Counter-Terrorism: The Blasphemy Of Blasphemy

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January 6, 2011: It is indeed a grim irony that while the Pakistan government has yet to execute anyone under its controversial blasphemy (against Islam) laws, enacted three decades ago, more than thirty alleged blasphemers have been killed in this period -- lynched by angry mobs. The assassination of Punjab Governor and media tycoon Salman Taseer in Islamabad, by his own security man on January 4, 2011, may have stunned all Pakistanis but would have surprised none in the international community. Such is the extent to which fundamentalism has permeated the population of Pakistan. The assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of the Elite Force of the Punjab Police, quietly threw down his weapon and surrendered after firing 26 bullets into Taseer. Qadri told his interrogators later that he killed Taseer because the Governor had called the blasphemy law “a black law” and had been campaigning for its repeal. Significantly, Qadri is from the Barelvi sect, which is considered more tolerant than sects like Deobandis, Wahabis and Salafis. Taseer was a prominent leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and considered quite close to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistani fundamentalists have been vociferous in their criticism of Taseer and even gave a "withdraw opposition (to the blasphemy law) or else" threat to another PPP politician and former minister Sherry Rehman. The fundamentalists’ deadline for Rehman is January 6, 2011. Rahman has been assigned a large government security detail, and the men who work these details are being screened for murderous tendencies.  

The most surprising aspect of this is that several governments have come and gone in Pakistan since the blasphemy law was passed, but no political leader has ever been able to muster enough courage to repeal Section 295C of Pakistan’s Penal Code. The Section stipulates that "derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet … either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly … shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."

Even General Pervez Musharraf, who has the distinction of being Pakistan’s second longest-serving President after Gen Zia, could not dare to repeal this law at the peak of his authority and popularity. Right from Benazir Bhutto to Zardari, every single Pakistani leader has chosen to retain the status quo. No Pakistani leader ever considered it worthwhile to rock the Mullahs’ boat. Besides, every Pakistani President/Prime Minister has been snowed under by multiple problems of far graver importance than the blasphemy law. A weak President like Zardari, who is leading a minority coalition government, can hardly be expected to do what should have been done long ago. – Rajeev Sharma

 

 


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