Posts Tagged ‘ Aasia Bibi ’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not Prophet Muhammad’s Islam

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The steady stream of negative news about the twisted way Islam is being practiced around the world seems to never end. In my view, it is not how the Prophet would have wanted his followers to behave.

Just when I thought I was beginning to get used to the ridiculousness of the news coming out of Saudi Arabia, where a religious edict is trying to force women there with beautiful eyes to  completely cover up their face in order to stop the temptation of the men, along comes the grim news of Gulnaz  from Afghanistan. If you are not familiar with Gulnaz’s story, let me give you the facts.

Two years ago, in 2009, Gulnaz, a 19 year old single girl who lived with her elderly mother in Afghanistan, was brutally raped by her cousin’s husband. To describe the events, she recalls that on this day, the rapist came into her house when her mother left for a brief visit to the hospital. “He had filthy clothes on as he does metal and construction work. When my mother went out, he came into my house and he closed doors and windows. I started screaming, but he shut me up by putting his hands on my mouth,” she said.

Afterwards, she hid what had happened out of shame and fear, as shockingly there is no difference seen between women who are raped and women who commit actual adultery.  In Afghanistan and in many conservative Muslim countries, any sex outside marriage, whether the guilty party is single or married is considered adultery by the society and the justice system.

A few weeks after her rape, she began to vomit and started showing signs of pregnancy with her attacker’s child. Instead of sympathy and proof of her ordeal, she was charged and found guilty of adultery by the courts and for having sex outside marriage and was sentenced to twelve years in prison. She has already served two years and even gave birth to her rapist’s child, a little girl, in Kabul’s Badam Bagh jail where sadly, her innocent daughter is being raised in captivity alongside the unfortunate mother.

Rather than being freed from jail and given justice for her painful ordeal, the only way out of the dishonor of rape or adultery for her is incredibly only by marrying her attacker. In Afghan culture, and indeed in most Muslim communities, this is believed to be the only way to restore a woman’s honor, by marrying the man who she had sex with, damned be the fact whether it was willingly or unwillingly!

Sadly in many Muslim countries, rape remains a common form of violence against women. In addition, women are often blamed for being the victim of rape. Islam however, views rape as a violent crime against the victim, against society, and against God. The perpetrator who commits a crime is morally and legally responsible for that crime and should be held accountable. The victim, who is an unwilling partner in the sex act and so should bear neither blame nor stigma associated with the unfortunate act. To either ostracize or condemn the victim because she was compelled to engage in sexual intercourse is against the laws of Islam since the victim was an unwilling, and therefore a blameless, participant.

As common as her story and circumstances are for a woman in Afghanistan, the world has only learned of it due to a chance foreign documentary.  Gulnaz’s ordeal came to light because of a dispute between filmmakers and the European Union who hired the crew to film a documentary on the improving situation of women’s rights in Afghanistan and the assistance that the EU has been providing in the better treatment of women in the country. It was only when the documentarians came across her story and the grave injustice being done to Gulnaz and indeed by some accounts, hundreds of women across Afghanistan in similar circumstances, that the EU decided to cancel the project out of fear of harming their relations with Afghan government and institutions. Officially the EU states that it fears for the safety of the women in the film as they could be identified and face reprisals but many human rights organizations believe it is due to the fact that the film shows Afghan justice system in a poor light and the EU is concerned about the Afghan government’s sensitivities to the situation. It is despicable that the EU is more concerned with the sensitivities of the Afghan government rather than fighting for justice for Gulnaz.

Customs such as these in Afghanistan or the recent religious ruling in Saudi Arabia warning women to cover their attractive eyes, or the continued religious persecution of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan through the egregious blasphemy laws as seen in the case of Aasia Bibi, only serve to illustrate to many within and outside Islam the tremendous challenges that exist in what is right and what is logically very wrong and goes against all sense of justice and common sense, not to mention the very essence of Islam.

I am certainly not arguing for making any changes in the Quran or interpretations of religious text or any wholesale revisions whatsoever. That would not only be blasphemous but also counterproductive and unnecessary. Furthermore,  a big part of the beauty of our religion stems from the fact that it has remained unchanged as we Muslims believe that mutations and changes in both the Bible and the Torah necessitated the need for a third Abrahamic religion, Islam,  to arrive some 1400+ years ago to “set the record straight” after all the changes over the years in the two earlier Holy Books. Instead, I believe the only thing that needs to occur is the realization amongst the leaders and countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) that in this day and age, there are certain rights and freedoms that should be guaranteed to citizens of all countries of the world and this does not require any changes in the great religion but rather some simple changes in the current laws.

Aristotle once said that “You can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens”. You could be a Hindu or a Christian in Pakistan, a woman in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia or a homosexual or transgendered person in Iran, you do not deserve to lose your life or liberty under the guise of religious laws. Allah almighty is a just and fair God in Islam, just as he is in the Christian and Jewish faiths. He most certainly would never condone the treatment of Gulnaz, Aasia Bibi and countless other poor souls who are being mistreated under the banner of Islam.

I am not a religious scholar and nor do I profess to know everything I need to know about Islam, Christianity and many other religions. Some may even question my faith and belief in calling myself Muslim simply because I am asking these tough questions, and in their version of Islam, you never question, you simply obey. Lest they forget, Islam also clearly states to seek knowledge and to be just and fair and respectful of other religions.  “Surely those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabians and the Christians whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good — they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.” (Quran 5:69)

I am however certain that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would indeed be very upset with the current state of affairs of most Muslim countries when it comes to morality, religious freedoms,  respect for other religions and the treatment of women. Sadly, I do not see the changes necessary coming into being voluntarily by these nations, I believe it is incumbent of the benefactors of these nations, such as the United Nations, United States, the European Union, China and other trading partners, to push for better treatment of women and religious minorities in many Muslim countries of the world.  It is high time that they pressure these nations into enacting basic rights and freedoms for all people, regardless of their race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. It must become a precursor to being a part of the civilized nations of the world and in being a member of the world community of nations. Freedom after all is what the Arab Spring is all about!

-Manzer Munir, a proud American of Pakistani descent, is a practicing Sufi Muslim and member of Muslims for Progressive Values, he is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

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.

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

By Aamer Ahmed Khan for BBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics v ideology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is The Women Who Have the Guts in Pakistan”

By Bina Shah for Dawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan Elite Silent After Taseer Assassination

By Mosharraf Zaidi for CNN

The assassination of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer by his bodyguard last week seems to confirm the prejudices about Pakistan as a country where moderate voices face danger, where violent extremism is widespread and where investors aren’t very safe.

Taseer, ever the entrepreneur, the tycoon and the irrepressible Pakistani patriot would resist vociferously. If he could tweet his thoughts from heaven, the prejudiced would have hell to pay. His plain-spoken manner and blunt were often a political liability. But for all his political faults, Taseer’s was a rare courageous voice.

He was murdered for speaking out in defense of a poor, defenseless Christian woman in a village — something few dared to do. It was Taseer’s unambiguous morality in his speaking out for the weak that captured imaginations of those neutral Pakistanis keen to see reason as a dominant force in their country.

Taseer was unique in life and stands virtually alone in death. The deafening silence among the pygmies that make up the rank-and-file of the Pakistani elite is the sound of fear and moral confusion.

The fear is genuine and real. More than the assassination itself, the mainstream reaction to Taseer’s murder exposes the cancerous immunity to reason in Pakistan’s Islamic discourse. Without expressing anything resembling blasphemy, educated and articulate Pakistanis chided Taseer, even in death, for writing his own death warrant. His crime? Asking for changes to the Pakistan Penal Code, whose blasphemy clauses have been regularly abused for social, political and economic gain.

The irrational right-wing Pakistani “Tea Party” is really no party at all. It is a lynch mob. And it isn’t tea that fanatics in Pakistan have been drinking for years. Instead, the Pakistani establishment has fed them a steady diet of nationalism, pan-Islamism and Takfirism [accusing a Muslim of apostasy.]

Unable to win elections, or compel social transformation on its own, the Pakistani right has always required the patronage of secret services and their financiers; American, Saudi or otherwise. It simply cannot survive without this patronage. The Machiavellian establishment, fueled by the clumsy intellect of military men and the dangerous cunning of civilian bureaucratic and political hatchet men, knows this. It is the only power base in the country that can truly respond to Taseer’s assassination.

In the heart of the most dynamic and exciting economic region in the world, Pakistan can still be a force for good. To do so, the Pakistani establishment has to take two sets of actions. The first and immediate is to mobilize the state machinery, swiftly and firmly, against those that openly call for violence.

This isn’t unprecedented. The Pakistani state has a long record of using busloads of cash, the British legacy administrative system of magisterial power, and a police force not entirely familiar with Miranda rights to obliterate dissent.

The second, the more complex and much longer-term task is the deradicalization of Pakistani Muslims. The religiously illiterate fanatic is a dangerous creature.

His blind rage is expressed in all kinds of wars that go far beyond religion. Pakistan’s class and caste wars are as old as the Indus River. Religious authority is merely an instrument of social mobility. Slaying members of the elite, even if it is not openly acknowledged, is seen as striking a blow for one’s oppressed class and caste sensibilities.

The 24-hour news media also feeds the rage, airing long and tortuous narratives that stimulate the indignities of being Pakistani in the 21st century. The U.S. war in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas is at the top of the list of these indignities.

Deradicalizing Pakistani fanatics is not going to be easy, but it may not be as impossible as it seems. In essence, it needs to be seen as rerationalism. Too often, critics view deradicalization as an attempt to strip Muslims of their identity or as an attack on the fundamentals of a Muslim’s faith. On the contrary, fundamental Islamic values of reason, knowledge and mercy need to be included in the mainstream Islamic narrative. These qualities are facets of Islam that have become subservient to blind rage.

Luckily, there are glimmers of light. Civil voices across the country demonstrate the establishment will not be batting alone if it begins to take steps to fix its own mess. More than 60 organizations have signed up to a call for resistance by the Citizens for Democracy.

Recently, activists in Karachi, including one of Taseer’s six children, registered criminal charges against a mosque leader who was openly inciting violence against Sherry Rehman, a former journalist and now member of Parliament who has submitted a bill for an amendment to the blasphemy laws. These are reasonable people asking for reasonable actions.

Bringing reason into Pakistan’s public discourse is a critical prerequisite for a society based on the rule of law and a political process that enhances the dignity of people, rather than undermines it.

Pakistan is teetering on the brink of economic collapse and political failure. For decades, Pakistanis have rightly spoken with pride of their society’s strength and resilience. Now is the time for Pakistan to prove its resilience once more.

Civil society can take the brave first few steps, but this struggle is one that requires the assets and resources of the state. Taseer’s assassination is a test of the Pakistani state.

Mosharraf Zaidi has advised governments and international organizations, including the U.N. and the EU, on international aid and development. He writes a weekly column for Pakistan’s The News, and other publications.

Pope Benedict Urges Pakistan to Repeal Blasphemy Law

By Elisabetta Povoledo for The New York Times

In a forceful appeal for religious freedom, Pope Benedict XVI urged Pakistan on Monday to repeal contentious blasphemy laws as he called on governments around the world to do more to enable Christians to practice their faith without violence, intolerance or restriction.

The pope was speaking in an annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, a long-scheduled event. But this year, his words came after bomb attacks in Iraq and Egypt — the most recent in the Egyptian city of Alexandria less than two week ago — and the assassination last week of a leading Pakistani politician who had opposed his country’s law that makes blasphemy against Islam punishable by death.

The politician, Salman Taseer, had campaigned vigorously against the law and had petitioned the Pakistani government to re-examine the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who last November was sentenced to death under the legislation.

Mr. Taseer’s “tragic murder,” the pope said, “shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction: the worship of God furthers fraternity and love, not hatred and division.”

Referring to the attacks on Christians in Iraq and Egypt, Benedict called on the governments of those predominantly Muslim countries to adopt “effective measures” to better protect religious minorities. Urging Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy law, the pope said the legislation was being used “as a pretext for acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities.”

The pope has often spoken out against religious intolerance, but his condemnations have increased after recent attacks on Christian communities in several countries, including Nigeria and the Philippines, where churches were bombed during the recent holidays.

The plight of Christians in the Middle East has been of particular concern to the Vatican, which hosted a meeting of bishops in October to address the issue.

The concerns have deepened in recent months in the face of what clerics see as sustained violence. At a New Year’s Mass at a Coptic church in Alexandria, a suicide bomber killed 23 people and wounded nearly 100. Last October, a siege at a Baghdad church killed 53 people, prompting yet another exodus of Christians from the country.

On Monday, the pope cited a message to Christians in the Middle East that he delivered during the bishop’s synod in October. “It is natural,” he said, that “they should enjoy all the rights of citizenship, freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and freedom in education, teaching and the use of the mass media.”

The pope also took Western nations to task for marginalizing religion and minimizing its role in contemporary society and called for dialogue between faiths to promote “a common commitment to recognizing and promoting the religious freedom of each person and community.”

 

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.

Blasphemy Cases Draw Focus in Pakistan

By Alex Rodriguez for The Los Angeles Times

NANKANA SAHIB, Pakistan | Muslim cleric Muhammad Salim isn’t worried that a court or Pakistan’s president might spare a Christian mother from this village who has been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges.

After all, if Asia Bibi escapes the hangman’s noose, he’s confident someone else will kill her.

“Any Muslim, if given the chance, would kill such a person,” Salim said calmly, seated cross-legged on a straw mat at a mosque here. “You would be rewarded in heaven for it.”

Salim isn’t the only one calling for vigilante justice. A cleric in Peshawar has offered 500,000 rupees, or $6,000, to anyone who kills Asia Bibi, if her execution doesn’t take place.

The mother of five is accused of disparaging the prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an during a dispute with three other women. She denies the charge. “My God knows that I never used those words,” she told investigators.

Her case has exposed deep rifts in Pakistan over the blasphemy law, seen by some as an appropriate measure to defend the tenets of Islam, but viewed by others as a dangerous tool easily abused in a society that is a volatile patchwork of ethnicities, religions and sects.

There have been other controversial blasphemy cases. Accused of burning pages from the Koran, Imran Latif was charged with blasphemy in Lahore but then released on bail Nov. 3. Eight days later, two men shot him to death.

This month in the southern city of Hyderabad, a Shiite doctor was arrested on blasphemy charges after police received a complaint that he had maligned the prophet Muhammad. His crime? He tossed out the business card of a pharmaceutical company representative whose first name, Muhammad, was printed on it. The doctor belongs to the smaller Shiite sect known as Ismailis.

“There’s a fundamental lunacy to it,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. “There is no good spin to put on the blasphemy law. It’s used frequently in these preposterous ways, for preposterous reasons.”

The law dates to the 1980s and the rule of Gen. Zia ul-Haq. Since Zia’s rule, 974 people have been charged under the law, according to the Pakistani news media. No one has been put to death for a blasphemy conviction.

The Illiteracy of Hate

A News and Opinion Special Report by Manzer Munir for Paksitanis for Peace

Alleged Taliban Member pic courtsey of Boston Globe

The Taliban are not just simply a bunch of illiterate thugs and bullies for they too often prove to be even worse than animals and barbarians.

Nowhere else in the world has a country experienced a more tragic and callous attack as the one on Christmas day, the birth day of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, than the one Pakistan experienced. In an attack described by President Obama as an “affront on humanity”, the cowards attacked helpless women, children and men while they queued up in food and aid distribution site such as the WFP depot, people who mind you are already suffering from the ongoing war, once in a lifetime floods, and the poverty and radicalism of a generation of desperate, hopeless and increasingly uneducated young men brainwashed by the Taliban and other radical Muslim extremists.

I am still disturbed by the disdain for basic human life that this new attack proves about this radical and extreme enemy. I imagine another one of their brain washed ‘walking zombies’, this time purportedly a woman suicide bomber, a first, even for Pakistan, killed in excess of 43 people in Bajur Pakistan at a World Food Program rations and aid storage and distribution center.

The Pakistani authorities and several domestic and foreign NGO’s who provide food aid at various centers in the area are temporarily closing these centers in order to have increased security. This means that aid distribution will come to a crawl and up to several hundred thousand people will now have to suffer at the hands of the attacker and their backers, the Taliban who have claimed responsibility. The authorities will have to ensure the safety of aid organizations and their personnel for both Pakistani and non Pakistanis relief workers involved in getting food, water and medicine to many people who are either suffering from the war or from the floods.

This catastrophe, although not of near Biblical proportions, does present both a security and humanitarian problem to both the government of Pakistan as well the suffering citizens in the northwest areas of the country where; Taliban fighters take sanctuary from the war in Afghanistan to regroup and return to the fight in warmer weather after the winter months as we have seen in years past. In fact, the reach of the Taliban in Pakistan is now not only reputed to be in the headquartered areas such as in Quetta Pakistan among the restive Baluchi population, now they are so often found to be in major cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and many points in between as they use their religious cover to endear themselves to certain impressionable, weakened or illiterate individuals that are so commonly found in throughout the country. 

Here are the some of the depressing facts. Pakistan, a nation approaching 180 million people at current estimates, perhaps only boasts to having about 60-65% of the male population at a literate level and at best, the females to be only at 40-45% of the total female population. Sadly, what this means is that 4 out of 10 Pakistani males are completely illiterate while up to as many as 6 out of 10 women are not able to read or write. Poverty breeds extremism since there is no support from any government programs or hope for any solution.

Time and time again throughout history and not just of Pakistan’s, we can see that the role of the church, synagogue or mosque in building the community is deeper than that of any government initiatives or other measures. The poverty for these young men along with the lack of jobs like for those individuals who are either very poorly paid construction site workers, household labor or servants, or beggars and sewer workers, a job sadly almost seems to have been reserved for Pakistan’s Christian community members as many can attest in Pakistan of their unfortunate and depressing state. One does not need to remind the reader of the plight of Asia Bibi (also Aasia and Ayesa), the Christian Pakistani woman who is still awaiting her fate in Pakistani courts after more than a year and a half since first being accused of a BS blasphemy charge and being in jail ever since. 

The medieval mentality of these radical extremists is not something that needs to be described as the evidence is here in this latest attack . Certainly anyone alive in any part of the world outside Pakistan and Afghanistan with eyes, TV, radio or newspaper within their reach can see plenty of near daily reminders of the carnage that many natives of these lands see, and to what they have painfully become accustomed.

 The Pakistani and Afghani Talibans have by all the various reports in newspapers and media sources over the last several years have pointed out to the fact that these groups all have too often similar goals. Not only that, these groups all share the same characteristics. The anti-Americanism, the pro-Wahaabi or Orthodox version of Islam, the need for justice for the ‘suffering of the Palestinian people’ , and the anti-colonial and often times anti western sentiment amongst these groups. The radicalization of certain Muslim groups be they Hamas and Hezbollah in the Mideast or Lashkar e taiba, or any other militant outfit operating in this part of the world as mentioned in this quote a few days before he passed, the late Richard Holbrooke of the US State department said that there are a range of militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that “an expert could add another 30.” His exact words are in quotations. 

The radical Muslim groups who take prey of the weaker, cannot think for themselves because they are scions of those abjectly illiterate segments of the society who are only educated in the madrassahs of Pakistan. This is the de facto way of educating Pakistan’s poorer children in little mosque schools which consist of nothing but Qu’ranic surahs and words of ‘wisdom’ or ‘interpretation’ by the local mullah of the said mosque/school. Most probably these children in many Pakistani madrassahs, especially the ones who live near the border areas within the NWFP or North West Frontier Province of Pakistan as this is the part of the country most affected by its close proximity to Afghanistan.

The people in this area of Pakistan, as well as their cousins in Afghanistan have been fighting one enemy or another for the better part of 100 years now. Whether to them the enemy be the British, during the height of the British Raj rule in India, or to the Soviets and the Red army and the Cold War, then in chronological order came the infighting after the Russian withdrawal as various Tajik, Afghani, Uzbek, Pakistani warlords came in to try and consolidate power to now us Americans and the Pakistanis who are our allies in this war.

Granted we do often hear that the Pakistanis can be doing more. By all accounts, the Pakistani government can do more in terms of fighting this war on terror. Numerous western reports and articles in respected dailies have alleged that small elements within both Pakistan’s Army as well as the spy agency, the ISI, have sympathizers to either the Taliban’s cause or they want to be on favorable terms with a powerful entity that most in Pakistan’s establishment believes that Pakistan will be dealing with and not a weakened Karzai once the US begins to draw down troops and end the war by 2014. If this is indeed true, then these ‘officers’ and supposed ‘leaders’ of Pakistan should realize that the colluding with the enemy, which in this case is the Taliban, is tantamount to treason, and the members of the armed forces of Pakistan as well as the intelligence community should not be assisting the enemies of all concerned: Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. 

Of course we must not kid ourselves and assume that only alleviating the illiteracy and poverty of the Pakistani youth will and bettering the education system of the Pakistani poor, particularly that of the refugees and residents of the northwest areas near the Afghan border. No there needs to be a study and introspection by the people of these two countries where this hatred breeds. To to get out of this darkness, the population needs be provided not only safety when delivering food aid and or medicine but aldo most importantly give them a book, a pen, and a paper. And teach them how to fish for knowledge with basic comprehension and deductive reasoning skills that can reject a radical and violent view of Islam too often manipulated by the clergy. This is the only way we can come to end this illiteracy of hate.

Manzer Munir, is a proud and patriotic Pakistani American, an author, who plans to write a book on Pakistan, who is also a blogger and journalist, and as the Founder of Pakistanis for Peace  can be found at www.PakistanisforPeace.com, www.DigitalJournal.com ,www.Open.Salon.com, www.Examiner.com, as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Blasphemy Trials in Pakistan Reveal a Broken Justice System

By Karin Brulliard and Shaiq Hussain for The Washington Post

With its single dirt road, friendly residents and abundance of drowsing donkeys, this village hardly seems a hotbed of religious radicalism.

Nevertheless, four years ago, dozens of angry townspeople marched and chanted, “Death to the blasphemer!” Their demands were answered. Two years later, court records show, a teenaged Muslim named Muhammad Shafique was sentenced to hang for cursing the Prophet Muhammad and tossing pages of the Koran onto “cow dung and urine.”

Today, an air of regret permeates Kulluwal. Shafique’s accusers fled town, and their relatives now say the allegations were lies. Many residents call the case a setup fueled by political and personal rivalries. But as Shafique waits on death row, his appeal stuck in Pakistan’s glacial courts, no one is quite sure what to do.

“The situation at that time was emotional. It was the responsibility of the police to sift through the facts and find the truth,” said Chaudhry Safraz Ahmed, 42, a community leader whose father was one of Shafique’s accusers. “That did not happen. And Shafique is behind bars.”

Pakistan is in the midst of a heated debate over its ban on blasphemy following the sentencing to death last month of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi. The pope condemned that sentence, which has not yet been carried out. Human rights organizations, meanwhile, have demanded the repeal of a law that they say is used to harass religious and sectarian minorities in this Sunni Muslim-majority nation.

But blasphemy cases, about half of which involve Muslim suspects such as Shafique, also point to a more fundamental problem with grave implications for the nation’s U.S.-backed fight against militancy: Pakistan’s broken justice system, corrupt and lacking in expertise, often rewards vendettas and encourages radicalism.

In this system, religious extremism is less an epidemic than a menacing shadow – just as it is across Pakistan, an unstable democracy where Islamist threats often eclipse the majority’s more peaceful views.

The law against blasphemy – which encompasses vaguely worded prohibitions on insults against Islam – gives radicals a tool with which to bully those who don’t share their hardline religious views. Legal experts say lawyers, witnesses and authorities are frequently intimidated into helping to enforce the law, leading to injustices that bolster militants’ anti-government arguments.

“These are the kind of provisions that allow space for extremists to act with impunity,” Ali Dayan Hasan, a Pakistan-based representative for Human Rights Watch, said of the blasphemy law. “This country is, in that sense, at a crossroads where it is time for people to stand up.”

Just what happened on the evening of March 17, 2006, in this agrarian corner of Punjab province remains in dispute. It took a court in the nearby city of Sialkot 73 hearings over 27 months to gather enough testimony for a verdict. Lawyers’ strikes, witnesses’ absences and a funeral caused delays. In the end, the key evidence against Shafique, now 22, was witness accounts and soiled scraps of pages from a Koran, which the judge deemed impossible to fake.

“The question arises whether . . . a Muslim can think to smear the pages of the Holy Book with cow dung and urine just to create an evidence to involve his opponents,” the judge wrote in 2008. “Not an iota of evidence has been produced by the accused in this regard.”

But Shafique’s family, along with many others in Kulluwal, cite two reasons for such a plot. Shafique, an aspiring electrician, had accused his brother’s wife of adultery. And her alleged paramour had powerful allies, among them a town politician with his own motive: Shafique’s brother was challenging him in a village election.

Whatever the case, word of Shafique’s alleged rampage spread, and a crowd beat him viciously, residents recalled. Qari Qadir, the village imam, said he declined requests to announce the offense over his mosque’s loudspeaker, fearing a “serious situation.” Instead, he led a march the next day at which protesters demanded that police file charges.

“Everybody was against him,” said Ahmed, the community leader. “The police thought it could become a law-and-order situation if they did not take action.”

According to court records, two main accusers – the politician and Ahmed’s father – did not testify. Four young men who did gave nearly identical statements about seeing Shafique curse the prophet and rip the Koran.

Shafique testified that the charges were personal and political, and that he “heatedly” loved Allah.

The court sentenced Shafique to join about 7,600 others in Pakistan on death row, about 60 of whom are convicted blasphemers, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The country has not executed anyone since 2008, and blasphemy cases are often overturned on appeal.

But for many, that potential reprieve is little help. Suspects are often murdered in prison or after release, a fact one Pakistani court used to justify the blasphemy law – in prison, it reasoned, suspects are protected from public rage.

Blasphemy was outlawed during British colonial rule but made a capital crime in the 1980s under the Islamist military rule of Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. Now, the law is being scrutinized; a bill in parliament would shorten sentences, require evidence that the crime was committed intentionally and introduce punishment for false accusation.

But while recent international attention has galvanized opponents of the current law, it has also roused defenders. Conservative religious parties have threatened mayhem if the law is changed, an idea they deem a Western conspiracy. One cleric in northwest Pakistan went further, promising $6,000 to anyone who kills Bibi, the Christian woman.

Amid this debate, Mirza Shahid Baig, Shafique’s lawyer, sticks to technical arguments. The wrong police investigated, he said, and there was no serious look at Shafique’s side of the story.

“I am a very true lover of the holy prophet, but this case was totally false,” Baig said one recent afternoon at his dusty basement office in the bustling city of Lahore. “Whether the law is correct or not correct according to the morality, this is not my job.” In Kulluwal, most everyone seems to agree that a blasphemer deserves death. But they are certain Shafique was not one.

The investigators and witnesses who testified against him have all left town, and no one else recalls seeing Shafique’s alleged rampage. Ahmed said his father is ready to recant in court.

“This is a baseless charge,” said Ahmed, calmly sipping tea with Shafique’s parents on a recent day. “The issue is religious, so it had an influence on the police. It interfered with the investigation.”

Another resident, Mohammed Ibrahim, is the brother of the politician who accused Shafique and the father of one youth who testified. Ibrahim said his son has since told him he was pressured to lie, and that his brother forced police to file charges.

“He thought of himself as important, as someone who could not be challenged politically,” Ibrahim said of his brother, who, he added, has moved to Canada. To some Kulluwal residents, the whole affair proves elders should resolve disputes, not courts.

Shafique, meanwhile, writes letters to his family from solitary confinement. In one recent missive, he said that prison guards avoid touching him. He understands, he wrote, for he reserves no sympathy for blasphemers.

“My heart weeps for the innocent ones,” he wrote. “But I have no words of sympathy for the sinners . . . I would have killed them myself if I could.”

Aasia Bibi and Impurities in the Land of the Pure

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The case of Aasia Noreen aka Aasia Bibi illustrates how far Pakistan has to go to secure freedoms for its religious minorities. Christians and Hindus are not the only minorities who are persecuted for their beliefs but it is also Muslim minorities such as the Ismailis, Ahmadis, and Shiites who are routinely harassed, discriminated and also killed. Sadly, it is the case of Aasia Bibi that has brought some much needed attention to Pakistan’s sad state of affairs towards the treatment of its religious minorities.

Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code consist of its blasphemy laws and of all the Muslim countries of the world that have anti-blasphemy laws, Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are by far the strictest. There is section 295 that forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object. Then there is section 295-A that “forbids outraging religious feelings.” There is also 295-B which prohibits defiling the Qu’ran and was originally punishable by life imprisonment but has since been amended to up to three years imprisonment.

No section of the blasphemy law is more controversial or harder to prove than Article 295-C, the law that Aasia Bibi is allegedly charged with having broken. In respect to prophet Muhammad, this statute states that ” 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 Muhammad shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine.”

Aasia’s case and charges against her started almost a year and a half ago when there was a quarrel over a bowl of water in a dusty village in the heart of Pakistan’s Punjab province. A group of women were working the fields in the heat of the Pakistani sun when one of them, Aasia Bibi, dipped her glass in the communal bucket of drinking water to fetch herself and others a glass of water to drink and immediately was rebuffed by the other women who claimed that the water was now unclean as it had been touched by a non-Muslim. According to witnesses, instead of quietly bowing her head and taking the indignities, Aasia’s crime was that she mounted a strong defense of her faith and remained steadfast in her demeanor that she did nothing wrong. Too often in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws are used against religious minorities to settle personal vendettas and old scores according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group monitoring the case.

The news traveled fast in Aasia’s village of Ittan Wali, in Punjab’s Sheikhupura district that a Christian woman had insulted the prophet. The local mullah got on the mosque loudspeakers, urging the “faithful” to take action against Aasia Bibi. In sad but familiar pattern, her defense of her faith was somehow twisted into an accusation of blasphemy, according to her family and others familiar with the case. Soon as a mob gathered outside her home ready to take the law into their own hands and handing out vigilante justice, the police moved in and took her into custody. But instead of protecting her, they charged her with insulting Islam and its prophet under the blasphemy laws.

And then on Nov. 8, after suffering 18 months in prison, Aasia Bibi was sentenced to death by a district court, making her the first person to be handed the death penalty in Pakistan under the blasphemy laws. Many before her over the years have been charged, but punishment had been commuted to lesser penalties than the death sentence imposed on Aasia Bibi. No concrete evidence was ever presented against Aasia, according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch. Instead, the district judge relied on the testimonies of three other women, all of whom were hostile towards her.

Unfortunately this is a common insult hurled at many of Pakistan’s 2 million Christians who make up just 1.59% of the total population. Often, Christians in Pakistan are discriminated and persecuted and many times only get the lowest of the low jobs such as street sweepers, janitorial and sanitation workers. In fact, in Pakistan, the term ‘Chura‘ has become synonym with the Christian community as it relates to an unclean person akin to how the untouchables or Dalit community is seen in India. In India however, the Dalits are not subjected to arcane state blasphemy laws geared towards religious minorities as in Pakistan or are threatened with their lives at the hands of the Hindu majority.

As discussed in a couple of my previous articles, Taliban 1o1, History and Origins and Taliban 201, The Rise of the Pakistani Taliban, the Islamization of Pakistan started under the late General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan who took over the leadership of the country through a military coup in 1977 when he hung the deposed and democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Earlier in 1973, the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan had declared that “Islam shall be the religion of the Pakistan” and had systematically begun the process of restricting the participation of religious minorities in government and politics.

Before General Zia, there were only two reported cases of blasphemy. Since the death sentence was inserted in 1986 into the Penal Code for the blasphemy laws, this number has now reached 962 — including 340 members of the Ahmadi Muslim community, 119 Christians, and 14 Hindus. A close examination of the cases reveals the blasphemy laws are often invoked to settle personal scores, or they are used by Islamist extremists as cover to persecute religious minorities, sadly with the help of the state under these laws.

General Zia began this policy of Islamization of Pakistan in conjunction with his support for the war against the Russians and assistance to the Afghan Mujahedeen as well as the building of thousands of madrassahs or religious schools across Afghanistan and Pakistan which nurtured the young men into what later became the Taliban. Many of these blasphemy laws fully came into being under his reign, although some were around since as early as more than 100 years prior when the British drew up the Indian Penal Code of 1860 which was initially an ill foreseen aim at keeping the peace among the many fractured faiths of the subcontinent. For instance, section 295-A, which “forbids outraging religious feelings”, could have been applied against a Muslim who insulted a Hindu or a Hindu who taunted a Sikh or Christian or vice versa. However under Zia, the blasphemy laws were expanded and almost exclusively applied against Muslim minorities such as the Ahmadis, Islamilis and Shiites as well as against the Christian and Hindu populations.

Recently, a religious ‘leader’ came out and has offered over $6000 to anyone who can kill Aasia Bibi while she awaits her punishment in police custody. Outrage and denunciations on this case are coming from across the world as many people are appalled at the sad state of rights for religious minorities in Pakistan. The Pope has intervened also asking for clemency for Aasia Bibi from Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. Against all manner of reason and justice, Lahore’s High Court recently issued an order on November 29, 2o1o, preventing Zardari from exercising his constitutional authority to pardon Aasia Bibi.

In a country rife with violence and chaos and one that has become synonymous with terror the world over, the case of Aasia Bibi is yet another dark stain on the country’s image around the world. The Taliban and the extremist groups ravaging Pakistan can be explained as being a violent minority and do not and should not reflect on the nation as a whole as the majority of people in Pakistan are opposed to them and their views of Islam. But the blasphemy laws, for as long as they have stayed on the books in Pakistan and in the constitution, cannot and should not be excused in any shape or form. These laws need to be repealed and the constitution needs to be amended in an emergency manner so that Aasia Bibi and other religious minority citizens of Pakistan are not subjected to cruel and subjective laws that are almost exclusively used against minorities to settle scores, personal vendettas, and instill terror in less than 3 percent of the country that is not part of the religious majority of Sunni Muslims.

There needs to be international pressure placed on Pakistan from the United Nations, the United States, Europe and others to modify the constitution immediately and to pardon this 45 year old mother of five children. It is ironic that in a country where many people sympathize with Osama’s Al Qaeda and profess to hate the west with one hand, they decry with the other why not enough western aid has came to their country when it recently saw the worst flooding in its history. Can you blame the American citizens, the Europeans or citizens of any other Christian nation from hesitating to give aid to a country that not only plays a duplicitous game when it comes to terrorists and terror havens but also treats Christians and other religious minorities in the manner as in the case of Aasia Bibi?

The name Pakistan literally translates into “The Land of the Pure”. And as a child growing up I was told that the meaning of Pakistan’s flag is this: “The green is a traditional Islamic color and the crescent moon and star are also Islamic symbols. The white stripe represents the non-Muslim minority and religious groups of Pakistan and there place in the country.” In my view, as long as the nation sanctions and tolerates these utterly unjust and biased blasphemy laws, the religious minorities of Pakistan clearly have no place in this land of the ‘pure’.

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

Pakistani-Americans, Human Rights Groups Seek Blasphemy Laws Review

As reported by Dawn

Pakistanis living in the United States have joined human rights groups in urging the government to release Aasia Bibi and reconsider the laws that discriminate against minorities.

“We condemn the abuse of the blasphemy law and request President Asif Ali Zardari not to accede to the threats made by certain religious groups and award imminent clemency to Aasia Bibi,” said the Pakistani-American Public Affairs Committee, an umbrella organisation representing a dozen groups. In a recent meeting of its executive board, the Christian League of Pakistan in America also “strongly condemned the victimisation of innocent people under the blasphemy law”, reminding the government that “the entire world is awaiting a sane decision in the Aasia Bibi case”.

The organisation noted that President Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Human rights activist Asma Jehanghir and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer have all concluded that Aasia Bibi is innocent.

These and other Pakistani leaders also have realised that the blasphemy law discriminates against religious minorities, said a statement issued by the Christian League in Philadelphia.

“This law encourages certain elements which institutionalise intolerance in the name of religion and spread social persecution and legal discrimination,” observed the Pakistani American Public Affairs Committee. “As it stands, this law with its ambiguity
harms Pakistan and its’ citizens.”

The group warned that such news emanating from Pakistan “hinders its stature in rest of the world, which in turn negatively impacts its economic stability and trade practices”. The committee referred to a study by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, which reported that a total of 964 people had been charged under these laws from 1986 to 2009. Out of them, 479 were Muslims, 340 Qadianis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus, and 10 of other religions.

The report also noted that although none of those charged under the laws has been executed; 32 people charged with blasphemy have been extra-judicially killed.

PAPAC noted that last July, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Sharif while overturning a blasphemy case, said that “the treatment meted out to the woman was an insult to humanity and the government; and that civil organisations should be vigilant enough to help such people”.

The group urged the larger society in Pakistan to educate the masses of the virtue of tolerance.

“Pakistanis must start a meaningful and focused dialogue to look at how the blasphemy laws are being abused and thus violating the basic premise of their creation – to protect minorities.”

PAPAC also asked Pakistan’s legislators to amend and remove ambiguity and legal discrimination from Section 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code which covers the blasphemy provisions.

Meanwhile, a leading US human rights group called on Pakistan’s government to abolish the blasphemy law and other discriminatory legislation.

The government should also take legal action against militant groups responsible for threats and violence against minorities and other vulnerable groups, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

Referring to Aasia Bibi’s conviction, the group noted that she had already “suffered greatly and should never have been put behind bars”.

Amnesty International, USA, also issued a statement on Friday, seeking Aasia Bibi’s release and revision of the law under which this mother of five was convicted this month.

“Critics say that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are used to persecute Christian and other minorities,” the group observed.

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