been killed by extremists after being freed by the courts.

But Taseer has found that many Muslims, even moderate, liberal ones, are extremely sensitive about blasphemy.

She recalls giving a speech in England when a woman in the audience suggested that her father deserved what he got because he was so blunt about the topic.

“I said, ‘I don’t care what he said, and I don’t care how he said it. He didn’t deserve to be shot and killed for it,’” Taseer says.

She’s dismayed at the toll extremism is taking on Pakistan by spawning violence or an intolerant mindset. She’s also disappointed at how few Pakistani leaders are willing to take a public stand against extremism or how many find some reason to excuse it.

She bemoans how for decades moderate or liberal leaders in Pakistan have appeased the religious right for short-lived political gains — whether it was by banning alcohol and nightclubs or passing laws that discriminate against certain religious sects.

Unlike many Pakistani politicians, she’s willing to criticize the role Saudi Arabia has played in funding numerous hardline Islamist schools in Pakistan. And she’s quick to note that the United States as well as Pakistan says little about it — after all, it needs Saudi Arabia’s oil.

Pakistan has a tradition of dynastic politics. The most famous political family has been that of the Bhuttos, which spawned former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, also assassinated by Islamist extremists. Salmaan Taseer was a member of the Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party.

Shehrbano Taseer says she views Pakistan as an enticing challenge akin to a Rubik’s Cube because of its many, convoluted problems. But she says she has no plans to run for office. “It’s such a dirty profession,” she says, laughing.

Sherry Rehman, a People’s Party lawmaker who also has been threatened for speaking out against the blasphemy laws, says Shehrbano Taseer will “chart her own future.”

“She’s found a torch to carry, and she will do it,” Rehman says. “It’s what her father would have wanted.”

Taseer is frustrated with the Pakistani justice system’s delays in processing the case of Qadri, her father’s confessed killer.

Pakistan’s courts have very low conviction rates, even in terrorism cases. Qadri’s confession may not be enough to persuade a court to punish him, considering the threats facing any judge who dares pass such a judgment.

Taseer wants the former bodyguard to spend his life in prison, in solitary confinement. A death sentence is “too easy,” and a conviction would send a warning to other would-be assassins, she says.

“In Pakistan, we have very few brave and honest leaders,” she says. “We need our heroes alive.”

With Friends Like Pakistan…

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Many people in Pakistan these days are wondering why their nation often finds itself on the wrong side of recent history. First, there is the continued and unjust imprisonment of a Christian Pakistani woman named Asia Bibi who has been languishing in jail for nearly two years. She has been given a death sentence for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad.

Then there was the killing of Salman Taseer, who was the then sitting governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, by one of his own bodyguards for his outspoken support for Asia’s rights and her freedom. Instead of swift punishment and public outcry at his actions, the killer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was showered with rose petals by some cheering members of the bar association of Lahore when he came to the courthouse for formal charges of murder. Yes, members of the judiciary were cheering his unilateral action of murdering another human being simply for his support towards a condemned non Muslim woman’s rights.

You can only imagine the warped sense of logic and justice in a country where lawyers cheer the cold blooded murder of an innocent man whose only crime was to come at the aid of a condemned Christian mother of two children.

Fast forward to a few months later, the extremists managed to assassinate the only Christian member of President Asif Ali Zardari’s government when the Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed in a hail of bullets by unknown gunmen who then managed to escape on their motorcycle. Bhatti being a Christian as well as a minister in the government, had campaigned for the release of Asia as well as for the repeal of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan that at help promote a culture of state sanctioned hatred against religious minorities in Pakistan.

The culture of fear and hatred as well as violence against the religious minorities has progressively gotten worse along with the security situation inside the country in the last ten years. If there is anything that has been proven by some of these recent events in Pakistan, it is only that the country has become the undisputed global hotbed of extremism, fanaticism, and Islamic militancy in the Muslim world. It has now morphed into a country where the Wahhabi and Salafi fanatics have successfully used fear and hate to silence the majority moderate Barelvi and Sufi Muslims of Pakistan.

When powerful moderate voices like those of Bhatti and Taseer are silenced despite having heavy protection, how safe can the common man feel about his life if he chooses to speak up against the radicals within Islam? To kill someone is against Islamic belief at its core, unless it is done in self defense but you would be hard pressed to hear that view from the religious fanatics in Pakistan. They have justified killing others over many insane reasons such as making derogatory remarks about Islam or the prophet Muhammad. They also rationalize the killing of someone over a family’s honor, thus honor killings where often young women are killed if they are deemed to have brought dishonor to their family. These radical Islamists will even want someone dead for simply uttering disparaging remarks against Islam or its prophet. It is both ironic and hypocritical to see that the same derogatory remarks towards other figures such as Jesus, Moses, Abraham or other prophets of the Quran do not meet the same outcry nor receive the same impassioned response from the masses as when Islam or its prophet Muhammad are criticized.

The seeds of this current fanaticism fanning the flames of hatred were planted during an earlier conflict, this one involving the Soviets against an under matched adversary in Afghanistan. It was during this time in the ‘80’s when the Pakistani dictator, General Zia ul Haq, was in power and he accepted American aid from the Reagan administration in thwarting the threat from the 1979 Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. At the time, Pakistan’s ISI worked very closely with these “freedom fighters” waging what many thought was a just jihad against a communist foe who disallowed all religious worship. In fact, a good movie to rent right now to put some of these current events in perspective would be Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks which details this era of Pakistan-US relations and cooperation against a common enemy in the Soviets.

The trouble now however is that in this current uneasy alliance between Pakistan and the US, there is not a common enemy, at least not as how it is viewed by many in Pakistan, which recently was polled to be the most anti-American nation in the world. Even though radical Islam and fanaticism is as much a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty and prosperity as it is to the United States, India has always been seen as the big threat by its army and rulers. Pakistan has long seen Afghanistan as a country offering it strategic depth in any future wars with India. Thus, its interests in Afghanistan do not coincide with those of the United States.

The Pakistani media also constantly feeds a steady news diet of bombings by the Taliban/Haqqani network as well as any one of the other fill-in-the-blank militants groups seemingly operating freely from within its borders. There is also the regular news reports of US drone attacks and NATO actions in the AfPak region, as well as the all ubiquitous and constant threat faced from India, who is still seething from the Mumbai bombings in 2008, which were blamed on Pakistani trained terrorists. To further add insult to their injury, not a single leader of the Lashkar E Taiba has been convicted in Pakistan for the attacks in Mumbai that claimed 174 deaths and seriously injured several hundred others.

To the Indians, the perpetrator of their version of 9/11 is not an Arab from Yemen named Osama, but rather a whole nation state with whom it has fought three wars in 60 years and who is a long time sworn enemy with which it shares a long border. Too often it is rightly assumed by many that Pakistan will not act against Lashkar E Taiba and other openly anti-Indian militant groups because these groups are seen as a strategic asset for use against India. Only the fear of an all out nuclear war between the two nations by a trigger happy Pakistan placated India enough so that New Delhi did not immediately take military action against Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks.

So this culture of fear from all enemies both foreign and domestic to Pakistan’s sovereignty is now at an all time high within the nation. With a several decade long war on its western border in Afghanistan as well as the constant threat from its arch enemy to the east in India, Pakistan has never felt more threatened or squeezed. This pressure is now only going to get ratcheted higher since last week’s killing of Osama Bin Laden at a compound in a suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan. Living for five years undetected in the compound, Bin Laden was less than a mile away from the Kakul Military Academy in Abbottabad, Pakistan’s version of the famed American military college of West Point, when he was killed by a US Navy Seal team.

For the world’s most wanted terrorist to hide in plain sight in such a manner and for so many years, rightly points a lot of suspicion on Pakistan. Long suspected by many intelligence analysts, elements within Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, naturally now attracts a lot of suspicion in their possible involvement in the whole affair. There are strong voices and calls within the US Congress to halt all aid to Pakistan in light of Bin Laden’s death. We certainly can assume that any other country in the world found to be harboring terrorists would already have been labeled a state sponsor of terrorism and would be facing immediate sanctions from the international community. “You are either with us or against us” were the words so famously uttered by then President Bush to Pakistan specifically after 9/11. But due to Pakistan’s importance for a successful pullout from Afghanistan of US troops, as well as its strategic position within the Islamic world, neither side can afford to cut off relations with each other.

Although the Obama administration stopped short of claiming that the corrupt civilian government of Zardari was directly involved in protecting and sheltering Bin Laden, all signs point to complicity to some extent by some segments within Pakistan’s hierarchy. There is near unanimous agreement among many in Washington, and this is true on both sides of the aisle, that there are many sympathizers of the Taliban and Al Qaeda within the ranks of the army and the intelligence agencies of Pakistan.

Having driven the Soviets out of the region with the help of militant jihadi groups like the Taliban, no doubt a cadre of army and intelligence officers must have come to espouse the belief that it is in Pakistan’s best interests to have a religiously frenzied force available to use as a weapon against India in a future conflict also. In fact, Pakistan has always had this policy of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan against India.

The death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan by Special Forces of the American military illustrates just what a duplicitous game the country has been playing with the United States and more importantly with itself. In the war on terror America lost nearly 3,000 citizens in the attacks on 9/11. In that same period stretching the last ten years, Pakistan has lost nearly 31,000 citizens to terrorist attacks by the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups. So it has always been in Pakistan’s best interests to fight the militant threat brewing in its borders the last two decades that has claimed so many lives and caused so much instability.

The murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti illustrates the dire situation within Pakistani society where many young underprivileged men gravitate towards Osama Bin Laden’s ideology of hate against the US, which is seen by many, as the aggressor in an already very anti-American country. Also western ideas, religious and political liberties, and freedoms, such as those for women in western society, are all seen by the Islamic clergy and religious establishment as being against Islamic doctrine and clashing with the Muslim way of life. Therefore, the madrassahs and the masjids continue to espouse rhetoric against the American and European way of life which is seen as contradicting the teachings of the Quran. Even moderate Muslims and their sites of worship have come under heavy attack by the militants as witnessed by a new strategy of attacking Sufi Muslim shrines and mosques. Pakistan may not want to admit it, but there is a raging war going on within itself for the control of Islam and the attack on moderate Islam by the extremists within the religion.

The Bin Laden killing makes Pakistan seem either highly incompetent about knowledge his whereabouts or at the very least appear to be deeply complicit in sheltering and keeping him hidden while the United States launched the biggest manhunt in US history. At this point, the United States justly feels betrayed and distrustful towards anyone in the Pakistani establishment. After all, how are they to know who now to trust in the army or the civilian government?

It is imperative that Pakistan mount an immediate and urgent investigation that has the full cooperation and assistance of the US so that both countries can discover the source of this support system that Bin Laden has had from within Pakistan. Certainly, some heads do need to roll in Islamabad over this. Whether those resignations be of the current ISI chief, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of the army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, or Zardari and Gilani themselves, as some accountability needs to occur. This is important not just for the sake of American-Pakistani relations, but just as importantly for the benefit of the Pakistani populace who is both deeply embarrassed by breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty, but also for the intelligence failure by the government of Pakistan at Osama’s whereabouts. Until and unless Pakistan makes this investigation a top priority, USA and Pakistan relations will continue to slide downhill and will mire further in distrust.

Pakistan must realize that in this global war against religious Islamic fanaticism, it cannot continue to speak from both sides of its mouth. Not when everything, including its very existence is at stake. It cannot at once be both a front line ally in the war against terror and receive billions of dollars in US aid, and at the same time, be found to shelter or allow terrorists and militant organizations safe havens and allow them to operate within its territory.

It is up to Pakistan to salvage a quickly deteriorating situation. However at the time of publication of this article, it seems that President Asif Ali Zardari’s government is off to a horrible start in mending fences with the US. First the name and identity of the CIA station chief in Pakistan was leaked by someone in the ISI to members of the local press. This leak compromised his mission and even poses a danger to his life as the anonymity of all operatives is a necessary requirement in intelligence work.

Then later in the day, in remarks given by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to its Parliament, he defiantly stated that neither Pakistan’s army nor its intelligence agency should be suspected by the Obama administration for providing support to Bin Laden. Gilani also went as far as to say that any future unilateral action by the US or any other nation inside Pakistan’s territory will be met with like force. I thought to myself, did he really just that? Did Pakistan just threaten the United States? It is appalling to see the political posturing now being done by the Pakistani government and the long term negative consequences they will have on the nation.

For a country that is receiving nearly $3.5 billion in US aid yearly, these are very tough words that will undoubtedly only make the strained relations between the two countries worse. Pakistan should realize that United States wants to feel that it can trust it to be a full partner in the fight against militancy and extremism. And unless this distrustful and at times, very adversarial relationship changes, the United States cannot help but feel that with friends like Pakistan, it does not need enemies!

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer. 

Terry Jones Jailed for Dearborn Mosque Protests

By Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben for Yahoo News

Terry Jones, outspoken pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., and host of “Burn a Quran Day” was jailed in Detroit on Friday for protesting outside a Dearborn, Mich., mosque. Jones refused to pay his $1 peace bond.

Jones operates Dove World Outreach Center, a mission that proclaims to spread the word of God. Dove World Outreach was started by Don Northrup in 1986 as an apostolic, evangelical Christian ministry.

The DWOC history page reads like many fundamental protestant ministries. It talks about apostolic anointing, teaching and training missionaries to spread the gospel.

DWOC discusses a five-fold plan for bringing God’s Word into the world. It wasn’t outlined clearly, but the five prongs likely included mission work, Bible reading, prayer, teaching and preaching.

This five-fold ministry was the focus of DWOC. Since Jones has taken over, there is less talk about the five-fold plan. DWOC has morphed into one main mission: to take out Muslims and the Islamic faith. Instead of the gospel, DWOC preaches a straw man doctrine of fear. The site is funded by sales of Muslim-bashing paraphernalia in their store. T-shirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs all sport one legend: “Islam is of the Devil.” The “bookstore” sells one book only, written by Jones, called “Islam is of the Devil.”

The website is coated with fear-mongering, anti-Muslim propaganda. Followers are exhorted to erect wooden yard signs reading “Islam is of the Devil.” There are scheduled protests at mosques, like Dearborn’s Islamic Institute of Knowledge and American Moslem Bekkha Center. Jones’ hosts his annual inflammatory (term used literally and figuratively) “Burn a Quran Day”.

I am opposed on many grounds to Jones and DWOC’s activities, not the least of which is constitutional. Jones has a right to protest, guaranteed him by the Constitution of the United States. He does not have a right to slander or libel. Muslims have a right to worship as they chose, also guaranteed them by the Constitution.

I am a Catholic Christian. I do not see it as my Christian vocation to hate Muslims. Quite the opposite. It will likely be said, by activists like Jones, that I must not be a Christian if I defend Islam. My faith is based in love, not fear, however, and my God loves the whole world. I refuse to retaliate and say that Terry Jones can’t call himself a Christian and hate Muslims. I don’t believe it’s my place to judge whether a person has faith or not. However, I do question the tenets of said faith. Look at the name of Terry Jones’ ministry:

Dove: The dove is a Biblical symbol of peace, sacrifice and of the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, believers of many nations where there and heard in their own tongue. The Holy Spirit ignited a fire, but it was a fire of love, not hate.

World: from the Latin, “mundi”; comprised of people of all race, creed, color, religion or lack thereof.

Outreach: If I reach out to hit and hurt someone, they will shy away. In order for an out-stretched hand to be accepted, it must come in love. True outreach (or mission work) is done in compassion, nurturing, ministerial and loving way. I exhort Terry Jones to check out St. Paul on the subject.

I don’t see how wearing a hat and tee-shirt saying “Islam is of the Devil”, is promoting peace or promulgating any doctrine but hate. I smell ignorance-based fear in Terry Jones and DWOC.

Jones is starting to show a lot of similarities to Westboro Baptist Church. These are the nice people who brought you “God Hates Jews”, “Priests Rape Boys”, God Hates Fags and Beast Obama.

Low-key Easter Preparations for Pakistan’s Christians

By Kamran Haider for Reuters

Christians in the small Pakistani town of Gojra are making low-key preparations for Easter this year.

Residents of the neighbourhood, known as Christian Colony, in the town in Punjab province, are haunted by memories of a 2009 attack by a Muslim mob in which seven members of a family were killed and dozens of houses torched.

A few days before Easter, which Christians believe marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion, bare-foot children played cricket in the town’s dusty alleys while some men chatted on a bench under a tree.

“If we celebrate it with a fanfare, we fear somebody might get annoyed and attack us,” said Khalid Anjum, 45, the owner of a small snooker hall. The only sign of the approach of Easter was a few young men rehearsing hymns in St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

“Fear is there but we cannot give up our religion,” said Wilson Rafiq, the leader of the group of singers, who plays a traditional drum set known as a tabla.

Pakistan was founded in 1947 as a home for the Muslims of South Asia at the end of British colonial rule, with the country’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, promising that all communities would be able to worship freely.

But today, Jinnah’s pledge of religious tolerance often seems hollow as religious violence increases. Religious minorities account for about 4 percent of Pakistan’s 170 million people, with about three quarters of members of religious minorities Christian.

The independent Human Rights Commission said at least 100 people from minority communities were killed in 2010. The bloodiest attack was on Ahmadis, a sect that mainstream Muslims consider heretical, when 86 people were killed.

This year, the liberal Muslim governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and Christian Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were killed in separate shootings for speaking out against a blasphemy law aimed at defending Islam.

Under the law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty but human rights activists say the law’s vague wording has led to its misuse, often against members of minority religions.

Compounding a climate of fear, Islamist militants, angered by Pakistan’s alliance with the United States since 2001, have carried periodic attacks on minorities as part of a campaign to destabilise the state.

“FEAR IN THEIR HEARTS”

In Gojra’s Christian Colony, the level of fear has increased since the sentencing Monday of a Muslim to death for shooting dead two Christians who had been accused of blasphemy.

Rather then welcoming what some people might see as justice, Christians fear that if the sentence is carried out, it will only mean more trouble for them. “Things will only get worse. If one is punished, someone else will stand up to take revenge for him,” said housewife Shahida Kashif.

“My kids still get scared whenever there’s a small disturbance. They says ‘mother, they’ve come. They’ll set fire to our houses again’. They still have fear in their hearts,” she said, referring to memories of the 2009 riot.

A mob of about 1,000 Muslims, incensed by rumours that a Christian had desecrated the Koran, rampaged through the neighborhood, firing guns and throwing petrol bombs.

Hameed Pannum Khan was shot dead and six members of his family, including two women and two children, were burnt to death when their hut was torched.

Authorities blamed militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban for the violence. Abdul Khaliq Kashmiri, a Muslim prayer leader, was locked up for 15 months on charges of inciting the attack.

He was recently released after Christians, fearing his continued detention would only make things worse for them, told authorities they had no proof of his involvement. Kashmiri denied any part in it and appealed for tolerance.

“Everybody should follow their own religion and should stop slinging mud at others,” he said. Christian Allah Rakha, a relative of the family killed in 2009 said the hatred had to stop for the sake of future generations.

“We all should get rid of this evil,” said Rakha, 70, sitting on a threadbare sofa in the drawing room of his single story home. “If we talk of revenge we’ll never have peace.”

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.

Islamophobia and Radicalization

By James Zogby for Counter Punch

Let me state quite directly: Islamophobia and those who promote it are a greater threat to the United States than Anwar Al-Awlaqi and his rag-tag team of terrorists.

On one level, Al-Awlaqi, from his cave hide out in Yemen, can only prey off alienation where it exists. Adopting the persona of a latter-day Malcolm X (though he seems not to have read the last chapters of the “Autobiography” or learned the lessons of Malcolm’s ultimate conversion), he appears street-smart, brash, self- assured and assertive — all of the assets needed to attract lost or wounded souls looking for certainty and an outlet for their rage. Like some parasites, Al-Awlaqi cannot create his own prey. He must wait for others to create his opportunities, which until now have been isolated and limited: a disturbed young man here, an increasingly deranged soldier there.

Islamophobia, on the other hand, if left unchecked, may serve to erect barriers to Muslim inclusion in America, increasing alienation, especially among young Muslims. Not only would such a situation do grave damage to one of the fundamental cornerstones of America’s unique democracy, it would simultaneously and rapidly expand the pool of recruits for future radicalisation.

I have often remarked that America is different, in concept and reality, from our European allies. Third generation Kurds in Germany, Pakistanis in the UK, or Algerians in France, for example, may succeed and obtain citizenship, but they do not become German, British or French. Last year, I debated a German government official on this issue. She kept referring to “migrants” — a term she used to describe all those of Turkish descent living in her country — regardless of the number of generations they had been there. Similarly, following their last election, a leading British newspaper commented on the “number of immigrants” who won seats, without noting that many of those “immigrants” were third generation citizens.

America has prided itself on being different. Being “American” is not the possession of a single ethnic group, nor does any group define “America”. Not only do new immigrants become citizens, they also secure a new identity. More than that, as new groups become American and are transformed, the idea of “America” itself has also changed to embrace these new cultures.

Within a generation, diverse ethnic and religious groups from every corner or the globe have become Americans, dramatically changing America in the process. Problems remain and intolerant bigots, in every age, have reared up against new groups, but history demonstrates that, in the end, the newcomers have been accepted, incorporated and absorbed into the American mainstream.

This defines not only our national experience, but our defining narrative as well. When immigrant school children in Europe learn French, German or British history, they are learning their host’s history. In the US, from the outset, we are taught that this is “our new story” — that it includes all of us, and has included us all, from the beginning.

It is because new immigrants and diverse ethnic and religious communities have found their place and acceptance in the American mainstream that the country, during the last century, survived and prospered despite being sorely tested with world wars, economic upheaval and bouts with internal strife. During this time we had to contend with anti-black, anti-Asian, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-immigrant, and anti-Japanese movements. In the end, after creating their moment of pain, these efforts have always lost.

They lose, but they don’t always go away. The Islamophobia we are witnessing today is the latest campaign by bigots to tear apart the very fabric of America. We know the groups promoting it. First, there is the well-funded “cottage industry”, on the right, of groups and individuals with a long history of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim activity. Some of the individuals associated with these efforts have been given legitimacy as commentators on “terrorism”, “radicalisation” or “national security concerns”, despite their obvious bias and even obsession with all things Arab or Muslim (in this, they remind me of good old-fashioned anti-Semites who never tired of warning of Jewish threats or conspiracies or who while always claiming to like individual Jews rallied against any and all Jewish organisations).

If these “professional bigots” have provided the grist, the mill itself was run by the vast network of right-wing talk radio and TV shows and websites, and prominent preachers who have combined to amplify the anti-Muslim message nationwide. Their efforts have done real damage. They have tormented decent public servants, created protests that have shuttered legitimate institutions, fomented hate crimes, and produced fear in the Muslim community.

In just the past two years, we have seen a dramatic upsurge in the activity of these bigots. More ominously, their cause has been embraced by national political leaders and by elements in the Republican Party, who appear to have decided, in 2010, to use “fear of Islam” as a base-building theme and a wedge issue against Democrats for electoral advantage.

In the past, only obscure or outrageous members of congress (like North Carolina’s Sue Myrick who expressed nervousness and insecurity because of “who was owning all those 7/11′s”; or Colorado’s Tom Tancredo who once warned that he “would bomb Mecca”) were outspoken Islamophobes. After the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee embraced opposition to Park 51 as a campaign theme, it is hard to find a leading Republican who has not railed on some issue involving Islam or Muslims in the US.

The net impact here is that this current wave of Islamophobia has both played to the Republican base while firming up that base around this agenda. The polling numbers are striking and deeply disturbing. Some 54 per cent of Democrats have a favourable attitude towards Muslims, while 34 per cent do not. Among Republicans, on the other hand, only 12 per cent hold a favourable view of Muslims, with 85 per cent saying they have unfavourable views. Additionally, 74 per cent of Republicans believe “Islam teaches hate” and 60 per cent believe that “Muslims tend to be religious fanatics”.

The danger here is that to the degree that this issue has become a partisan — and in some cases a proven vote getter — issue for the Republican Party, it will not go away any time soon. The longer we are plagued by this bigotry, and the displays of intolerance it breeds (the anti-mosque building demonstrations or the anti-Sharia law efforts now spreading across the country) the longer young Muslims will feel that the “promise of America” does not include them, and they will feel like aliens in their own country.

It is this concern that has prompted many inter-faith religious groups and leaders and a diverse coalition of ethnic and civil rights organisations to so vigorously oppose Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) hearings that will deal with the radicalisation of American Muslims later this week. They know, from previous statements made by King, of his personal hostility to American Muslims. They also know that what King is doing will only aggravate an already raw wound, creating greater fear and concern among young Muslims who have already witnessed too much bigotry and intolerance.

What they should also know is that in the process of targeting a religion in this way, and engaging in this most “un-American activity”, King and company are, in fact, opening the door for increased alienation and future radicalisation. Al-Awlaqi must be smiling from inside his cave.

-Dr James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute and is a Roman Catholic of Lebanese descent and brother of prominent American political pollster and founder of Zogby Polls, John Zogby.

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.

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.

Islamists Rally for Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

By Zahid Hussain for The Washington Post

Tens of thousands of Islamists rallied Sunday in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi in support of the nation’s controversial blasphemy laws, and clerics threatened to kill anyone who challenged them.

Security was tightened around the house of Sherry Rehman, a former federal minister, who was threatened with death by radical clerics for moving a bill in the parliament last month to amend the blasphemy laws, which currently sentence to death anyone found guilty of insulting Islam.

The blasphemy laws have been in the spotlight since the murder last week of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab province and a critic of the laws, who was shot by a member of his security detail. The shooter, Mumtaz Qadri, later said he killed Mr. Taseer because of the politician’s opposition to the laws. Mr. Taseer was a member of the Pakistan People’s Party, which runs the governing coalition, and was close to President Asif Ali Zardari.

The killing highlighted the extent to which extremist Islam has permeated Pakistan’s middle class and those close to the political elite even as the country grapples with an insurgency from the Pakistan Taliban and other violent Islamist groups. And it has deepened the polarization between moderate and radical Muslims throughout Pakistan. Radical clerics have seized the opportunity to whip up a campaign against moderate and progressive politicians, intellectuals and journalists.

Speakers at the Karachi rally sought to justify Mr. Taseer’s assassination, saying the killer fulfilled his obligation as a Muslim. “We will defend the assassin in the court,” declared Fazalur Rehman, the leader of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, a radical Islamic group that recently quit the coalition government after one of its ministers was sacked after publicly accusing a cabinet colleague of corruption.

The rally was organized by an alliance of hard-line Islamic groups including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which the United Nations has said acts as a front for the outlawed terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Lashkar-e-Taiba is accused of masterminding the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, which left more than 160 dead. Many demonstrators Sunday carried portraits of Mr. Qadri, who killed Mr. Taseer in a fashionable shopping district of Islamabad. Mr. Qadri has been hailed by Islamists as a great Islamic warrior.

Mr. Taseer had provoked the ire of radical clerics for publicly supporting a Christian woman who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Islam’s prophet. The controversial laws have often been used against Christians and other non-Muslim communities, something that Ms. Rehman is seeking to prevent with a private bill she introduced last month.

A cleric of the Sultan Mosque in Karachi in his sermon on Friday called Ms. Rehman an “infidel” for suggesting changes in the blasphemy laws. A pamphlet signed by several Islamic clerics named her for supporting blasphemy. And some hard-line clerics have issued a “fatwa” demanding death to Ms. Rehman, a senior member of parliament of the Pakistan People’s Party.

Ms. Rehman said she is under pressure from the administration to leave the country until the situation calms down. “I am not going anywhere and [will] face the threat,” she said in a telephone interview.

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