Posts Tagged ‘ Asia Bibi ’

Pakistan Should Abolish Overly-Abused Blasphemy Laws

By Arsalan Iftikhar for The Washington Post

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

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

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

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

“Whoever will fully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Koran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan: More To Offer Than Bombs And Beards

By Asim Haneef for Al Jazeera

If you did not know anything about Pakistan and happened to pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news, you might be forgiven for assuming that it is possibly the most broken, troubled and violent country on the face of the earth – a basket case just moments from imploding.

In the all-important arena of international public perception, Pakistan has taken an unprecedented battering in recent years, accumulating more bad headlines than nearly any other country and making places like Afghanistan and Iraq look relatively stable by comparison.

The list of challenges it faces is seemingly unending: terrorism, corruption, drone attacks, natural disasters, poverty, a deficit in leadership, discrimination against minorities, mistreatment of women, attacks on freedom of speech, mass tax evasion, match fixing, the murder of judges, politicians, union organisers and journalists – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

So pervasive are the headlines pointing to a crisis in Pakistan that after a while they seem to blur into one another. Whether it is “hostages held in Karachi”, “al-Qaeda hideout discovered in Swat”, “floods bring pain to millions”, “suicide bomber explodes in market square”, “senior judge in blasphemy case shot dead” or “Pakistan’s ISI actively supporting Taliban in Afghan war” the message is uniformly bad news. The result is that for many the image of Pakistan is one of bombers, beards, shaking fists, distressed women and utter hopelessness. It makes for a pretty depressing picture.

I guess that is why the work of Syed Ali Abbas and his Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) featured in this week’s Activate, Pakistan: The New Radicals, is so refreshing. A courageous young social activist, Ali founded the PYA together with Maryam Kanwer when he was just 21 years old. It was born in the midst of severe political turmoil, as then-President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule and fired the chief justice on national television, while the security forces brutally cracked down on dissenting lawyers.

Fed up with watching their country’s problems on the television, the PYA initially organised protests and rallies but quickly became more active. Its core premise and mission statement is to take a stand, to get as practically involved on the ground as possible and to exemplify the change they seek through their actions rather than merely proposing it on paper.

Their main goal is to create political and social awareness among the youth of Pakistan and to unite them irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, caste, race or language on an unbiased platform through which they can engage with one another and contribute practically to building a more progressive society in Pakistan – whether through protest, social and relief work or the arts.

Earlier this year, Ali was among a small group instrumental in organising counter protests to the hate filled ones celebrating and glorifying Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was murdered in January over his stance on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and his ardent defence of religious minorities like Christians and Ahmadis. Ali says he did this because: “This is not what the founder of Pakistan and ‘Father of the Nation’ Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah would have wanted for this country today, especially as he repeatedly stressed the importance of inter-faith unity and religious harmony.”

Stories like these and others bring about something much needed in international news these days – a positive, hopeful narrative against the odds, showcasing some of the good news stories coming out of places like Pakistan, which often go unreported and deserve a spotlight too. So although we appear to have an extraordinary capacity to become fixated on negative headlines, there are also good things happening too and though progress and development is not as ‘sexy’ as a suicide bomber or a train-wreck, perhaps a little balance is in order, so that we do not become as, Ali says at the close of the film, “filled with dread, being hopeless about the future”.

So do good stories actually emanate from Pakistan? And, if so, where are they? Well an initiative by brothers and social entrepreneurs Majid and Mahmood Mirza aims to answer this. They set up a website simply titled Good News (www.goodnews.pk) , which focuses solely on positive developments coming out of the country. They describe the idea behind the website via Skype as being “to highlight amazing, awesome and inspirational news stories coming from Pakistan, as opposed to the usual negativities that steal the headlines”.

And they have plenty of examples ready. For instance, did you know that Pakistan has become only the sixth country in the world to map the human genome, joining the ranks of the US, the UK, China, Japan and India, which have all successfully sequenced it. Or, how about the fact that Pakistan has the largest volunteer ambulance organisation in the world started by “living saint” Abdul Sattar Edhi in 1948. Today, the radio-linked network includes 600 ambulances that work in every corner of the country. Or how about the recent news that Dr Umar Saif, an associate professor at the School of Science and Engineering in Lahore, has been recognised by MIT Technology Review as one of the top 35 innovators in the world – joining an elite group of researchers and entrepreneurs selected over the last decade, which includes Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and Jonathan Ive, the chief designer at Apple. Now who has heard of those stories?

Then there are serial entrepreneurs like Monis Rahman, who just four years ago set-up Rozee.pk, which is now Pakistan’s largest jobs website, with 500,000 unique visitors a month; or Karachi-born freelance designer Vakas Siddiqui laying to rest the myth that Pakistani students are limited to excellence in science and the humanities by being selected as one of the top 28 designers in the world; or filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who has just been shortlisted for an Oscar in the ‘best documentary short’ category for her film Saving Face. Whether it be in music, fashion, academia, activism, technology, sports or science these are stories that people do not usually associate with Pakistan and which might just show that there is more to the country than just bombs and beards.

Some of these unreported positive stories, along with the courage and creativity shown by people like Syed Ali Abbas and the Pakistan Youth Alliance in challenging these problems, reflect a surprising shift in the country’s growing and increasingly switched-on, globally-minded youth. They are using outlets like social media platforms and blogs to become more aware, educated and informed about their rights and more savvy to the different methods they must perfect in order to stop their country peddling even further backwards than it already has and to lead it to a brighter day, free from the same old headlines we’re all universally tired of reading and hearing about.

Asim Haneef worked extensively on Activate, a new eight part series featuring grass-roots activists from across the globe who are challenging the status quo and bringing about a change in their society. You can follow him on Twitter @asimhaneef

Why My Father Hated India

By Aatish Taseer for The Wall Street Journal

Ten days before he was assassinated in January, my father, Salman Taseer, sent out a tweet about an Indian rocket that had come down over the Bay of Bengal: “Why does India make fools of themselves messing in space technology? Stick 2 bollywood my advice.”

My father was the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, and his tweet, with its taunt at India’s misfortune, would have delighted his many thousands of followers. It fed straight into Pakistan’s unhealthy obsession with India, the country from which it was carved in 1947.

Though my father’s attitude went down well in Pakistan, it had caused considerable tension between us. I am half-Indian, raised in Delhi by my Indian mother: India is a country that I consider my own. When my father was killed by one of his own bodyguards for defending a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, we had not spoken for three years.

To understand the Pakistani obsession with India, to get a sense of its special edge—its hysteria—it is necessary to understand the rejection of India, its culture and past, that lies at the heart of the idea of Pakistan. This is not merely an academic question. Pakistan’s animus toward India is the cause of both its unwillingness to fight Islamic extremism and its active complicity in undermining the aims of its ostensible ally, the United States.

The idea of Pakistan was first seriously formulated by neither a cleric nor a politician but by a poet. In 1930, Muhammad Iqbal, addressing the All-India Muslim league, made the case for a state in which India’s Muslims would realize their “political and ethical essence.” Though he was always vague about what the new state would be, he was quite clear about what it would not be: the old pluralistic society of India, with its composite culture.

Iqbal’s vision took concrete shape in August 1947. Despite the partition of British India, it had seemed at first that there would be no transfer of populations. But violence erupted, and it quickly became clear that in the new homeland for India’s Muslims, there would be no place for its non-Muslim communities. Pakistan and India came into being at the cost of a million lives and the largest migration in history.

This shared experience of carnage and loss is the foundation of the modern relationship between the two countries. In human terms, it meant that each of my parents, my father in Pakistan and my mother in India, grew up around symmetrically violent stories of uprooting and homelessness.

But in Pakistan, the partition had another, deeper meaning. It raised big questions, in cultural and civilizational terms, about what its separation from India would mean.

In the absence of a true national identity, Pakistan defined itself by its opposition to India. It turned its back on all that had been common between Muslims and non-Muslims in the era before partition. Everything came under suspicion, from dress to customs to festivals, marriage rituals and literature. The new country set itself the task of erasing its association with the subcontinent, an association that many came to view as a contamination.

Had this assertion of national identity meant the casting out of something alien or foreign in favor of an organic or homegrown identity, it might have had an empowering effect. What made it self-wounding, even nihilistic, was that Pakistan, by asserting a new Arabized Islamic identity, rejected its own local and regional culture. In trying to turn its back on its shared past with India, Pakistan turned its back on itself.

But there was one problem: India was just across the border, and it was still its composite, pluralistic self, a place where nearly as many Muslims lived as in Pakistan. It was a daily reminder of the past that Pakistan had tried to erase.

Pakistan’s existential confusion made itself apparent in the political turmoil of the decades after partition. The state failed to perform a single legal transfer of power; coups were commonplace. And yet, in 1980, my father would still have felt that the partition had not been a mistake, for one critical reason: India, for all its democracy and pluralism, was an economic disaster.

Pakistan had better roads, better cars; Pakistani businesses were thriving; its citizens could take foreign currency abroad. Compared with starving, socialist India, they were on much surer ground. So what if India had democracy? It had brought nothing but drought and famine.

But in the early 1990s, a reversal began to occur in the fortunes of the two countries. The advantage that Pakistan had seemed to enjoy in the years after independence evaporated, as it became clear that the quest to rid itself of its Indian identity had come at a price: the emergence of a new and dangerous brand of Islam.

As India rose, thanks to economic liberalization, Pakistan withered. The country that had begun as a poet’s utopia was reduced to ruin and insolvency.

The primary agent of this decline has been the Pakistani army. The beneficiary of vast amounts of American assistance and money—$11 billion since 9/11—the military has diverted a significant amount of these resources to arming itself against India. In Afghanistan, it has sought neither security nor stability but rather a backyard, which—once the Americans leave—might provide Pakistan with “strategic depth” against India.

In order to realize these objectives, the Pakistani army has led the U.S. in a dance, in which it had to be seen to be fighting the war on terror, but never so much as to actually win it, for its extension meant the continuing flow of American money. All this time the army kept alive a double game, in which some terror was fought and some—such as Laskhar-e-Tayyba’s 2008 attack on Mumbai—actively supported.

The army’s duplicity was exposed decisively this May, with the killing of Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad. It was only the last and most incriminating charge against an institution whose activities over the years have included the creation of the Taliban, the financing of international terrorism and the running of a lucrative trade in nuclear secrets.

This army, whose might has always been justified by the imaginary threat from India, has been more harmful to Pakistan than to anybody else. It has consumed annually a quarter of the country’s wealth, undermined one civilian government after another and enriched itself through a range of economic interests, from bakeries and shopping malls to huge property holdings.

The reversal in the fortunes of the two countries—India’s sudden prosperity and cultural power, seen next to the calamity of Muhammad Iqbal’s unrealized utopia—is what explains the bitterness of my father’s tweet just days before he died. It captures the rage of being forced to reject a culture of which you feel effortlessly a part—a culture that Pakistanis, via Bollywood, experience daily in their homes.

This rage is what makes it impossible to reduce Pakistan’s obsession with India to matters of security or a land dispute in Kashmir. It can heal only when the wounds of 1947 are healed. And it should provoke no triumphalism in India, for behind the bluster and the bravado, there is arid pain and sadness.

—Mr. Taseer is the author of “Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands.” His second novel, “Noon,” will be published in the U.S. in September

-Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Aatish Taseer’s brutally honest and forthright column is one of the best articles I have read in a long time.  As a Pakistani American, I find a lot of truth in what he is saying, no matter how ill received it may be back in Pakistan, I feel that Aatish does make some good points and it was well worth sharing with you readers.

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. 

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.”

Shahbaz Bhatti, Modern Day Martyr in Pakistan

By Terry Mattingly for The Pocono Record

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blasphemy laws in question went into effect in 1986, during the dictatorship of Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. They ban, among other actions, the use of “derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Pakistan, Justifying Murder for Those Who Blaspheme

By Aryn Baker for Time

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

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

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

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

The Roots of Extremism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Myth of ‘Moderate Pakistan’

By Sadanand Dhume for The Wall Street Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Difficult Outlook for India-Pakistan Talks

By Tom Wright for The Wall Street Journal 

The Times of India reported today that India and Pakistan may try to rekindle peace talks in early February.

The paper says Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi could meet his Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna, informally after a regional meeting in Bhutan on Feb. 8.

The report suggests that the idea is to set the ground rules for an official visit to India by Mr. Qureshi sometime later this year in a bid to normalize relations that have soured since a major terror attack in Mumbai in 2008.

Given the disastrous outcome of Mr. Krishna’s last formal visit to Pakistan – in July of last year – those ground rules will be important.

At that meeting, Mr. Qureshi became incensed during a press conference over India’s claims that Pakistan’s military intelligence services had orchestrated the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, during which 10 Pakistani gunmen killed more than 160 people over three days.

Mr. Krishna arrived back in India to criticism of being made to look a fool by Mr. Qureshi and a peace talks process begun in 2004 was put on hold amid mutual recriminations. The slow-moving (and now stalled) dialogue is an attempt to normalize relations that have been rocky ever since the two nations were created out of British India in 1947.

India has stuck to its claims of official Pakistan involvement in the Mumbai attacks and says Islamabad is not doing enough to prosecute the perpetrators and rein in India-focused militants in general.

Pakistan retorts that it is committed to fighting terrorism. It also has called on India to broaden the agenda for peace talks to include other topics, such as the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, which both countries claim in its entirety.

It is uncertain whether talks at this stage can produce anything meaningful

India is set against any wider peace talks until Pakistan sentences seven militants that it has charged for involvement in the Mumbai attacks.

But the atmosphere in Pakistan right now means it is unlikely that any politician will want to be seen vigorously cracking down on Islamist groups.

The killing earlier this month of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, by one of his own police guards has uncovered the extent to which hardline religious views have permeated many layers of society.

The police guard admitted he was angered by Mr. Taseer’s defense of a Christian woman sentenced to death by a Pakistani court in November for blasphemy.

In recent days, scores of Pakistanis, including lawyers and clerics, have publicly rallied in support of the police officer.

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.”

 

%d bloggers like this: