The fascists of the Taliban, and their appeasers like Imran Khan, have been defied and (hopefully) defeated by the people of Pakistan, led by the women. Those sections of the decadent western “left” (notably the SWP) who support such fascists in the sub-continent, should be ashamed.
Millions of voters turned out to cast their ballots in Pakistan’s historic election Saturday despite Taliban threats and a series of attacks in a few volatile areas. The poll marks Pakistan’s first-ever transition of civilian governments.
Braving Taliban threats and attacks, millions of Pakistanis turned out to vote today in a landmark election marking the first transition between civilian governments in the country’s 66-year history.
Polls opened amid tight security across Pakistan with voters lining up at polling stations in some of the main cities despite the searing heat and the omnipresent fear of attacks.
By midday, the country’s election commission said the voter turnout was 30% – an indication that the total turnout looked set to cross the 44% mark of the last general election in 2008. Voting was extended by an extra hour nationwide to allow people queuing at polling centers to cast their ballot, according to the AFP. In Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, polling was extended by three hours in some constituencies because voting started late.
A series of gunfights and bomb attacks targeted party offices and polling stations in some of the volatile parts of this South Asian nation, killing at least 17 people.
In the tinderbox port city of Karachi, a bomb attack on the office of the (ANP) Awami National Party killed 11 people and wounded around 40 others. At least three other attacks – including gunfights – were reported across the city.
Gunmen killed two people outside a polling station in Baluchistan, the southwestern province where separatists oppose the election, and in the northwestern city of Peshawar, a bomb explosion killed at least one person and wounded 10 others, according to local police officials.
But the attacks failed to deter people from the polls as millions of Pakistanis, buoyed by a prospect of change and keenly aware of the historic nature of Saturday’s vote, cast their ballots to elect representatives to the National Assembly – or lower house – as well as provincial assemblies.
“This election is very significant,” said Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International. “Yes, there are many problems, but we should not dismiss this election – it’s a chance for Pakistan to deepen its democratic process and also for citizens to demonstrate they won’t be intimidated by groups like the Taliban into not exercising their right to choose their government.”
Violence has been a key problem in the run-up to Saturday’s vote, with the Taliban targeting three secular parties – including outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari’s PPP (Pakistan Peoples’ Party).
Security was tight across Pakistan, with the military deploying troops and additional security personnel at polling stations and counting centres amid Taliban threats to disrupt the vote.
In the most populous province of Punjab alone, 300,000 security officials – including 32,000 troops – have been deployed. Another 96,000 security forces have been posted in the Taliban stronghold regions in northwestern Pakistan.
Saturday’s vote came just days after former Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son, Ali Haider Gilani – a provincial assembly candidate – was kidnapped during an election rally in the central Pakistani city of Multan.
The kidnapping highlighted the relentless levels of violence in a country that’s no stranger to election-related bloodshed.
“It’s been a very, very brutal and very bloody campaign,” said FRANCE 24’s Rezaul Hasan, reporting from Islamabad days before the historic vote. “There are widespread reports that there could be attacks during the polling and the army has deployed hundreds of thousands of security personnel. But it still remains to be seen whether polling will be peaceful because the militants – the Taliban – have shown their ability to strike despite all the security measures that have been put in place.” Read the rest of this entry »
Shahnaz Nazli, a teacher at a girls’ school in the Northwestern Khyber district of Pakistan, was murdered earlier this week. Officially, the motorbike-riding killers are “unknown” but they are clearly the same brand of gynaephobic fascist bastards who tried to kill Malala Yousufzai. The killing was quite widely covered by the likes of CNN, but I could find nothing in the Guardian or on the main liberal-leftist websites.
Can it be that sections of the Western liberal-left have come to simply accept that this kind of thing is inevitable in certain cultures? Or that sections of the so-called “left” even harbour a degree of sympathy with the Taliban as some kind of “resistance” movement?
Maybe Nick Cohen has a point.
And this book is essential reading.
There can be no doubt who wins Person Of The Year as far as I’m concerned: Malala Yousafza , anti-fascist heroine whose courageous stand for human rights against the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) nearly cost her her life.
A Pakistani writer, Saroop Ijaz, put the feelings of all civilised people into words:
There are those who are trying to inject complexity into the debate and some of them unwittingly are becoming apologists for this mindset of murder and blowing up girls’ schools. Yet, there remains very little room for complexity. It can either be Malala’s Pakistan or TTP’s Pakistan, it cannot be both. This should not be a choice. A Pakistan without Malala and her other fellow girls fighting for education will not be worth living in. I know binaries are supposed to be lazy and not nuanced enough, however, a 14-year-old child is shot in the head for “promoting secularism”. There is no provision for nuance. One has to set one’s face against this and summon all resources to fight. The debate on drone attacks can and should continue. However it has no bearing on our responsibility to fight these medievalists. They should be fought and eliminated — not negotiated with or mollycoddled. Firstly, negotiation is not possible. Secondly, and more importantly, negotiation with them is immoral. An attack on our children is as direct and frontal as an assault can be. This is not a question of politics; it has become a question of survival. The fight should begin by naming the enemy loud and clear, i.e., the TTP and their ideology of hate.
It is of some consolation to see the army chief condemning the assassination attempt on Malala. However, mere condemnation is not enough. The Pakistan Army has to stop the policy of considering the terrorist, any faction or network as “strategic assets”. The mindset has to be fought and fought as a whole and conclusively. It is now a choice between our children and these “strategic assets”. The Pakistan Army has, the over the past three decades, contributed to this ideology of jihad. For this reason, it also has the additional responsibility of erasing this misdeed and fighting these monsters.
George Orwell, writing about a young soldier of the Spanish War, wrote: “But the thing I saw in your face, No Power can disinherit; No Bomb that ever burst; Shatters the Crystal Spirit.” To understand Orwell’s words, have a look at the face of that child and the sparkle and resolve in her eyes. We are not Malala, but we should be, we can try. Let us hope Malala lives long enough to see her Pakistan.
Read the full article here
From Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate:
The BBC has just announced that Malala Yousafzai has stood up for the first time since being shot in the head by the Taliban. The 14-year-old was targeted after she led a campaign for girls to be educated.
This is really great news.
Thank you so much if you’re one of the 4,153 people who have so far signed her Get Well book.
We are delivering the book to Malala early next week so we are making one last push to get more names.
You may have already signed but can you now encourage your friends to do likewise?
Malala is a symbol of hope against hate and the more people we can get to sign our Get Well book the better the message that sends to her.
We will be delivering the Get Well book early next week so please ask your friends to sign today:
This week is Hate Crime Awareness Week and we’ve done our bit to promote it. Today, we have put up two articles about Malala which are well worth a read. The first is by Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister and who is now the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. He has launched a campaign to achieve education for all in Pakistan. We also have an article by Sara Khan, Director of Inspire, a Muslim women’s human rights group. She explains how Malala’s story can inspire Muslim women in the UK.
You can find both articles on http://action.hopenothate.org.uk/page/m/4c18e7c/618c0651/6106672b/167f7584/2124584510/VEsC/
Let’s go into the weekend on a cheerful note. Please encourage your friends and family to sign Malala’s Get Well book and let her know how much she inspires us
Malala has continued to be a vocal advocate, of education for all, in Pakistan and was the runner up of the International Children’s Peace Prize last year. Her contribution was recognised within Pakistan in December 2011 when she was awarded the National Youth Peace Prize. Malala is an inspiration for people across the world. On October 9th 2012 the Taliban attempted to assassinate her as she travelled home after an exam on the school bus. A national day of prayer has been held for Malala across Pakistan.
The piece below is from today’s Graun (print edition) and is essential reading. It should (but probably won’t) put to shame all those (including some Graun contributors) who try to make out that the Taliban is some sort of legitimate national liberation movement, or is simply a movement that responds (understandably) to “imperialism.” First, here’s a video edited from a New York Times documentary about this young hero and her incredibly brave stand against the gynophobic clerical fascists:
Why they hate Malala
The attempted assassination of a 14-year-old girl was driven by a pathological hatred of women – not by politics, as the Taliban claim
‘I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban.” So began the diary of Malala Yousafzai, an 11-year-old girl living in Pakistan’s Swat region in 2009 while the Taliban had de facto control and female education was banned. The BBC website published the diary, and a few months later a New York Times documentary revealed more about the girl behind the pen.
Today, as Malala Yousafzai remains critical but stable in hospital following an assassination attempt by the Taliban, I watched the laughing, wise, determined 11-year-old in that video and thought of the Urdu phrase, “kis mitti kay banee ho” – “from what clay were you fashioned?”
It’s an expression that changes meaning according to context. Sometimes, as when applied to Malala Yousafzai, it’s a compliment, alluding to a person’s exceptional qualities. At other times it indicates some element of humanity that’s missing. From what clay were you fashioned, I’d like to say to the TTP (the Pakistan Taliban), in a tone quite different to that in which I’d direct it to the 14-year-old girl they shot “because of her pioneering role in preaching secularism and so-called enlightened moderation” and who, according to their spokesman, they intend to target again.
The truth is both Malala Yousafzai and the Taliban were fashioned from the clay of Pakistan. When I say this about Malala it is not in a statement of patriotism about my homeland but instead an echo of a sentiment expressed by the novelist Nadeem Aslam: “Pakistan produces people of extraordinary bravery. But no nation should ever require its citizens to be that brave.”
Because the state of Pakistan allowed the Taliban to exist, and to grow in strength, Malala Yousafzai couldn’t simply be a schoolgirl who displayed courage in facing down school bullies but one who, instead, appeared on talk shows in Pakistan less than a year ago to discuss the possibility of her own death at the hands of the Taliban.
“Sometimes I imagine I’m going along and the Taliban stop me. I take my sandal and hit them on the face and say what you’re doing is wrong. Education is our right, don’t take it from us. There is this quality in me – I’m ready for all situations. So even if (God let this not happen) they kill me, I’ll first say to them, what you’re doing is wrong.”
It’s only right to acknowledge that if different decisions had been made about Pakistan’s history, primarily by those within the country but also by those outside it, the men issuing statements justifying assassination attempts on a young girl would also have been doing something else with their lives.
It isn’t the clay from which they were fashioned, but the patch of earth in which they grew up which made them what they now are. But what do we do with this piece of information? Yes, of course, the Taliban exists because of political decisions dating back to the 1980s; and of course the mess that is the “war on terror” has only added to the TTP’s ranks.
There’s no need for the Taliban to invent propaganda against the American and Pakistan state (although they do) – both governments supply an excess of recruitment material for those who hate them. So if you view the Taliban simply through the prism of the war on terror and Pakistan and the United States, it’s possible to think the process can be reversed; policies can be changed; everyone can stop being murderous and duplicitous.
But then there’s Malala Yousafzai, standing in for all the women attacked, oppressed, condemned by the Taliban. What role have women played in creating the Taliban? Which of their failures is tied to the Taliban’s strength? What grave responsibility, what terrible guilt do they carry around which explains the reprisals against them?
For political differences, seek political solutions. But what do you do in the face of an enemy with a pathological hatred of woman? What is it that you’re saying if you say (and I do, in this case) there can be no starting point for negotiations? I believe in due process of law; I know violence begets violence. But as I keep clicking my Twitter feed for updates on Malala Yousafzai’s condition, and find instead one statement after another from the government, political parties, and the army (writing in capital letters) condemning the attack, I find myself thinking, do any of you know the way forward? Today, I’m unable to see it. But Malala, I’m sure, would tell me I’m wrong. Let her wake up, and do that
Taliban gunmen have shot and seriously wounded a 14-year-old children’s rights activist who has campaigned for girls’ education in the Swat Valley in north-west Pakistan.
Malala Yousafzai was attacked on her way home from school in Mingora, the region’s main town.
She came to public attention in 2009 by writing a diary for BBC Urdu about life under Taliban militants who had taken control of the valley.
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman told the BBC they carried out the attack.
Ehsanullah Ehsan told the BBC Urdu and other news organisations that they attacked her because she was anti-Taliban and secular, adding that she would not be spared:
“She was pro-West, she was speaking against Taliban and she was calling President Obama her ideal leader,” Ehsan said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“She was young but she was promoting Western culture in Pashtun areas,” he said, referring the main ethnic group in northwest Pakistan and southern and eastern Afghanistan. Most members of the Taliban come from conservative Pashtun tribes.
The chilling attack on the young peace campaigner has been leading TV news bulletins here. Malala Yousafzai is one of the best-known schoolgirls in the country. Young as she is, she has dared to do what many others do not – publicly criticise the Taliban.
Malala’s confident, articulate campaign for girls’ education has won her admirers – and recognition – at home and abroad. She has appeared on national and international television, and spoken of her dream of a future Pakistan where education would prevail.
Even by the standards of blood-soaked Pakistan, there has been shock at the shooting. It has been condemned by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, who sent a helicopter to transfer Malala to hospital in Peshawar.
The head of Pakistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, Zohra Yusuf, said “this tragic attack on this courageous child sends a very disturbing message to all those working for women and girls.”
One report, citing local sources, says a bearded gunman stopped a car full of schoolgirls, and asked for Malala Yousafzai by name, before opening fire.
But a police official also told BBC Urdu that unidentified gunmen opened fire on the schoolgirls as they were about to board a van or bus.
She was hit in the head and, some reports say, in the neck area by a second bullet, but is now in hospital and is reportedly out of danger. Another girl who was with her at the time was also injured.
Malala Yousafzai was just 11 when she was writing her diary, two years after the Taliban took over the Swat Valley, and ordered girls’ schools to close.
In the diary, which she kept for the BBC’s Urdu service under a pen name, she exposed the suffering caused by the militants as they ruled.
She used the pen-name Gul Makai when writing the diary. Her identity only emerged after the Taliban were driven out of Swat and she later won a national award for bravery and was also nominated for an international children’s peace award.
Correspondents say she earned the admiration of many across Pakistan for her courage in speaking out about life under the brutal rule of Taliban militants.
One poignant entry reflects on the Taliban decree banning girls’ education: “Since today was the last day of our school, we decided to play in the playground a bit longer. I am of the view that the school will one day reopen but while leaving I looked at the building as if I would not come here again.”
She has since said that she wants to study law and enter politics when she grows up. “I dreamt of a country where education would prevail,” she said.
Taliban driven out
The BBC’s Orla Guerin in Islamabad says that Malala Yousafzai was a public figure who didn’t shy away from risks and had strong support from her parents for her activism. Indeed, her father, who is a school teacher, expressed his pride in her campaigning.
In a statement about the attack, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said: “We have to fight the mindset that is involved in this. We have to condemn it… Malala is like my daughter, and yours too. If that mindset prevails, then whose daughter would be safe?”
The Taliban, under the notorious militant cleric Maulana Fazlullah, took hold of the Swat Valley in late 2007 and remained in de facto control until they were driven out by Pakistani military forces during an offensive in 2009.
While in power they closed girls’ schools, promulgated Sharia law and introduced measures such as banning the playing of music in cars.
When the Taliban began asserting their influence in Swat in 2007 — part of a wave of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters expanding their reach from safe havens near the Afghan border — they began asserting their own brand of clerical fascism and barabarism.
They forced men to grow beards, restricted women from going to the bazaar, whipped women they considered immoral and beheaded opponents.
During the roughly two years of their rule, Taliban in the region destroyed around 200 schools. Most were girls’ institutions, though some prominent boys’ schools were struck as well.
At one point, the Taliban said they were halting female education, a move that echoed their militant brethren in neighboring Afghanistan who during their rule barred girls from attending school.
Since they were ejected, there have been isolated militant attacks in Swat but the region has largely remained stable and many of the thousands of people who fled during the Taliban years have returned.
From Eric Lee of LabourStart:
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.
This is a message from Misrek Masih, of Islamabad, Pakistan.
Last week an enraged crowd threatened to burn my daughter alive, and in 24 hours a judge will decide whether she goes free or stays in jail. Rimsha is a minor with mental disabilities and often isn’t in control of her actions. Yet local police here in Pakistan have charged her with desecrating the Koran, and we are afraid for her life.
Right now she is being held in a maximum-security jail, and in hours, she will face the court under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, which carry the death sentence. We are a poor Christian family, witnessing mob fury over my daughter’s case, and many other families have faced similar intimidation forcing them to either flee or live in fear. But the international attention on Rimsha’s case has emboldened Pakistani Muslim leaders to speak out against this injustice and forced President Zardari’s attention.
Please help me keep up the global outcry on my daughter’s case. I urge you to sign my petition to President Zardari to save Rimsha and demand protection for us and other vulnerable minority families. Avaaz will share this campaign with the local and international media, watched carefully by all the politicians here.