Posts Tagged ‘ Religious Intolerance ’

Lowe’s Errs in Muslim Ad Uproar

By Laura Berman for The Detroit News

Lowe’s used to be the home supply store for macho do-it-yourselfers who want to pick up a chain saw or a sledge hammer along with a box of garbage bags.

Now it’s steeping in a political mess, the result of acceding to the demands of a “pro-family” group — a warm-and-fuzzy sounding way to describe a group that specializes in email campaigns targeted against TV shows that treat minorities as human beings.

In this case, the target was “All-American Muslim,” The Learning Channel’s new reality show that depicts five Muslim families in Dearborn as they entertain, bicker, laugh and get married. The show’s premise — that Muslims are Americans, too — verges on the silly in its obviousness, or so most would think. But the Florida Family Association branded the show, which premiered a month ago, as “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”

The group launched its email campaign in November, then triumphed when Lowe’s — among dozens of other sponsors — disappeared from the show in subsequent episodes.

Its big beef was the lack of negative portrayals of Muslims on the show: Insufficient underwear bombers and radical clerics. The FFA wants ordinary, tooth-brushing, family-friendly Muslims “balanced” with scary, America-hating radical Muslims, apparently as a way to keep suspicion and prejudice alive.

This strikes me as un-Christian to the max. But Lowe’s bought in or, more likely, tried to gracefully bow out of the political arena by removing itself from the show’s list of sponsors.

Lowe’s next error: releasing paragraphs of corporate mumbo-jumbo, pseudo-apologies that fueled the growing uproar. Now there’s a festive holiday season cultural eruption centered on Dearborn. Dearborn’s Muslim community leaders are denouncing Lowe’s, while the Florida Family Association brags online about its successful campaign to eliminate advertisers for “All-American Muslim.”

In the FFA’s version of All-American, only “God fearing” Christians are real Americans, released from requirements to be portrayed, at least some of the time, as crucial components of the axis of evil.

This xenophobic, self-justifying bigotry is, in fact, just as American as our more widely copied ideas about equality for all and a universal right to pursue happiness. But it’s hard to believe what a persistent undercurrent conspiracy theories are in American culture.

The Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Richard Hofstadter described 50 years ago what he called “the paranoid style” in American politics, giving as an example a 1964 campaign by the John Birch society to boycott Xerox for advertising on a television show about the United Nations.

Just as American Muslims are now subjected to bigotry and suspicion, Masons and Catholics were singled out by 19th century Americans bent on protecting their country through conspiracy theories, and Japanese Americans were forced into 20th century concentration camps.

“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” Hofstadter wrote, describing a state of mind that flourishes in America today.

The problem isn’t only anger but, also, how fear so easily drowns out even a chain-saw-wielding corporation’s All-American supply of courage.

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In the Name of ‘Honour’: Brazen Shikarpur Killings Shake Hindu Community

By Sarfaraz Memon for The Express Tribune

Most shops in Taluka Chak in Shikarpur were open on Wednesday but there was an uneasy calm. Three Hindu men are dead and no one knows the whereabouts of Seema Bhayo, the girl at the centre of the storm. Residents fear that she may also have been killed. The police have no clue.

It is a simple tale of a love affair that turned tragic. The president has ordered an inquiry into the matter. Not to be outdone, the Sindh home minister has suspended the SHO of the area but neither of these moves brought any comfort to the families who lost their loved ones.

The brutal attack took place on Monday, the first day of Eid, when four armed men on two motorcycles barged into the house of one Naresh Kumar, where he and his friends Dr Ajeet Kumar, Dr Satya Pal and Ashok Kumar were present. The intruders opened fire and killed Ashok and Naresh on the spot, injuring  Dr Ajeet Kumar and Dr Satya Pal.

Dr Ajeet Kumar later died of his wounds at a Sukkur Hospital, more so because no one was willing to take him to the hospital. The policemen who were supposed to guard the house were nowhere to be seen. They did not turn up that day, despite the fact that they had been stationed on fear that such an attack was imminent.

The “crime” that these four men apparently committed was that they intervened on behalf of two young men of their community who had been apprehended two weeks earlier and charged with criminally assaulting a Muslim girl. The real story, as told by area residents, was that Seema and Sandeep Kumar fell in love and were caught while they were meeting at the house of Sandeep’s friend, Nakash Kumar.

This correspondent also visited Qazi mohalla where Seema’s home is situated on the right side of the road and the shops of Sandeep and Nakash were on the left side. A neighbour said that Seema and Sandeep used to meet at Nakash’s house. On that fateful day, area residents saw them going in and raided the house and thus the affair was revealed.

It was the promise of a better life which attracted Seema towards Sandeep, said another resident, adding that Seema’s father Nazir Ahmed Bhayo was a mason by profession. When the couple was caught, the Hindu community intervened to settle the matter. President of the Hindu Panchayat in Chak, Prem Kumar, said “We went to the Bhayo elders and told them that we are ready to pay any fine to reconcile the matter.”

Area resident Moulvi Allah Bux confirmed that the Hindu community were trying to reconcile with the Bhayo clansmen and for this they had met Sardar Babul Bhayo, who gave them a positive response and told them that the date of the reconciliatory meeting would be announced on the second day of Eid. But before the meeting could be held, the murders were committed.

While Babul Khan Bhayo was not available, clan chieftan Sardar Wahid Bux Bhayo  said that it was the Hindu community which had resorted to aggression by sexually assaulting a Bhayo girl. According to him, the three Hindus were killed in retaliation for that incident. But he added that he condemned both incidents.

On Tuesday, hundreds participated in the last rites of the three men. The rituals were performed near the Sadhu Bela temple in Sukkur.

Following the notice by the president, the Chak police has swung into action. During raids in different localities, they have apprehended more than 25 people. DIG Larkana Sain Rakhiyo Mirani said that the murder was an act of terrorism. But the Hindu community maintains that the real perpetrators of the crime have so far not been arrested.

Obama Condemns Assassination in Pakistan

As reported by The Associated Press

President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the assassination of the only Christian member of Pakistan’s government, calling the slaying of Shabaz Bhatti a “horrific act of violence.”

Republicans and Democrats in Congress echoed Obama’s outrage, hours after Bhatti was gunned down outside his mother’s home. His slaying came just weeks after the killing of liberal politician Salman Taseer. The two men had pushed to change laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

“He is literally a modern-day martyr,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Bhatti, a campaigner for human rights causes, had been aware of threats to his life. Obama said Bhatti “fought for and sacrificed his life for the universal values that Pakistanis, Americans and people around the world hold dear” — including rights to free speech and religious freedom.

Assailants from al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban Movement in Punjab province claimed responsibility, calling Bhatti an “infidel Christian.”

Obama said that whoever committed the crime should be brought to justice, and people who share Bhatti’s vision of tolerance and religious freedom should live free of fear.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who recently met Bhatti, called him “a patriot and a man of courage and conviction.” She said in a statement that the United States remains committed to working with the government and people of Pakistan “to build a more stable and prosperous future for all — a future in which violent extremists are no longer able to silence the voices of tolerance and peace.”

More than half a dozen lawmakers, many of whom knew Bhatti, called on the Pakistan government to change the laws. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who said he prayed with Bhatti, said the events need to be a “game-changing moment.”

“No matter what your religion, his murder is an affront to God,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

They showed a videotaped message from Bhatti in which he said he received death threats and was “ready to die” for the country’s often persecuted Christian and other non-Muslim minorities.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., said Bhatti’s death reflects the growing climate of intolerance in Pakistan and urged all Pakistanis to stand united against violence and intolerance.

Aasia Bibi and Impurities in the Land of the Pure

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

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

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

No section of the blasphemy law is more controversial or harder to prove than Article 295-C, the law that Aasia Bibi is allegedly charged with having broken. In respect to prophet Muhammad, this statute states that ” Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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