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Tuesday, March 12, 2013


          The scene has been repeated so often in Pakistan in the last several years that the word “shocking” is no longer applicable because it’s no longer shocking, just sadly, tragically predictable. As for the perpetrators, the only thing that changes is the name of the so-called Muslim extremist group who proudly takes responsibility for the latest suicide bombing, target killing or mob attack. As for the victims, that category rotates through a familiar list: Shia Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus.
          This time around, on Saturday, March 9th, an angry mob of 3,000 so-called Muslims affiliated with the Taliban attacked Joseph Colony, a Christian enclave in the industrial section of Lahore. Fueled by charges of blasphemy against a Christian who lived in the Colony, the mob proceeded to loot the houses while the police looked on and did nothing. The police were equally uninspired to uphold the rule of law and safeguard people and property when the lawless mob set fire to an estimated 180 Christian homes and two churches. (A few days later though, elsewhere in Lahore, the police regained enough of their sense of civic duty to wade in with batons, tear gas and riot gear to disburse a vocal crowd of demonstrators – all Christians – protesting the blatant injustice and lack of police protection only days earlier in the attack at Joseph Colony. If the protestors had been wielding torches, I’m sure the police would’ve had the fire department at the ready.)
          So how did this latest spasm of violence and inhumanity erupt, costing the homes and worship places of hundreds of innocent Christians? It is reported by a French news site that the charge of blasphemy against a Christian was made by his Muslim friend -- while both of them were drunk! Getting intoxicated, it seems, was a shared pastime they engaged in on a daily basis after work. It isn’t difficult to imagine how, while drunk, the animosity of the Christian could be easily roused by the frequent maltreatment and disrespect of him and his fellow Christians at the hands of so-called Muslims. And it is just as easy to imagine how the drunken Muslim would naturally take offense at any unkind remarks directed at his religion or the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
          And as everyone in Pakistan knows – especially Christians and Ahmadi Muslims – saying or doing anything that could be seen as an insult against Islam or the Holy Quran or the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is just not something you do without worrying about the often deadly consequences. In fact, those consequences are so well known that you would be crazy to even consider blaspheming Islam, the Quran or Muhammad (pbuh) -- knowing how quickly a mob of angry and impassioned Muslims would show up on your doorstep to teach you a quick and violent lesson in Islamic tolerance of perceived blasphemy in Pakistan.
            The beginning of this state of intolerance began in 1974, when the Pakistan Constitution was amended to appease the mullahs for their political support by declaring Ahmadi Muslims apostates from Islam, Ahmadis have been the victims of discrimination in political advancement, voting, housing, education and business. And starting in the mid-1980s with draconian enforcement and re-interpretation of 19th-century British India-enacted Blasphemy Laws, Ahmadi Muslims and other religious minorities (including Christians) have suffered intense persecution, boycotts and even targeted killings and mass murder at the hands of extremist Sunni Muslims.
          These amended Blasphemy Laws initially criminalized the public practice or expression of Islam by Ahmadi Muslims as a way to keep them isolated from the Sunni mainstream, but later, the Blasphemy Laws were directed against anyone not classified as the “right kind of Muslim” such as Shias, or against members of minority religions, such as Christians, Sikhs and Hindus.
          Now days, radical Mullahs and their congregations routinely threaten violence against religious minorities and political insurrection against the ruling party if they are opposed or brought to justice. It is then no surprise when government leaders and politicians either ally themselves openly with the terrorists or don’t confront or oppose them, choosing silence instead. And for those brave souls like Punjab governor Salman Taseer and his minister of minorities Shabaz Bhatti who do stand up and speak out against the terrorists, they end their careers in a hail of gunfire.
          Concerning the terrible price Pakistan will pay for doing nothing to repeal the Blasphemy Laws, Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, has summed up the current situation quite succinctly: “The ugly fact is that the blasphemy law is an enabler of mob violence against vulnerable groups. As long as such laws remain on the books and the authorities remain unwilling or unable to rein in mobs playing judge, jury and executioner, Pakistan will remain plagued by abuse in the name of religion.”
          It is just this abuse in the name of religion which is at the heart of the survival of Pakistan as a nation. As the Christians of Joseph Colony can attest, it is easy to see by their actions who are the ones truly guilty of bringing dishonor to the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the religion of Islam. The true blasphemers continue to be those Muslims who burn down the homes and churches of Christians, and who force Christian and Hindu girls to convert to Islam and marry Muslims, and who become suicide bombers and violent Jihadists, killing innocent Shia and Ahmadi Muslims because they are not following the Islam of the suicide bombers and violent Jihadists.
          Today the Rule of Law and the hope for justice do not exist in Pakistan, nor in Indonesia, nor in Saudi Arabia, nor in any professed Muslim country where the freedom to practice one’s faith peacefully and in peace is only a fleeting dream held hostage to hatred, intolerance and fanaticism. These are not the qualities or directives of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), nor are they what define the true teachings of Islam. As long as there are Muslims who think and act like the so-called Muslims who looted and burned the homes of Christians in Lahore, then the only real blasphemers of Islam will be those kinds of Muslims.

[ with Imam Shamshad. Ran in print in the Sept./Oct. 2013 issue of Liberty Magazine (with a slight rewrite of the last sentence) on pages 38-39; online link here: Also appeared on March 14th, 2013 at this link: ]

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