Adams of the Graun: evasion and waffle
When Ofsted publishes its reports into the Birmingham schools involved in the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations of the islamisation of nominally secular state schools in that City, it will censure six schools for failing to provide a “rounded education” or prepare pupils “for life in modern Britain.” In other words, the essential claim of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document – that Islamists have been organising to impose their fundamentalist agenda on schools in Birmingham – is true.
Since the ‘Trojan Horse’ document appeared in March, and the Ofsted inspections were ordered, Tim Boyes, the Head of Queensbridge School in Moseley, Birmingham, has come forward to claim that in 2010 he warned the Department of Education that in some Birmingham schools, pupils and staff were displaying “racist, aggressive and disrespectful behaviour” and that “I and a whole series of colleagues … were reporting concerns about governance and things that weren’t going well … tensions and politics have exploded and as a result head teachers have had nervous breakdowns, they’ve lost their jobs, schools have been really torn apart.” Gove’s department failed to act, says Boyes.
Very similar claims have now been made by a prospective school governor, Keith Townsend, who told Monday’s Radio 4 Today programme that a small group of governors had “infiltrated” the governing body of an un-named Birmingham school (thought to be Golden Hillock School in Sparkbrook), demanded a stricter Muslim regime, and set about driving out the non-Muslim headteacher. Townsend says he reported his concerns to Birmingham City Council in 2008 (when it was controlled by a Tory-Lib Dem coalition) but received a “dismissive reply.” Labour MP Steve McCabe says he can recall having a conversation with Mr Townsend at that time and taking his concerns to an assistant director at the City Council.
All of which puts the Guardian in a bit of a spot. All the Graun‘s coverage to date has concentrated upon suspicions about the provenance of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document, rather than the question of whether or not the allegations of an organised Islamic fundamentalist campaign to take over some Birmingham schools, are actually true. The logic put forward by the Graun is that because the ‘Trojan Horse’ document may well be a hoax, therefore the claims made in it must, of necessity, be untrue: an argument that simply doesn’t follow, if you give it a moment’s thought. At times, the Graun and its Education editor Richard Adams, seem to have been acting as little more than a mouthpiece for the ultra-reactionary Islamist Tahir Alam, Chair of governors at Park View School, and influential at its sister schools Golden Hillock and Nansen. Adams even wrote a glowing report of a visit to Park View, that was clearly arranged, organised and supervised by Alam himself!
How will Adams and the Graun react when the Ofsted reports show them to have been so completely and egregiously wrong about what’s been going on in Birmingham?
Well, we were given a foretaste yesterday, in a typical piece of evasion, double-speak and waffle from Adams. The article’s wretched nadir must surely be this:
“The tranche of reports on 21 state schools, which could be published as early as this week, say there was scant evidence of religious extremism on a daily basis in classrooms, with most criticism reserved for school management and cases of overbearing behaviour by school governors.
“Ofsted’s inspectors appear to have been unable to find much evidence of claims of homophobia or gender discrimination, which have been alleged by anonymous former teachers at some of the schools” (my emphasis -JD).
Now, try a little experiment: try substituting the word “racism” (or, indeed, “Islamophobia”) for “religious extremism” in the first paragraph, and, again, for the words “homophobia or gender discrimination” in the second: then see how it reads.
This isn’t exactly a new low for the Graun (there’ve been too many of them to keep up with), but it’s one more depressing example of that paper’s miserable descent into relativism, pro-Islamism and a complete betrayal of secularism and enlightenment principles.
Shiraz Socialist is not in a position to express any opinion on the alleged involvement of Gerry Adams in the 1972 murder by the Provisional IRA of Jean McConville. Adams denies any involvement. Certainly, the timing of his arrest raises the possibility that it was politically motivated. However, this 2002 article by Sean Matgamna casts a useful light on Adams’ relationship with the Provos and the “physical-force” tradition within Irish republicanism:
I once knew a man who was shot by a Provisional IRA gang which included Adams
“Ireland occupies a position among the nations of the earth unique in… the possession of what is known as a ‘physical force party’ – a party, that is to say, whose members are united upon no one point, and agree upon no single principle, except upon the use of physical force as the sole means of settling the dispute between the people of this country and the governing power of Great Britain…
“[They] exalt into a principle that which the revolutionists of other countries have looked upon as a weapon… Socialists believe that the question of force is of very minor importance; the really important question is of the principles upon which is based the movement that may or may not need the use of force to realise its object…”
James Connolly, 22 July 1899
Seeing pictures of Gerry Adams grinning his Cheshire-cat-who-has-eaten-six-mice grin in triumph at SF/PIRA’s latest success reminded me that I once knew a man who was shot by a Provisional IRA gang which included Adams.
His name was John Magennis. Who was he? A British soldier? A member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary? A member of an Orange paramilitary group? One of the Northern Ireland workers shot by the Provisional IRA in the early 1990s for doing repair work on RUC stations?
No, John Magennis was a Republican. He belonged to the then mainstream Republican movement from which the Provisionals split away in December 1969. Those who remained were thereafter called the “Officials”. They seemed to be the left wing of the Republican movement. They talked about class and about socialism. But in fact their leaders were Stalinists.
The Provisionals were traditionalist Catholic right wing Republicans. They recoiled from the Officials for a number of reasons – their leftism, their Stalinism, their feebleness in responding to the communal fighting in Northern Ireland in August 1969, but, most of all, their turn to politics in general. The split was triggered by the decision of the IRA leaders that Sinn Fein would henceforth take any Dail seats which they might win in an election.
The split led to conflict between the two Republican groups over control of weapons and to a shooting war in which people on both sides died.
John Magennis, a member of the Official IRA, refused to surrender his gun to the gang of Provisional IRA men. They shot him, leaving him paralysed. He survived in that condition for some years and then died.
I met John Magennis only once or twice, about the time the IRA split was taking place. John Magennis was not yet an IRA member. He had come to Manchester to visit his uncle, John-John, a one-time Belfast Republican and later a prominent trade union militant on the Manchester docks, where he worked closely with a small group of Trotskyists, of whom I was one.
A big debate on Ireland had been going on in the IS group (now SWP), at that stage a democratic organisation in which such issues could be debated and of which we were members, since the deployment of British troops on the streets of Northern Ireland in August 1969, when serious sectarian fighting broke out in Derry and Belfast. Were we for or against British troops in Northern Ireland?
The discussion was very heated. Those of us who rejected the IS majority’s tacit support to the British state in Northern Ireland were denounced as bloodthirsty “fascists” at the September 1969 IS conference.
John Magennis came with one of his uncles to one of the debates in Manchester. He said he couldn’t see any acceptable alternative to “troops in”.
I remember something he said which later took on a special meaning. He expressed it in the jargon of Catholic nationalism, which idealises patriotic self-sacrifice “for Ireland”, the so-called “blood sacrifice”: “I don’t want to die for Ireland”.
Back in Belfast, he joined the “left-wing” Republicans. I heard he had been shot and paralysed, and later that he had died. It was many years before I saw him again – on TV on a home video, filmed in a nursing home, trying to learn to walk again – staggering painfully, spastically, a poor wreck of the vigorous young man he had been.
My friend and comrade Sean Matgamna has lately been the target of an ignorant and/or malicious campaign of largely synthetic outrage and accusations of “racism” (described and analysed here) from sections of the “left” who don’t like his militant secularism and anti-clericalism. The following short piece (from 2002) explains some of the background to Sean’s stance:
The Communist Party with Catholic Irish immigrants then, and the Left with Muslims now
There are striking parallels between the conventional Left’s attitude to Islam now and the way the Communist Party used to relate to Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. I had some experience of that.
For a while, over forty years ago, I was involved in the work of the Communist Party among Irish people of devout Catholic background in Britain, people from the nearest thing to a theocracy in Europe, where clerics ruled within the glove-puppet institutions of a bourgeois democracy.
Hundreds of thousands of us came to Britain from small towns, backward rural areas, from communities of small commodity-producers that were very different from conditions we encountered in Britain. We spoke English and were racially indistinguishable from the natives, but we brought with us the idea of history as the struggle of the oppressed against oppression and exploitation, derived from what we had learned from teachers, priests, parents and songs, and from reading about Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against England.
Such ideas had very broad implications. It needed only a small shift – no more than a refocusing of those ideas on the society we were now in, and which at first we saw with the eyes of strangers not inclined to be approving – for us to see British society for the class-exploitative system it is, to see our place in it, and to reach the socialist political conclusions that followed from that.
Vast numbers of Irish migrants became part of the labour movement. Quite a few of us became socialists of varying hues, a small number revolutionary socialists. Catholicism was the reason why large numbers of Irish immigrants, whose mindset I have sketched above, did not become communists.
The CPGB ran an Irish front organisation, the Connolly Association. Instead of advocating socialism and secularism and working to organise as communists those being shaken loose from the dogmatic certainties we had learned in a society ruled by Catholic “fundamentalists”, the Connolly Association disguised themselves as simple Irish nationalists. They purveyed ideas not seriously different from those of the ruling party in Dublin, Fianna Fail, except for occasional words in favour of Russian foreign policy.
The real history of 20th century Ireland, and the part played by the Catholic Church and the Catholic “Orange Order”, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in creating the conditions that led to Partition, were suppressed by these supposed Marxists. Instead, they told a tale in which only the Orange bigots and the British were villains. The concerns and outlook of narrow Catholic nationalism were given a pseudo-anti-imperialist twist. All that mattered was to be “against British imperialism”.
The CPGB thus, for its own manipulative ends, related to the broad mass of Irish Catholic immigrants – who, in the pubs of places like South Manchester, bought the Connolly Association paper Irish Democrat, in large numbers – by accommodating to the Catholic nationalist bigotries we had learned from priests and teachers at home and battening on them.
We had, those of us who took it seriously, a cultural and religious arrogance that would have startled those who did not see us as we saw ourselves – something that, I guess, is also true of many Muslims now. The CPGB did not challenge it. (If this suggests something purely personal to me, I suggest that the reader takes a look at James P Cannon’s review of the novel Moon Gaffney in Notebook of an Agitator.)
For the CPGB this approach made a gruesome sense entirely absent from the SWP’s antics with Islam, because Moscow approved of Dublin’s “non-aligned” foreign policy, which refused NATO military bases in Ireland. Russian foreign policy, and the wish to exploit Irish nationalism against the UK – that was the CPGB leader’s first and main concern.
In this way the Connolly Association and the CPGB cut across the line of development of secularising Irish immigrants: large numbers became lapsed Catholics, but without clearing the debris of religion from their heads. It expelled from its ranks those who wanted to make the Connolly Association socialist and secularist. Instead of helping us move on from middle-class nationalism and the Catholic-chauvinist middle-class interpretation of Irish history, it worked to lock us back into those ideas by telling us in “Marxist” terms that they were the best “anti-imperialism”. What mattered, fundamentally, to the CP leaders was who we were against – Russia’s antagonist, Britain.
(from the Workers Liberty website)
Intelligent comment from behind enemy lines.
We occasionally publish worthwhile comment from unlikely sources. It should go without saying that this does not mean that we endorse the overall politics of the author, or indeed, everything in the article itself…
By Iain Martin (Daily Telegraph 24 May)
Above: can’t we go back to ‘Team GB’?
Tune into any BBC London programme at the moment and one word dominates. That word is community. Even on a normal day on the capital’s airwaves you will hear it a great deal, but in the aftermath of the Woolwich terror attack its use has gone into overdrive. On the BBC London news last night it – or the frequently used variant communities – was averaging 11 mentions per minute.
When did this word get such a grip that even passers-by vox-popped by a TV crew will deploy it a couple of times in a sentence when they are asked to asses the impact of a particular event? I wonder whether it really is widely used in everyday discourse or whether it is just what people feel they ought to say when tensions are high and a microphone is put under their nose. Having said that, yesterday I did overhear youngsters at a bus-stop discussing their horror at the Woolwich murder, and both used the word community, as in the perpetrators were a “disgrace to their community” (in the words of one). So perhaps it really has seeped into everyday speech through constant repetition in schools and on television.
The word took hold after the riots of the early 1980s, when there was a breakdown of trust, in certain inner cities, in the police and traditional institutions. After various inquiries, public policy was reconfigured to ensure that “communities” must be consulted on policing and much else besides. The traditional approach – in which people clustered together in a particular place voted for councillors and MPs who would then represent their interests – was out. With it went the widely held understanding that to live alongside each other none of us can get everything that we want.
From that point, other techniques were developed to make “excluded” people feel included. To facilitate this there suddenly emerged the “community leader”, someone unelected and usually possessing the gift of the gab. If they were smart they might get a well-paid gig with local government, or even national government, advising on “community relations”. Inevitably, under successive governments over three decades which all wanted to avoid tensions, this hardened into an orthodoxy, underwritten by third-rate academics in new disciplines. “Community” was the key word, used over and over again.
Of course, like many linguistic devices pushed by ultraliberals it actually has ended up with the opposite meaning from the one many people seem to intend when they use it. Rather than suggesting togetherness the term is actually highly divisive. Rather than emphasising common endeavour it sets one person’s alleged “community” against that of his neighbour.
I actively dislike the term and would refuse to be described as, say, a member of the claret-drinking community. Indeed, the traditional approach is still favoured by many, many millions of us in Britain of all creeds and colours. We think of life in terms of family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, perhaps religion, charity, hobbies such as sport or music and then the nation. Sometimes the various groups and circles involved are distinct and sometimes they overlap. We also accept common institutions as a bulwark of liberty, of course. And it is all wrapped up, ultimately, in that word that I used at the end of the list: the nation. How wonderful it was for a few weeks during the Olympics. The dreaded word “communities” disappeared. We heard instead of Team GB. Can’t we go back to that?
I keep promising myself (and readers) that I’ll never write another word about that posturing charlatan Galloway. But for a blogger, he’s the gift that just keeps on giving:
George Galloway: “But there have been achievements in North Korea. They do have a satellite circling the earth. They have built a nuclear power industry even though they suspended it on false promises from President Clinton and other U.S. statesmen. They do have a cohesive, pristine actually, innocent culture. A culture that has not been penetrated by globalization and by Western mores and is very interesting to see. But I wouldn’t like to live there. And I’m not advocating their system. Not least because they certainly don’t believe in God in North Korea…”
H/t: Pete Cookson
I thought this was a nasty, racist spoof created by Galloway’s enemies to make him and ‘Honeyglaze’ Jasper look and sound like a pair of total jerks (not that it’s difficult to do that). But apparently it’s genuine. If you haven’t already seen it, brace yourself and prepare to cringe:
Hopefully, the humiliations at Croydon North and Rotherham, coming hard on the heels of the resignation of Salma Yaqoob, will finally kill off the reactionary, communalist vanity project that is/was ‘Respect.’
On the eve of the election this appeared on the Respect Site.
We are on the edge of a political earthquake in British politics. In polling conducted at the weekend, the Respect candidate in the Rotherham by-election, Yvonne Ridley, has the lead over Labour. Labour has panicked and launched a vicious and negative campaign of dirty tricks against Respect but this has been sidelined by our magnificent positive campaign with the Respect battle bus, advertizing truck and campaign groups in every ward.
Polling conducted in the Croydon North by-election suggests that Lee Jasper, the Respect candidate, is now neck and neck with the Labour Party to win the constituency.
This is what happened (including the Middlesbrough by-election),
“Labour has won three by-elections, holding Croydon North, Middlesbrough and Rotherham parliamentary seats.
It increased its share of the vote in all three seats, but its majority was down in Rotherham, where the previous MP had quit over expenses claims.
The UK Independence Party came second in Middlesbrough and Rotherham, and finished third in Croydon North.”
How did Respect fare?
|Rotherham by-election, 29 November 2012|
|English Democrats||David Wildgoose||703||3.30|
|Liberal Democrat||Michael Beckett||451||2.11||-13.87|
|Trade Unionist & Socialist||Ralph Dyson||261||1.22|
|no description||Clint Bristow||29||0.14|
|Croydon North by-election, 2012|
|Liberal Democrat||Marisha Ray||860||3.5||-10.5|
|Christian Peoples||Stephen Hammond||192||0.8||N/A|
|National Front||Richard Edmonds||161||0.7||N/A|
|Monster Raving Loony||John Cartwright||110||0.4||N/A|
|Nine Eleven Was An Inside Job||Simon Lane||66||0.3||N/A|
|Young People’s Party||Robin Smith||63||0.3||N/A|
This is a good thing.
That is despite (as Toby says) the fact that the Labour winners in Rotherham and Croydon are part of the hidebound right-wing of the party.
It is still an anti-Coalition result.
The sensation of these elections is of course the UKIP vote.
These ‘fascists in blazers’ are the weevils of the British politics.
What for the left?
TUSC (261, 1,22 % in Rotherham and 277, 1,6% in Middlesbrough) and the Communist Party (119 votes) did not do well at all.
Ridley’s votes (1,778, 8, 3,4%) are far too many for any socialist to rejoice about.
Somebody who says this, ““[Respect] is a Zionist-free party… if there was any Zionism in the Respect Party they would be hunted down and kicked out. We have no time for Zionists.” She explained that government support “goes towards that disgusting little watchdog of America that is festering in the Middle East”. She went on to attack the Tories and Lib Dems, saying that all the mainstream parties are “riddled with Zionists”” represents forces that have no part in the labour movement.
Still one cannot but smile as ‘Rapper Jasper’s’ result: a lost deposit.
And at the pitiful attempts to draw comfort from their result by Respect supporters (wonder how long this link will last before these ‘democrats’ take it down).
The obvious fact is that Respect have drawn from the old (and now unused) Liberal Democrats’ by-election strategy: publish boosting made-up door-step reports and ‘polls’ just before an election.
And the truly magnificent score of the Rotherham Liberal Democrats (2,11% below an Independent, 2,73%) brings a spring to the step.
Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the massacres (designated as genocide by the UN General Assembly), at Sabra and Shatila. These were two mainly Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of West Beirut, set up in the aftermath olf the 1967 war, and at the time under the control of Israel following their penetration into Lebanese territory, the evacuation of PLO forces and the declaration of a supposed “ceasefire.”
Although Israeli forces did not carry out the massacres, they resulted from an alliance between Israel and the Lebanese Phalangists – a Christian semi-fascist party and militia. Israel supplied the Phalangists with money and arms. Israel’s aim was to drive the Palestinians out of Beirut by means of terror directed against civilians – women, children and the aged.
The decision to move into West Beirut was taken by Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, in violation of of the “ceasefire” and, indeed, of promises made to the US after the PLO evacuation.
Sharon and Israel’s Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan decided that Phalangist forces should storm the two camps and assigned the operation to to Eli Haqiba, a senior Lebanese security official at a meeting at which Fadi Afram, Commander of the Lebanese forces, was also present.
On Thursday 16th September, the Phalangists attacked, watched by the Israeli army, which had surrounded the camps. In the chilling words of one account*, It was “a three-day orgy of rape and slaughter”. The Israelis provided the attackers with lighting, bulldozers and maps. Palestinians who manged to escape were captured and returned to the camps by Israeli forces. By the end of the third day, bodies were everywhere: “Many of the victims had been mutilated by axes or knives; others had their heads smashed, their eyes removed, tyheir throats cut and the skin had literally been stripped from their body. Severed limbs lay strewn about the floor and others had been disembowelled.”
Shatila camp, Beirut, 20 September 1982 (Photo: UNRWA/Beirut)
The exact number of victims is not known and probably never will be, not least because the Lebanese authorities refused to co-operate with the Red Cross and would not open mass graves. The likely figure is between 3,000 and 3,500, about a quarter of whom were Lebanese and the rest Palestinian.
The Israeli public was horrified when reports began to come through and 30,000 Israelis marched in Tel Aviv, demanding the resignations of Begin and Sharon.
In 1983 the Kahan Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut, established by Israel to investigate the events, found Sharon to be “unfit for public office”. He was elected Prime Minister in February 2001.
On this day we must remember and honour the victims. And we must redouble our efforts for the only just settlement of the whole Israel/Palestine tragedy: two states for two peoples.
* ‘War Crimes and Atrocities’, by Janice Anderson, Anne Williams and Vivian Head, published by Futura, 2007.
The Guardian – not a publication known of its criticism of Islamic fundamentalism or, indeed, any other form of religious bigotry, today publishes a powerful piece by Mohammed Hanif. If you read nothing else today, read this:
How to commit blasphemy in Pakistan
The country’s blasphemy law is overwhelmingly being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas. As the case of 14-year-old Christian Rimsha Masih gains global attention, author Mohammed Hanif recalls a few of the tragedies that have unfolded as a result of the law, and explains why politicians have failed to act.
Fourteen years ago, around the time young Rimsha Masih, now in jail under Pakistan‘s blasphemy law, was born, a Roman Catholic bishop walked into a courthouse in Sahiwal, quite close to my hometown in Central Punjab. The Right Rev John Joseph was no ordinary clergyman; he was the first native bishop in Pakistan and the first ever Punjabi bishop anywhere in the world. He was also a brilliant and celebrated community organiser, the kind of man oppressed communities look up to as a role model. Joseph walked in alone, asking a junior priest to wait outside the courthouse. Inside the court, he took out a handgun and shot himself in the head. The bullet in his head was his protest against the court’s decision to sentence a fellow Christian, Ayub Masih, to death for committing blasphemy. Masih had been charged with arguing with a Muslim co-worker over religious matters. The exact content of the conversation cannot be repeated here because that would be blasphemous. The bishop had campaigned long and hard to get the blasphemy law repealed without any luck. He wrote prior to his death: “I shall count myself extremely fortunate if in this mission of breaking the barriers, our Lord accepts the sacrifice of my blood for the benefit of his people.”
Joseph had been pursuing another case, in which an 11-year-old, Salamat Masih, along with his father and uncle, was accused of scribbling something blasphemous on the wall of the mosque. We don’t really know what he wrote, because reproducing it, here or in court, would constitute blasphemy.
The boy’s uncle, Manzoor Masih, was shot dead during the trial. The Masih case went to the high court, where a judge, Arif Bhatti, applied common sense and released him. A year later the judge was murdered in his own chambers, and his killers claimed that the judge had committed blasphemy by freeing those accused in the blasphemy case.
Frustrated and in a fit of rage, the bishop meditated and reached the conclusion that he should kill himself publicly to make his point.
You could argue that Joseph should have organised candlelight vigils, gone on a hunger strike, hired better lawyers. But he had tried everything and realised that a bullet in the head in the middle of a court was his only way to draw attention to this colossal absurdity called blasphemy law.
He was wrong. The law stayed. Many more Christians were killed.
There are situations though, where confronted with the prospect of a 14-year-old being sentenced to death, as a celebrated community leader you can’t do anything but take a gun to your head.
And hope for the best.
How to commit blasphemy in Pakistan
A young girl carrying trash in a plastic bag in a slum in the capital of Pakistan is not likely to arouse much curiosity. Not unless the girl is a Christian. Not unless there is a Muslim boy who wants to inspect the contents of her bag. Then this certain young man, Hammad, takes the trash bag to the local mosque to show it to the imam, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti (also known as Maulana Jadoon), who decides that the contents of the bag are, indeed, blasphemous but wonders if they are blasphemous enough. So he inserts some pages of the Qur’an in the trash bag. What the girl was carrying was a book of alphabets, taught to children, may or may not have had a verse from the Qur’an in it. Reproducing an image of the contents of this trash bag would be blasphemous, so we are never likely to know. We discover the imam’s role in sexing up the blasphemous contents two weeks later when one of the imam’s deputies cracks up. By then Rimsha has been arrested, refused bail, sent to jail and a medical board constituted to ascertain her age and mental health. We are still not sure if she is 11 or 14, we don’t know if she has Down’s Syndrome as was originally claimed. In the initial days of the case, human-rights workers pinned their hopes on Rimsha’s mental condition. As if those who demanded her arrest, those who arrested her, those who denied her bail and put her in jail were all mentally “normal”. Her family has gone into hiding; another 300 Christian families have been forced to leave their homes and are struggling to find shelter in one of the Islamabad forests.
So what can constitute blasphemy under the blasphemy law, which has killed dozens in the past decade, made thousands homeless and millions live in permanent fear about what might be found in their trashcan. It’s up to the lawyers to argue over how to avoid: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles …” but here are some of the everyday situations that can turn you into a blasphemer:
1. Transporting ashes in a plastic bag to a rubbish dump, as has happened in Masih’s case.
2. Discussing conjugal rights according to Islam with fellow Muslims if you disagree with them. You might think you are with a fellow Muslim, around a water pump and relatively safe. That is what a schoolteacher in Chakwal thought. And got into an argument. He has been in jail for the past 10 months. His 14-year-old daughter told the daily newspaper Dawn last week that kids won’t talk to her because her father is a blasphemer.
3. Not minding your spellings. Last year a teacher checking exam papers called in the police after he found blasphemous material in an answer sheet. The police wouldn’t reveal the exact material because that, you know, would be blasphemous. Later it transpired that it was a case of bad spelling.
4. Writing a novel called Blasphemy. Last year there were calls to put an author on trial because she had been disrespectful to religious scholars and spiritual saints. Last I heard she was fine but not writing any more novels with any other name.
5. Writing a children’s poem with a lion as its central character. Pakistan’s most famous social activist, Akhtar Hameed Khan, who spent his life helping people in Asia’s largest slum, tried his hand at a poem like that and spent his last years in courts facing blasphemy charges.
6. Refusing someone a drink of water. Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who among other blasphemous things (which can’t be repeated for reasons by now obvious to the readers of this article) refused her co-workers a drink of water. The local imam accused her of blasphemy. The then governor, Salman Taseer, came out in her support, talked about changing the law, and was killed by his own police bodyguard. The policeman’s picture adorns many shops and businesses in Pakistan. Taseer’s name has become synonymous with “going too far”. And nobody, really nobody, wants to mention Bibi’s name in a discussion about blasphemy law.
7. Throwing away a visiting card. A doctor in Hyderabad did that to a pestering pharmaceutical salesman and found himself in serious trouble. The salesman had Muhammad as part of his name.
Blasphemy: a children’s story
An academic subject called Islamic Studies was made compulsory for all students in the early 80s. As a student you were taught a story about the prophet Muhammad’s life. It was part of Muslim folklore, repeated over and over again in Friday sermons, and told to little kids as a bedtime story. When the prophet started preaching in Mecca, there was a lot of hostility towards him. People pelted him with stones, made fun of him and his new upstart God and his teachings. There was one woman in his Mecca neighbourhood who was particularly nasty to him. As he left his house every day, she would be waiting for him with a basket of garbage that she would empty over him. It happened day after day but he never rebuked the woman, nor changed his path. Then one day he walked the street and no garbage was thrown at him. He turned back and went looking for his tormentor and discovered that the woman was ill and bedridden. He inquired about her health and told her that since she hadn’t come out to insult him like she did every day, he was worried about her. The woman, impressed by his generosity, converted to Islam.
There is another story that kids are taught these days. This story has almost become the new folklore, repeated endlessly on social networking sites and narrated in graphic detail by the supporters of the blasphemy law. According to this story when prophet Muhammad conquered Mecca he announced a general amnesty except for those who had committed blasphemy against his person. He ordered them to be beheaded. One blasphemer was killed even when he tried to take shelter in the Khana Qaba in Mecca, the most sacred place for Muslims, where it is strictly forbidden to kill anyone.
A common Muslim might be puzzled over how both these stories could be true? But before puzzlement starts to border on blasphemy, one must seek the guidance of Pakistani Islamic scholars, who tell us that Islam is the most humane of religions, that there is nothing wrong with the blasphemy law, that it is the implementation which is problematic. Before the current law came into existence, in 60 years there were six reported cases of blasphemy. Since the current law was constituted there have been more than four thousand. But the law has such power that even pleading the statistics is considered blasphemous. When Governor Taseer challenged it, they killed him, and then many of the same Islamic scholars refused to say his funeral prayers.
The fear of Allah v the fear of mullah
Not too long ago, the role of the clergy in a neighbourhood was confined to birth and deaths, funeral and special religious occasions. You went to the mosque to offer your prayers, you prayed for better crops, for the rains to start or stop; travellers could expect to find shelter for the night. A mosque is no more just that. Equipped with a powerful public-address system and controlled by sectarian religious groups, it’s become a little battle headquarter for the neighbourhood. The continuous Shia massacres across Pakistan are not hatched in some far-off land, by enemies of Pakistan or enemies of Islam as Pakistan’s maulanas pretend; they are preached, planned and executed from local mosques.
People listen to religious scholars.
“If she is innocent, she should be released,” thundered a dozen maulanas on TV screens after Rimsha was arrested. “And if she is guilty, the law must take its course.” They completely ignored the fact that an illiterate child is not likely to even know what constitutes blasphemy. And the law they want to be implemented has led to a situation that even when the accused is found innocent, they are condemned for life.
All you need to do to condemn someone for life is to switch on a mosque loudspeaker and make the allegation. Before Chishti was caught in his own trap in the Rimsha case, no accuser had ever been arrested or tried. The laws against hate speech are weak, and almost never implemented. And how can it be considered hate speech when all they are doing is expressing their faith that might include demanding death for all Shias and Ahmedis, and an occasional Christian who may or may not have crossed the line.
There are enough sectarian organisations in Pakistan to wage perpetual war. There are enough factions within these organisations that will shoot down every argument, every appeal to rationality. You can’t reason with Allah, so you mustn’t reason with a mullah, because that too might be blasphemous.
A few days before it was found that Chishti had planted evidence against Rimsha, he was interviewed on TV. He was asked if he had been campaigning to expel Christians from his neighbourhood. He seemed puzzled for a moment, then rebuked: “This is a Muslim country, Allah has given it to us. If these Christians make noise at the time of our prayers, then they should be asked to leave.” I am certain that even when Chishti was stuffing pages from the Qur’an in the poor girl’s trash bag, he believed he was doing Allah’s work.
The Christian work
There is a well-off Christian businessman in Karachi who fusses over the trash basket in his office, handles his work file carefully, because, you never know, a stray scrap of paper can ruin you, your family, your business.
Christians make up less than 2% of Pakistanis, the majority of them very poor. Many of them are converts from low caste Hindus, who embraced Christianity in the hope of better status, but most end up sweeping the streets and cleaning clogged up gutters. Because of rampant unemployment the sanitary profession is not exclusive to Christians any more – there are thousands of Muslims, mostly migrants from rural areas, who sweep the streets and haul the trash but because of old prejudices, it’s still considered a profession beneath Muslims. The Christian businessman in Karachi was hiring a cleaning person for his office and inquired about his background. The candidate told him: my family comes from farming but because of bad times we are forced to do this Christian work.
My father, the blasphemer
My father was as devout and zealous a Muslim as I have ever seen. Never missed a prayer, built a huge mosque in his village and always preferred the stricter, literalist version of religion. He also had a mysterious stomach ailment and the only cure was a verse from the Qur’an recited by the only Christian gentleman in the neighbourhood. This accidental healer was also the neighbourhood sweeper. When I think of these two old men huddled in a room, reciting verses from the Qur’an to cure a minor ailment, I wonder if they were committing blasphemy?
For the first time since the Right Rev John Joseph shot himself, there is some public support for a blasphemy victim. Some religious scholars have come out in Rimsha’s support, an odd politician or two have talked about this case becoming a tipping point in the blasphemy debate. But let’s not have any illusions: no political party has the courage to rewrite a single word in the law let alone repeal it. The 11-year-old Salamat Masih who Joseph had fought for was sentenced to death. A higher court later overturned the decision but it was obvious the boy would never be safe in the country. A Christian charity helped him find asylum in Europe.
Rimsha (if found not guilty) has been offered sanctuary by one of the country’s largest seminaries, Jamia Banuria, in Karachi. Banuria is also a staunch supporter of the blasphemy law. Rimsha probably doesn’t know that she might end up spending the rest of her life in a Muslim seminary or be left at the mercy of a Christian charity.
In Joseph’s hometown in Faisalabad, in a Muslim seminary called Jamia Rehmania, they made a monument to his sacrifice. Jamia Rehmania also supports the blasphemy law. The memorial, called Bishop John Joseph Memorial Hall is the only monument in Pakistan dedicated to a blasphemer.