(Na)Pakistan: The Land of the (Im)Pure

pak

Written by Saeed Umer Abassi

The case for separation of religion and state in Pakistan has been made by atheists, agnostics and non-believers.

I argue that case, as a believer.

In Islam, God is the supreme authority. His Will creates, sustains and destroys the Universe. He is the ultimate judge of human beings based on their thoughts, words and deeds.

What need has this Almighty God for mortals to legislate in His name? What does it benefit Him whose Law is eternal and universal to have the laws of men perpetrate injustice and cruelty?

The teachings of religion on love, benevolence and justice can better politics; but why otherwise corrupt the sanctity of religion with blood, power and greed? Why further divide humanity “in creation of one essence and soul?”

Why do Pakistanis need a state to save their souls when it does not fill their bellies? What need has Islam or God for the Hudood Ordinance, the Blasphemy Law and the murder of its people in His name? What has sixty-eight years of Pakistan done in the name of Islam and God?

The Persian sage and poet Sadi remarked in the Gulistan:

Oh! Though above all human though supreme,
Above our every word or deed or dream,
Thy service closes and we quit the Mosque
Yet of Thy meaning, scarce have caught a gleam

If the mosque has failed to bring Pakistan closer to Islam or to God, then nor will all of the Islam-pasand politicians, mullahs and mujahideen of the Land of the Pure.
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‘Freedom from religion: An essential right for all’ by Joyce Arthur

Uddari fully supports our right to live free of all religions.

The integrity of the Conservative government’s newly minted Office of Religious Freedom is already in grave doubt after 10 days of pointed criticism. It’s a noble-sounding endeavour, but it suffers from too many unanswered questions, glaring incongruities and serious omissions.

Given that it’s the right-wing Conservative government behind the initiative, it carries a high risk of being Christian-centric, with a primary focus on the persecution of Christian minorities. Another purpose may be to help ensure the government’s future electoral chances by pandering to its Christian constituency, as well as a handful of other religious groups that were invited for consultation. Further, the new agency could divert attention and resources from other human rights issues. Why does the cause of religious freedom deserve its own office in a world filled with deep poverty, violence, discrimination against women, environmental degradation, and a host of other ills and human rights violations? John Moore points out: “It’s all the more cynical when you consider that this government regards our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms as liberal puffery.”

Confidence is not increased by the appointment of the Office’s new ambassador, Dr. Andrew Bennett. Harper has hailed Bennett as a scholar even though he has virtually no published writings and his academic experience consists largely of being a part-time dean and teacher at a tiny evangelical school in Ottawa. A devout Catholic, Bennett subscribes to his college’s Statement of Faith, which requires strict doctrinal adherence to a fundamentalist version of Christianity and the literal truth of the Bible, including the virgin birth and resurrection of the dead. I do not discount the possibility that Dr. Bennett is a great ecumenical guy who truly respects and values religious diversity, but let’s not forget that devout Christians are taught that they are right, everyone else is wrong, and it’s their god-ordained duty to convert all heathens and infidels before the imminent return of Jesus.

The very existence of an Office for Religious Freedom raises serious questions about the separation of church and state, and whether it’s possible for a government office to be impartial. And when faced with the Hydra monster of religion, how can the Office possibly pick and choose its casework fairly, while satisfying its constituents at the same time? With a tiny budget and small staff, it’s hard to believe that the new Office will have even a snowball’s chance in hell at making a dent in the rampant religious persecution around the world.

The Office’s website waxes on about countries and regions where “rights to freedom of religion or belief are being threatened,” and how the Office will protect and advocate on behalf of “religious minorities under threat.” But who is doing all this threatening? It’s almost as if the Conservative government wants us to assume that tinpot dictators and evil atheist conspirators are behind attacks on religious believers. In fact, the culprits are largely theocratic governments or other faith groups: “Jon Stewart poses the problem with an economy of words: ‘Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.'”(from Dawg’s Blawg)

How will the Office of Religious Freedom negotiate the highly volatile terrain of religious strife and intolerance between competing groups, without seeming to favour one faith group over another, and without risking an angry backlash or even violence from the side doing the persecuting? Moreover, the understanding of religious freedom takes many different forms, especially in a culture with a religious majority. The protection of one group of adherents might lead to discrimination against another vulnerable group. Catholic schools in Ontario recently claimed that anti-bullying legislation violates their religious beliefs because it requires them to allow gay-alliance clubs in school, even though about 21 per cent of LGBTQ students are bullied compared to about 8 per cent of non-LGBTQ students.

What other religious “freedoms” might the new Office be urged to protect? The “right” to harass women outside abortion clinics? The “conscience” of hospitals that let women die if they need life-saving abortions? How about the “right” to teach creationism and attack evolution in public school science classrooms? Maybe the funding of a Christian anti-gay group in Uganda with its “kill the gays” law? Or the “right” of orthodox Jews to send women to the back of the bus?

Finally, let’s not leave out the “right” of religious beliefs and holy books to be immune from criticism, as enforced through blasphemy laws in many countries — which brings us to a final and major criticism of the Office of Religious Freedom. In most theocracies, religious minorities at least have some rights, but the Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFI) that, “In many parts of the world the very existence of atheism is outlawed, in some cases punishable by death.”

Yet John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs and a key player in the formation of the new Office, ignorantly stated last September:

“We don’t see agnosticism or atheism as being in need of defence in the same way persecuted religious minorities are. We speak of the right to worship and practice in peace, not the right to stay away from places of worship.”

report on global discrimination against non-believers was submitted to the US Department of State last year by several atheist and humanist groups. The report documents numerous prosecutions against non-believers in 47 countries, largely through blasphemy or apostasy laws. The following breakdown of countries is my own, derived from the report, and it illustrates what I see as the key problem:

–  21 countries give specific recognition and protection to Christianity, including 13 in Western Europe plus Poland, and 8 in Africa or Latin America.

–  20 countries are officially Islamic or have a largely Islamic population.

–  Four have other religious majorities (Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish), and one has a roughly equal mix of Christians and Muslims (Eritrea).

–  Only one secular country with broad religious diversity is cited (Russia).

Prosecutions of non-believers for their lack of faith or for criticizing religion occur almost exclusively in countries that favour one religion over another, or religion over non-belief. This points to the best way to protect religious freedom for all — secular societies with laws that protect not only freedom of religion, but freedom from religion. The latter is just as much a universal right, because whether one has religious beliefs or not, we all need to be free from having the belief systems of others imposed upon us. In reality, most religious persecution is a product of one religion being intolerant of another religion, with both being equally intolerant of those with no religion. Unfortunately, the new Office of Religious Freedom seems to have no inkling of this, which does not bode well for its future success.

It wasn’t until the press conference launch of the new Office on February 19 that the government suddenly declared that non-believers would be included too, after being challenged on the issue. “All people of faith and, again, those who choose not to have faith, need to be protected, their rights need to be respected,” said Dr. Bennett.

As an atheist, I don’t feel reassured by this last-minute hasty add-on, given the Conservative government’s prior total ignorance of the often-horrific persecution of non-believers around the world. However, the Centre for Inquiry Canada has more optimism. The group (full disclosure: I’m a member) issued a joint statement with Humanist Canada applauding the efforts to include all religious perspectives, and offering to help the new Office with information and ongoing consultation on the challenges and persecution faced by non-believers across the world.

I talked to Michael Payton, CFI’s Executive Director, who sees the potential for good in the Office’s creation. He emphasized that there are many examples of extreme human rights violations because of religious beliefs. “If resources were there that could help stop that, I think overall the world would be a better place. And if there’s an opportunity to protect non-believers too, we want to take it up.” He acknowledged the potential for the Office to be abused, saying: “We’ll be monitoring the Office very closely to make sure they stay true to their commitment, protecting freedom from religion equally as they would for freedom of religion.” However, Payton was concerned about the total lack of consultation with atheist/humanist groups before the official launch. “We’ve been left out of this process. We were quite insulted that we weren’t invited.” He also decried the language on the Office’s website, which still focuses solely on the right of religious minorities to practice their faith: “The language is wrong, it doesn’t apply to us. Even to use that language is a back-handed type of discrimination,” but adding that “this takes a backseat to people being executed for apostasy.”

Time will tell whether the Office of Religious Freedom will fulfill its potential to protect both religious and non-religious minorities. But I wouldn’t advise you to hold your breath — or pray.

Joyce Arthur works as a technical writer and pro-choice activist, and is the founder and Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, a national pro-choice group in Canada.

From Rabble.ca
http://rabble.ca/columnists/2013/03/freedom-religion-essential-right-all#.UTDYBACjgXM.facebook

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Holier Than Life ‘زندگی سے مقدس تر’ by Fauzia Rafique – Urdu rendition Shamoon Saleem

رمشا مسیح کیس اور بابوسر میں 19 شیعہ مسلمانوں کے قتلِ عام پہ احتجاج کی نظم

زندگی سے مقدس تر

ہاں، آج میں اک مُہر ثبت کرتی ہوں
قرآن کے اک صفحے پر
اس معصوم کے نام کی
جسے کل اسلام کے جانثاروں نے
اس کی توہین کے الزام میں
قتل کیا ہے

میں مہر ثبت کرتی ہوں
ہندوؤں اور ان گنت احمدیوں کی اپنے وطن سے ہجرت کی
اور کل کی خبرمیں سے
ان انیس شیعہ مقتولوں کے ناموں کی
گیارہ برس کی اس بچی کی گرفتاری کی
اور موت تک زدوکوب ہونے والے اس عیسائ جوان کی
جو دونوں ذہن میں کچھ ہلکے تھے، سادہ تھے
مگر دل میں موتیوں سے شفاف تھے

چلو دل کی بات رہنے دو
مگر ذہن کی ہلکی اور سادہ تو میں بھی ہوں

میں اس ورق کو جلاتی نہیں ہوں
میں کتابوں کے ورق جلانے میں یقین نہیں رکھتی
میں اسے پھاڑتی بھی نہیں ہوں
میں بے سود تخریب میں یقین نہیں رکھتی

میں اس پر سیاہ حرفوں میں
مہر ثبت کرتی ہوں، ”قاتل“ کی
ہر اک مقتول کے نام کی سرخی سے

یہ دیکھنے کو کہ
کتاب کے نام پہ کتنے قتلوں کی گنجائش
قاتلوں کی اس کتاب پہ ہے

یا کبھی یہ دیکھ سکنے کو کہ
کس کتاب کے قاتلوں کا جتھہ
بالآخر تمغہ جیتتا ہے
تورات کے نام پر فلسطین میں
قران کے نام پہ پاکستان یاایران میں
انجیل کے نام پر ویتنام میں
یا تریپیتکا کے نام پہ برما میں

ہاں، آج میں اک مہر ثبت کرتی ہوں
قرآن کے اک صفحے پر
اس معصوم کے نام کی
جسے کل اسلام کے جانثاروں نے
اس کی توہین کے الزام میں
قتل کیا ہے

اور اے جاں نثارو
مجھے بےوقوف مت بناؤ
اپنے متشدد مظاہروں سے
کہ تمہیں قتل کا مقدس حق تفویض ہے
کسی بھی کتاب کی تقدیس کی خاطر
کسی بھی نام کی تقدیس کی خاطر
یا کسی بھی شے یاجگہ کی تقدیس کی خاطر

زندگی سے مقدس تر کچھ نہیں ہو سکتا
دل سے مقدس تر کچھ نہیں ہو سکتا
جو دھڑکتا ہے، ایک خوشی بھرے مستقبل کی امید میں
محبت کرتا ہے اور جیتا ہے
ایک پھول، ایک پرندہ،
اک گھاس کا سبز تنکا
وحشیو، تم مجھے اپنے
طیش آور مظاہروں سے بیوقوف مت بناؤ
خود زندگی سے مقدس تر
کچھ نہیں ہوتا

فوزیہ رفیق
ترجمہ: شمعون سلیم

View English original
https://uddari.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/holier-than-life-by-fauzia-rafique/
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‘Blasphemy, Religious Hatred, and the United Nations’ by Austin Dacey

In the wake of the furor over Innocence of Muslims, we are hearing renewed calls to criminalize blasphemy under international law from the halls of the United Nations. This comes a little over a year after the so-called Islamic states retired a discredited, decade-long campaign to combat “defamation of religions” (and legal coherence).

Meanwhile, the 1966 human rights treaty banning “advocacy of religious hatred” remains in force. Indeed, it is precisely such a charge that has the Indonesian atheist Alexander Aan and the Russian punks Pussy Riot locked away at this moment. What more could one want?

Those who study the history of blasphemy laws are condemned to repeat themselves: These laws don’t work. Unless what you are after is more blasphemy. Consider the case of India.

In September 1917, Muslim villages in the Shahabad and Gaya districts of the Indian state of Bihar were besieged by tens of thousands of rioting Hindus, who for days ranged in mobs looting and destroying homes, desecrating mosques, and stealing cattle. By their end, the Shahabadriots had resulted in assaults on 150 villages, 176 serious injuries, and 41 deaths.

What caused this carnage? The ceremonial slaughter of cows by members of the local Muslim community in celebration of the religious festival of Id Al-Adha.

British colonial records document eruptions of such inter-community violence throughout the nineteenth century. Today these tensions are ratcheted up by the opposing political agendas of Hindu nationalist and Islamist movements.

This tragic legacy has unfolded not despite but alongside robust laws prohibiting “outraging the religious feelings” of others. These laws were installed under British colonial rule ostensibly to manage and mitigate precisely this kind of interfaith strife.

The Indian Penal Code was drafted in 1837 by the Indian Law Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay and eventually adopted in 1860. It is “a truth which needs no proof,” wrote the Commission, that there are “many persons of such sensitive feelings among the higher ranks of the Natives of India” for whom “insults have as great a tendency as bodily injuries to excite violent passion.”

But the Indian Penal Code’s criminalization of religious offense in its Article 295 — the ancestor of the infamous blasphemy laws of Pakistan, as well as Bangladesh — has not solved the problem. It has institutionalized the problem.

The law legitimizes and incentivizes outrage. Where the incensed reactions might be seen as religious demagoguery inciting extrajudicial murder, in the context of Article 295 they can be seen as agitation for the reign of justice and the enforcement of a duly enacted law. Where they might otherwise be nothing but impotent rage, with the help of the law they can be tactics that succeed in removing the offending practice — if only for the moment.

Furthermore, the law expanded the meaning of blasphemy, generating new opportunities for outrage. Traditional Islamic law, for example, recognizes the offense of sabb al-rasul, insult to the Prophet. But an insult to the Prophet obviously is not equivalent to feelings of outrage about just any sacred values. A legal system crafted to encompass Hindus, Muslims, and Christians created a standard that went far beyond any of their religious doctrines: the standard of respect for all believers.

The law quite literally wrote new blasphemies into being.

Consider Urdu literature’s first “angry young woman,” Rashid Jahan. Jahan, a young medical doctor, made her literary debut in a 1932 anthology called Angarey (Embers), a critique of contemporary Indian Muslim society — in particular the conditions endured by women — denounced by local clerics and conservative papers as an “Absolutely Filthy and Foul” pamphlet of blasphemies.

Rashid Jahan and her three fellow contributors were threatened with death by stoning and hanging. In March 1933 the authorities of Uttar Pradesh state government intervened, confiscating and destroying all but a handful of copies of the book under Article 295’s protection of religious feelings. The law helped to turn a critique of Islamically-based gender inequality into a blasphemous affront to Muslims.

Whose interests are served by generating new opportunities for outrage that are legitimized and incentivized by law? Those who benefit most are the most extreme voices — like Angarey’s most implacable enemies — who anoint themselves as representatives of the outraged and thereby claim authority and consolidate power within the community.

The lessons of this history are clear. If you want to bring about greater reverence for your sacred values, laws against blasphemy won’t help. If, on the other hand, you want to boost your bids for power and authority within your religious community, they are a god-send.

From Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/austin-dacey/un-blasphemy-laws_b_1915920.html

Related content at Uddari
Holier Than Life by Fauzia Rafique
The Clowns of Blasphemy by Fauzia Rafique
Blasphemy vendetta: Pakistan 1990-2009
Search Uddari with keyword ‘blasphemy’ for more.
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Blasphemy: Another ‘Honour Killing’ Platform – Don’t Support It This Friday

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Blasphemy is another ‘Honour Killing’ Platform.
Please Don’t Support It This Friday

‘Honour Killings’
Description

Where women, and some men, are harassed and killed by the male members of their families on the pretext of ‘saving the honour of the family’, but actually to keep control of the property and sexuality rights of women.

Male members are supported by the local authorities such as the police, jirgas, civil and army administrators, and other influentials, in propagating and committing these violent and abusive crimes.

This vile concept of control of women through extreme punishment is presented by the mainstream culture as a crucial part of the ‘moral fibre’ of Pakistani society.

‘Honour Killings’ support male control and power over all women, but most women who actually get killed are the poorest in a city, town or village.

Do you support ‘Honour Killings’?

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Blasphemy
Description

Where non-Muslim and Muslim men, and some women, are killed or required to be killed by the extreme religious Muslim groups on the pretext of ‘saving the honour of Islam and its prophet’, but actually (1> to keep control of the property and civic rights of non-Muslims and Muslim minority sects, and (2> to use it as a Muslim-mob-generating hysterical street weapon for their petty political ends.

The extreme religious Muslim groups are supported by the local Muslim authorities such as the police, jirgas, civil and army administrators, politicians, lawyers, educators and other dignitaries in propagating and committing these violent and abusive crimes.

This vile concept of control over minority communities through extreme punishment is presented as a crucial part of the ‘moral fibre’ of Pakistani Muslim society.

‘Blasphemy Killings’ support the control and power of Muslims of a majority ruling sect over all non-Muslim and minority Muslim communities, but most people who actually get killed are the poorest in a city, town or village.

Do you Support ‘Blasphemy Killings’?

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Blasphemy is another ‘Honour Killing’ Platform.
Please Don’t Support It This Friday
Or Ever After!

From
Repeal Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws
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‘On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God’ by Sam Harris

In Hyderabad today, a man was booked for blasphemy simply because he refused to participate in the protest happening in the city against ‘Tauheen-e-Risalat’, the Insult to the Prophet. The situation indeed is deteriorating, now all one has to do to be booked for life or be killed by a mob, is to refuse to participate in this religious madness. And, what does the Government of Pakistan do? The Government responds by declaring this coming Friday as the Love of the Prophet Day. This is ‘officializing’ the hype and the inherent violence of the concept of blasphemy, and, it is shameless capitulation to and appeasing of the extreme right. The following article points to similar dynamics of capitulation and appeasement on the international scene. Uddari
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The latest wave of Muslim hysteria and violence has now spread to over twenty countries. The walls of our embassies and consulates have been breached, their precincts abandoned to triumphant mobs, and many people have been murdered—all in response to an unwatchable Internet video titled “Innocence of Muslims.” Whether over a film, a cartoon, a novel, a beauty pageant, or an inauspiciously named teddy bear, the coming eruption of pious rage is now as predictable as the dawn. This is already an old and boring story about old, boring, and deadly ideas. And I fear it will be with us for the rest of our lives.

Our panic and moral confusion were at first sublimated in attacks upon the hapless Governor Romney. I am no fan of Romney’s, and I would find the prospect of his presidency risible if it were not so depressing, but he did accurately detect the first bleats of fear in the Obama administration’s reaction to this crisis. Romney got the timing of events wrong—confusing, as many did, a statement made by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for an official government response to the murder of Americans in Libya. But the truth is that the White House struck the same note of apology, disavowing the offending speech while claiming to protect free speech in principle. It may seem a small detail, given the heat of the moment—but so is a quivering lip.

Our government followed the path of appeasement further by attempting to silence the irrepressible crackpot Pastor Terry Jones, who had left off burning copies of the Qur’an just long enough to promote the film. The administration also requested that Google remove “Innocence of Muslims” from its servers. These maneuvers attest to one of two psychological and diplomatic realities: Either our government is unwilling to address the problem at hand, or the problem is so vast and terrifying that we have decided to placate the barbarians at the gate.

The contagion of moral cowardice followed its usual course, wherein liberal journalists and pundits began to reconsider our most basic freedoms in light of the sadomasochistic fury known as “religious sensitivity” among Muslims. Contributors to The New York Times and NPR spoke of the need to find a balance between free speech and freedom of religion—as though the latter could possibly be infringed by a YouTube video. As predictable as Muslim bullying has become, the moral confusion of secular liberals appears to be part of the same clockwork.

Consider what is actually happening: Some percentage of the world’s Muslims—Five percent? Fifteen? Fifty? It’s not yet clear—is demanding that all non-Muslims conform to the strictures of Islamic law. And where they do not immediately resort to violence in their protests, they threaten it. Carrying a sign that reads “Behead Those Who Insult the Prophet” may still count as an example of peaceful protest, but it is also an assurance that infidel blood would be shed if the imbecile holding the placard only had more power. This grotesque promise is, of course, fulfilled in nearly every Muslim society. To make a film like “Innocence of Muslims” anywhere in the Middle East would be as sure a method of suicide as the laws of physics allow.
What exactly was in the film? Who made it? What were their motives? Was Muhammad really depicted? Was that a Qur’an burning, or some other book? Questions of this kind are obscene. Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it.

At moments like this, we inevitably hear—from people who don’t know what it’s like to believe in paradise—that religion is just a way of channeling popular unrest. The true source of the problem can be found in the history of western aggression in the region. It is our policies, rather than our freedoms, that they hate. I believe that the future of liberalism—and much else—depends on our overcoming this ruinous self-deception. Religion only works as a pretext for political violence because many millions of people actually believe what they say they believe: that imaginary crimes like blasphemy and apostasy are killing offenses.

Most secular liberals think that all religions are the same, and they consider any suggestion to the contrary a sign of bigotry. Somehow, this article of faith survives daily disconfirmation. Our language is largely to blame for this. As I have pointed out on many occasions, “religion” is a term like “sports”: Some sports are peaceful but spectacularly dangerous (“free solo” rock climbing, street luge); some are safer but synonymous with violence (boxing, mixed martial arts); and some entail little more exertion or risk of serious injury than standing in the shower (bowling, badminton). To speak of “sports” as a generic activity makes it impossible to discuss what athletes actually do, or the physical attributes required to do it. What do all sports have in common, apart from breathing? Not much. The term “religion” is scarcely more useful.

Consider Mormonism: Many of my fellow liberals would consider it morally indecent to count Romney’s faith against him. In their view, Mormonism must be just like every other religion. The truth, however, is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than its fair share of quirks. For instance, its doctrine was explicitly racist until 1978, at which point God apparently changed his mind about black people (a few years after Archie Bunker did) and recommended that they be granted the full range of sacraments and religious responsibilities. By this time, Romney had been an adult and an exceptionally energetic member of his church for more than a decade.

Unlike the founders of most religions, about whom very little is known, Mormonism is the product of the plagiarisms and confabulations of an obvious con man, Joseph Smith, whose adventures among the credulous were consummated (in every sense) in the full, unsentimental glare of history. Given how much we know about Smith, it is harder to be a Mormon than it is to be a Christian. A firmer embrace of the preposterous is required—and the fact that Romney can manage it says something about him, just as it would if he were a Scientologist proposing to park his E-meter in the Oval Office. The spectrum between rational belief and self-serving delusion has some obvious increments: It is one thing to believe that Jesus existed and was probably a remarkable human being. It is another to accept, as most Christians do, that he was physically resurrected and will return to earth to judge the living and the dead. It is yet another leap of faith too far to imagine, as all good Mormons must, that he will work his cosmic magic from the hallowed ground of Jackson County, Missouri.

That final, provincial detail matters. It makes Mormonism objectively less plausible than run-of-the-mill Christianity—as does the related claim that Jesus visited the “Nephites” in America at some point after his resurrection. The moment one adds seer stones, sacred underpants, the planet Kolob, and a secret handshake required to win admittance into the highest heaven, Mormonism stands revealed for what it is: the religious equivalent of rhythmic gymnastics.

The point, however, is that I can say all these things about Mormonism, and disparage Joseph Smith to my heart’s content, without fearing that I will be murdered for it. Secular liberals ignore this distinction at every opportunity and to everyone’s peril. Take a moment to reflect upon the existence of the musical The Book of Mormon. Now imagine the security precautions that would be required to stage a similar production about Islam. The project is unimaginable—not only in Beirut, Baghdad, or Jerusalem, but in New York City.

The freedom to think out loud on certain topics, without fear of being hounded into hiding or killed, has already been lost. And the only forces on earth that can recover it are strong, secular governments that will face down charges of blasphemy with scorn. No apologies necessary. Muslims must learn that if they make belligerent and fanatical claims upon the tolerance of free societies, they will meet the limits of that tolerance. And Governor Romney, though he is wrong about almost everything under the sun (including, very likely, the sun), is surely right to believe that it is time our government delivered this message without blinking.

Sam Harris is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, and Free Will. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. Harris has been published in more than 15 languages.

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/on-the-freedom-to-offend-an-imaginary-god

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Make UN Recognize ‘The International Day Against State Religion’ – Sign This Petition

This petition, asking United Nations to recognize a day in the year as The International Day Against State Religion, will help us around the world to root out religious sentiment, and concepts such as blasphemy, from legal and social systems. It will help us move away from incidents like the sectarian murders of 19 Shia Muslims, and the blasphemy arrest of minor Rimsha Masih.

The initiative has been taken by Ghulam Mustafa Lakho, and we need to take it forward by siging this petition, sharing the links, and inviting our friends and colleagues to do the same.

Sign the Petition

Petition for recognizing “The International Day Against State Religion” by the United Nations in solidarity with victims of the State Religion, namely, non-Muslims and non-believers of Pakistan.

To,
The Secretary-General,
United Nations,
UN Headquarters,
New York.

Please take active, effective and meaningful steps for recognizing “The International Day Against State Religion” by the United Nations in solidarity with victims of the State Religion, namely, non-Muslims and non-believers of Pakistan.

The life of non-Muslims and non-believers of Pakistan is as good as hell thanks to the “State Religion” of Pakistan. Thus, the need of the time is to declare that the “State Religion” is hit by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The eleven (11) words of Mr. M.A. Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan, are on the record: religion has nothing to do with the business of the State. Thus, he spoke on August 11, 1947 in his 1st Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan against the “State Religion”.

None of the members of the Parliament of Pakistan has cared to pay respect to the eleven (11) words of Mr. M.A. Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan since August 11, 1947. The proof is the “State Religion” in the Constitution of Pakistan.

None of the Parliamentarians of Pakistan is ready and willing to heed the ideas of the Founder of Pakistan on the relation of Religion and State.

Under these facts and circumstances, it may be the humane duty of United Nations to recognize and celebrate the 11th day of August, 1947 as the INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST STATE RELIGION in the name of the Universal Human Rights in solidarity with non-Muslims and non-believers of Pakistan.

Let the United Nations come for the help of the victims of the “State Religion” in Pakistan as well as around the globe. And, let the 11th day of August, 1947 be recognized as the INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST STATE RELIGION.

Sign the Petion
http://www.change.org/en-IN/petitions/the-secretary-general-united-nations-recognize-the-international-day-against-state-religion-5

Sincerely,
Ghulam Mustafa Lakho
Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan

Contact Ghulam Mustafa Lakho
Blog: http://saynotothestatereligion.blogspot.ca/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/gmlakho

Official Facebook Page
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-International-Day-Against-State-Religion/106460822743085

Also, if you haven’t yet,
Please sign the petition to help release Rimsha Masih
http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/freerimshamasih

A poem for the 19 murdered Shia Muslims, and the arrest of Rimsha Masih
Holier Than Life by Fauzia Rafique
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‘Holier Than Life’ by Fauzia Rafique

To protest the sectarian slaughter of 19 Shia Muslims by Sunni Muslims in Babusar, and the blasphemy arrest of Rimsha Masih, an 11-year old Christian, in Islamabad.

Yes, I will stamp, today
A page of the Quran
To write the name
Of the innocent
Who was murdered
For desacrating
It, by the zealots of Islam,
Yesterday.

The inspiration for it
arrived today with the
(killing of 19 Shias)
arrest of a child,
a girl, 11.
Yesterday
(Hindus, countless departed Ahmadies)
it was the lynching
murder
of an adult Christian male.
Both known to be
simple-minded
a bit soft
in their heads,
crystal clear
in their hearts.

Lo and Behold,
we are not sure
about the heart
but i am
known to be
simple-minded
a bit soft
in my head
as well.

I will not burn it, i don’t
believe in burning
pages of books.
I will not tear it, i don’t
believe in useless tearing
of things.
I will stamp it, ‘MURDERER’
in black with
the name of the victim
in red.
To see, how many more
book-based murders
we register
on this Book
of Murders.

After, there will be
counting
to know which
One
Won The Book of Murders
Award, is it
Torah
in Palestine
Quran
in Pakistan and Iran or is it
Bible
in Vietnam,
and Afghanistan or
the new entrant
Tripitaka
in Myanmar.

Yes, I will stamp, today
A page of the Quran
To write the name
Of the innocent
Who was murdered
For desacrating
It, by the zealots of Islam,
Yesterday.

You, the Zealot!
Don’t fool me
with your violent
expositions
to make believe that
you have the righteous
right to kill
and to harass us
for the socalled sanctum
of a book,
a name,
place or thing.

Nothing is holier
Than life
Itself
A heart that beats, hopes
for a joyful
future, loves,
and lives.
A flower, a bird,
a shoot of grass.

Don’t fool me
with your violent
expositions, Fanatic!
Nothing is holier
Than life
Itself.

fauziarafique2012

Urdu rendition by Shamoon Saleem
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Now published in

Holier-Than-Life-Cover
.
Buy it here
Gumroad
Amazon
Smashwords

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More
Holier Than Life
Fauzia’s Web Page
facebook.com/fauzia.zohra.rafique
@RafiqueFauzia
Update: June 2013
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Related Content at Uddari
The Clowns of Blasphemy by Fauzia Rafique
Aahr 2011 by Fauzia Rafique
Blasphemy vendetta: Pakistan 1990-2009
Stop Violence in the name of religion: Signature Campaign – Karachi April 14, 2012‏
For more, search Uddari with keyword ‘blasphemy’.

Fauzia Rafique
frafique@gmail.com
http://gandholi.wordpress.com/
FB Timeline: http://www.facebook.com/fauzia.zohra.rafique
FB Author Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fauzia-Rafique/444203518944054 (It’s new, LIKE?)

Uddari Weblog
uddari@live.ca
FB: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Uddari-Weblog/333586816691660
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‘The Clowns of Blasphemy’ by Fauzia Rafique

Dedicated to the unidentified mentally challenged man accused of desecrating the Quran who was taken from Chanighot police station, tortured and burnt alive by a mob of 1500-2000 religious zealots in Bahawalpur, July 3-4, 2012.

A constant clown of blasphemy
hangs over our heads
conducting this one-act
medieval play. Two three scenes
and a thousand different ways
to slaughter
men
and women
for insulting
their projection
of this entity,
the divinity,
whose man-made aura is then used
to assure
the smooth operation
of the nearest multinational
owned by the authors, directors, producers
and actors
of the Clowns of Blasphemy.
—— A one-act play
—— Boasting a blood-letting theme

Prestigious production
casting heathens
and kafirs, women
and witches, bombers
and terrorists
using real ammunition
emotions and blood, real-life deaths
announcements, pronouncements
bullying and threats. Un
-dying applause
from stunned
-into-submission
audiences. Firearms, rockets
rocks and ropes
expert skinning
hanging by the poles
klashnikov submissions
summary executions
burning with relish humans, books
music and songs
to protect the owners, holders, movers
and shakers
of the Clowns of Blasphemy.
—— A one-act play
—— Weaving a violent dream

Interacting with audiences
it fans the hysteria
to feed the hungry
wild fires
of our worldly
ambitions on the self-righteous
path to secure
for our leaders brand
new riches, collateral
damaging milli-
-ons of civi-
-llians
caught in fireworks
crossfires, revenge fires, suicide-fires
friendly-fires. With 560
army bases
on different
foreign lands, enacting
in its glory
the mafioso cultures of
the red-blood-handed
brown, yellow, black,
white investors of the Clowns of Blasphemy
—— A one-act play
—— Donning a fascist regime
..

Now published in

Holier-Than-Life-Cover
.
Buy it here
Gumroad
Amazon
Smashwords

.

More
Holier Than Life
Fauzia’s Web Page
facebook.com/fauzia.zohra.rafique
@RafiqueFauzia
Update: June 2013
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Shameful Verdict against Asia Bibi can still be Turned Around

Blasphemy laws are about to claim another life. Please sign the petition below to help stop it:
http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/justice4asia

More on Aasia Bibi case:
http://www.npr.org/2010/12/14/132031645/christian-s-death-verdict-spurs-holy-row-in-pakistan
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‘No Reprieve’ by Farieha Aziz

While Pakistan has been living under an increasingly murky sky for years, it has grown darker and more ominous since Aasiya Bibi’s conviction for alleged blasphemy in December 2010. Following that, close on the heels came the murders of Punjab Governor, Salmaan Taseer, and Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti. And it didn’t end there. The dark cloud of fear and intimidation has not receded. Since the two high-profile murders, there has been an alarming rise in the number of people accused of blasphemy as well as in the number of cases filed, and several other people – minorities and targets of sectarian wars among them – have fallen prey to vigilante justice and cold-blooded murder.

Not surprising then, that when the news of convicted blasphemer David Qamar Masih’s passing away while serving a jail term was received, it sounded alarm bells. Did he really die of a heart attack at age 52, as the jail authorities claimed, or was it yet another case of the law-enforcers playing judge, jury and executioner? Who can blame people for speculating, given the numerous instances where jail wardens or other prisoners have killed inmates in jail on charges of blasphemy. And if it is not in jail, it has been outside of it. On March 4, Mohammed Imran, who was acquitted of blasphemy charges a year ago, was shot dead on the outskirts of Rawalpindi.

In the most recent case that was reported on March 26, a man by the name of Yaqoob was accused of using abusive language against the Prophet (PBUH) in Gilgit. Announcements from mosques galvanised people from nearby houses, who took to the streets and dispersed only when the police arrested and booked the accused. This was preceded by a similar incident in Lahore’s Badami Bagh area, where a mob collected to burn down the Full Gospel Assembly (FGA) Church after clerics announced from their pulpits that the parishioners had burnt pages of the Holy Quran. While the police reached in time to prevent the mob’s attack, it did not arrest anyone – neither those attempting to commit arson, nor the clerics who were instigating murder. But that was not unprecedented. For example, the imam of the Mohabbat Khan mosque in Peshawar, who vociferously announced head money for Aasiya Bibi in the event of the court acquitting her, remains free.

The increasingly intolerant and dangerous prevailing climate can be gauged just by a glance at daily reports. In late January, a dispute between two sisters-in-law led to one, Amina, a Muslim, accusing the other, Zahira, a Christian, of blasphemy. Following the allegation, Zahira’s house was broken into and she and her mother were beaten. In early February, sectarian differences led to an attack on a religious procession, resulting in the death of two people. In mid-February, in Multan, a teacher who was accused of blasphemy by a student was not only suspended, but savagely beaten up by residents, instigated by mosque announcements and text messages, due to which he sustained life-threatening injuries.

Several cases have been reported in these three months where arrests have been made and people booked under 295-B (defiling the Quran) and 295-C (using derogatory language against the Prophet (PBUH)), and there have been convictions where courts have handed down life imprisonment and death sentences. In Multan, a prayer leader and his 20-year-old son were sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged blasphemy; in Bahawalpur, a sessions court put a man charged under 295-C and 298-A (use of derogatory language against holy personages) on death row, and another man was awarded a life sentence after he was found guilty of defiling the Quran by a sessions court.

Numerous other cases have been reported, many of them undoubtedly motivated more by personal rivalries and sectarian or religious differences than any real offence. As a leading religious scholar put it, “who would be foolhardy enough to risk his life by blaspheming in this climate – unless he/she is on a suicide mission.” Thus, when in February Muslim residents in Faisalabad charged Agnes Bibi, a Christian woman with blasphemy, and it later transpired this was in order to acquire a piece of land she held, it came as no surprise. In fact, today just about anything – from wearing a wooden pendant around one’s neck allegedly bearing “blasphemous” inscriptions against the Sahaba, removing a poster from outside of one’s shop, tying a shoe to a flag post with a holy symbol on it and even an exchange of SMSes – can be construed as blasphemy, and all these have actually been grounds for FIRs.

The question that begs to be asked then is, what kind of evidence is considered as proof or otherwise of the crime of blasphemy in a court of law? Are SMSes, sim cards, accounts by warring neighbours and the like enough proof of awarding people life imprisonment and death sentences? And what in the instance that an accused is not of sound mind, as in Karachi, where medical reports of a man accused of burning pages of the Holy Quran clearly indicated he was a psychiatric patient. Or for that matter, what of a minor, such as the 17-year-old who was charged with blasphemy for answers he wrote in an exam paper?

Since the introduction of the Blasphemy Law to Pakistan’s Penal Code – which it must be emphasised happened during the Zia era – to date, whenever any government has announced the intent to amend the Blasphemy Law to curb its abuse, religious groups have taken to the streets, vehemently denouncing the government’s proposition. Each time they have been successful in building pressure and forcing the government to back down from its intent. So, not surprisingly, this time too the religious lobby succeeded in making the PPP retreat from its avowed attempt to consider amending the law. So much so, that contrary to the facts, PPP members claimed no committee was ever constituted to even consider touching the law. Even more telling was how the party did not issue a forthright condemnation of the assassination of their governor and minister, till long after the events. In fact, it was not until late March, when President Zardari addressed parliament, that there was an official condemnation of the murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti.

But what next? Should this be interpreted as a sign that the government is finally ready to apprehend and try the killers, and put a stop to the abuse of the Blasphemy Law? Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s recent statement while speaking to Reuters in London would indicate so. He said “[the Blasphemy Law’s] misuse is being … taken into account and party leaders … will meet to try to reach a consensus on the law.” However, when he qualified this by stating this would happen “as proposed by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman,” it left less room for optimism. While the Maulana stated earlier last month, “If a law is being misused against minorities, we are ready to discuss this (matter),” this came after blaming Governor Taseer for the fate he met because of what he said about the law, refusing to condemn slain minister Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder, and issuing warnings against amendments to the Blasphemy Law.

The question is, what form of abuse and what number of casualties will force state institutions to take cognisance of the criminal acts being aimed at its citizens? Hate-mongering, the creation of an atmosphere of threat and intimidation and the stymying of open discourse on the issue has led to the loss of several lives, government functionaries and common citizens alike.

While the government has miles to go in this regard, the onus is also on the judiciary. With powers to take suo moto action, why hasn’t it acted against those inciting violence or conversely, instructed the government to take action? Why does it confine itself to issuing notices only on issues like the NRO and the hiring and firing of government functionaries? How is it that the rule of law is not a concern?

Rights groups, activists and members of civil society have gone hoarse shouting about the abuse of the Blasphemy Law. When the words blasphemy and Taseer became taboo, they continued uttering them in the public sphere, condemning murder as it should be condemned, rather than inventing excuses for it in the name of religion. Breaking the silence on the issue of blasphemy and religious extremism, reaching out to fellow citizens and initiating a dialogue on this issue, and reclaiming public spaces increasingly being taken over by the religious right has been a burgeoning concern.

Citizens for Democracy (CFD), an umbrella group of citizens, labour unions and rights organisations, formed in December 2010 to lobby against the misuse of religion in politics, launched a letter campaign in March, seeking to do exactly that. The letter was addressed to the heads of state institutions and those in power, to demand that they uphold the rule of law, take action against murders and those who incite hate and murder, and ensure the protection of all citizens, especially against acts of vigilantism justified in the name of religion. While thousands of signatories from all walks of life responded to the call, the right-wing brigade has, by using the pulpit and the streets, managed to muster ever-growing and infinitely more numbers to demonstrate its strength.

So while civil society must continue to lobby, ultimately, change will have to be effected at many levels, not least among these the policy level, and time is already running out.

Farieha Aziz is currently an assistant editor at Newsline and has been with the organisation since 2007. She has a masters in English from the University of Karachi. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008.

http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2011/04/no-reprieve/
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Among the blasphemers

The fugitive
“I changed my name once I got out of jail,” says Yakoob nonchalantly.
“Why did you do that?” I ask him.
“To live.”
It seemed so aptly put. At the age of 28, he was forced to become someone else — adopt a new name, find a new home, and start a new life. The reason? — he had been convicted for committing blasphemy. Ten years after getting out of jail, he already looked old and worn out. So much for a new life…

“I was in for 3 years, and I was kept in solitary confinement throughout,” Yakoob tells me. “I was kept separate from the rest of the inmates, but the prison guards tortured me and kept saying things which I knew weren’t true.”
“Like what?”
“Like, if I converted to Islam, they would try to get me a pardon.” He seems nervous saying this to me, perhaps because he knows I am a Muslim by faith.
“Why didn’t you convert then?” I ask.
“Sir, why should I? To each his own; my religion is as beloved to me as theirs is to them.”

Religious intolerance — that was the root cause of Yakoob’s misery. If religion is the opium of the masses, I was now beginning to find out why this particular narcotic was so lethal. In the wake of the much talked about case of Aasia Bibi, I had met Yakoob through the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a human rights organisation that provided legal and financial help to those accused of blasphemy. We had agreed to meet in a church in Lahore where Yakoob felt safe.

Yakoob was from Sialkot but the fear of ‘street justice’ prevented him from visiting his family in their hometown. In the late 90s a rival shop-owner accused Yakoob of pelting stones on religious hoardings during a rally organised by Christians. This happened in the wake of a bishop killing himself in protest against the blasphemy laws. But according to Yakoob, he didn’t even know about the rally, much less attend it. Of course, no one paid attention to his pleas and the court sentenced him to jail. He has now been living in Lahore for many years, afraid that he will be lynched by the people in his hometown, despite already having served his sentence.

A glass half empty
Yakoob may have got out of jail in 3 years but Aasia Bibi isn’t so lucky. On death row, her hanging is contingent only on approval from the Lahore High Court, which is still pending. A friend sent me the 15- page court verdict on Aasia. An interesting fact in the hearing was Aasia’s denial of ever having committed blasphemy, but the large number of witnesses against her made her case weak. Aasia’s lawyer also raised objections on grounds of the discrepancy between the time of the incident and the complaint, which was registered four days later, but the district court judge still ruled against Aasia.

Out of the 300 households of Ittanwala, a small village some two hours’ drive from Lahore close to the Indian border, the only Christian residents were Aasia Bibi and her family. Our guide, a local journalist, took us along a road that led to mud houses built close to each other. “That’s Aasia’s house,” he said, pointing to the first house. “Some family members are still living there.”

This was surprising because the media had reported that Aasia’s family was on the run.

Before meeting anyone, we had to see the Maulvi of the village. Qari Salaam’s house was the lassat in a narrow lane lined with concrete and mud houses, next to the mosque where he led prayers. A friendly man in his mid-thirties, he had a long black beard and wore a turban. Salaam was the one who had registered the case against Aasia after two village-girls had complained to him.

Salaam took us to the exact spot where Aasia and the girls had had an argument. From a dirt road, we were led to an orchard where a man named Idrees, was sitting on a charpoy. Idrees was one of the testifier in Aasia’s case. With Idrees, we made our way further into the orchard until we reached an open spot under a tree. “This is where it all started,” said Idrees.
“It was the summer of 2009,” he began. “I was out here when I heard Asia fighting with the two sisters. It was lunch time and they were having food. When I asked them what the problem was, Mafia told me that Aasia had just committed blasphemy and said things about our religion and our Prophet,” he added.
“Why would she do that?” I asked.
“Well, Aasia and the sisters had just eaten lunch, and Aasia took their glass and drank water out of it. The two sisters did not touch the glass after that. So Aasia inquired why they weren’t touching the glass. The sisters told her that it was because she is Christian and they would not drink out of her glass,” said Idrees.
“This infuriated Asia so much that she went on to say blasphemous things,” Qari Salaam added.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Those are words that we cannot repeat,” the two said in unison.

I wanted to meet the girls who had reported Aasia Bibi to Qari Salaam and the maulvi agreed to take us to their house. Of the two sisters, only Mafia was home when we arrived. Her younger siblings and nephews were playing around her. She kept her face covered during our meeting. Her story was a repeat of what we’d heard in the orchard.
When she had finished, I asked her why she wouldn’t drink out of a Christian’s glass.
“As Muslims we should not share it,” she said with conviction.
Then I asked her what she thought of the pardon for Aasia.
“Aasia deserves death. She should be killed soon,” she said furiously. “These delay tactics of our judicial system reflect inefficiency.”

Fear and loathing
Our next visit was to Aasia’s house which was on the same street as Mafia’s. Aasia’s sister-in-law, woman in her mid-thirties, opened the door and told me that she was living there to take care of Aasia’s sister who had had a baby recently. By that time a sizable crowd had gathered outside the house and as she opened the door to let us in, I could tell that she was scared. Inside the house, I met Aasia’s sister, Sonia* a malnourished woman holding a baby in her lap.

When asked her if she thought Aasia could say all that she had been accused of, she replied “I don’t know.”
Then she added, “This is not the first time Aasia or her family have been targeted in this village. They would block the family’s sewerage line, damage the house walls. She was uneducated, she didn’t know about her own religion. How could she come up with such specific facts about the Prophet (pbuh) and present them in a twisted, derogatory manner?” she asked.
“So you think she’s being targeted for her religion?” I asked.
Before she could say anything, a face popped up from the wall beside her. A man was listening to our conversation. Sonia froze, too scared to speak.
“Are you not scared to live here?” I asked her.
“We don’t have a choice. Someone has to live here to protect the house,” she said.

Ashiq, Aasia’s husband, was on the run, and Sonia told me to get in touch with him through Aasia’s lawyer.
But, when I contacted him, the lawyer was reluctant. “Ashiq is in danger,” he told me over the phone. “Salmaan Taseer’s assassination has changed everything,” he added. Finally, he agreed to arrange a meeting in a village just outside Lahore after midnight.

I met Ashiq in a house that was under construction. I was ushered to the first floor where cement and sawdust were strewn on the floor. There sat Aasia’s three children, with their aunt. Their faces were unwashed, their clothes were tattered and uncertainty lingered in their eyes… I wondered how long it would be before they could stop running.

Ashiq told me that he met his wife once a week but the children never went along with him since it was too dangerous. He had lost his job a while ago and only his son was working now. He had a job in some other village, but it was likely that he would lose it soon. The family was barely able to survive.

I asked him why he was on the run but, before he could reply, one of children piped up.
“They were going to kill her that day. She was thrashed for hours. Do you think we could stay there? They beat her almost to death.” The anger in this child’s voice broke my heart. She was barely 12 and that had been the last that she’d seen of her mother.
“So do you think you will ever see your mother again?” I asked her.
“I trust God — He will bring her back to us,” she replied.

The road to Gojra
Analysts say that because of the circumstances surrounding Governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassination, Aasia has little or no chance of getting her sentence reverted. Following Taseer’s murder, the government announced that it would withdraw the proposed amendments’ bill in the blasphemy law which had been submitted to parliament by Sherry Rehman. With this, any hope of change has died out.

The blasphemy law was amended under General Zia-ul-Haq — a dictator who we all agree brought ‘the Kalashnikov culture’, heroin smuggling, and ethnic tension to this country. Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world that award capital punishment for blasphemy; the other is Saudi Arabia. Other Muslim states do not award death sentences for blasphemy. In that case do Pakistan’s laws really uphold the ideals that the country was built upon? Another round of investigations answered my questions.

In 2009, seven Christians were burnt alive by a mob in Gojra and recently, the Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah claimed the issue had been settled. But NCJP, which had been handling this case, took issue with the minister’s claim. So I decided to see for myself.

The next day I was on my way to Gojra, an hour’s drive from Faisalabad. We had arranged to meet the local priest, Father Younus, in a church. As we sat down for tea, I noticed a nearby wall had ‘The Gojra Tragedy’ written on it. On closer inspection, I saw it was covered with photographs of women crying, injured men and a street with burnt houses… Father Younus introduced us to Haroon, whose mother and sister had been amongst those that died when Christian houses in Gojra were set on fire. Haroon took us to the street where it had all happened.

We reached a noisy street with freshly-painted houses on each side. Kids played in the street and women chatted with each other in corners. A big signboard lauded the government of Punjab’s reconstruction efforts. At the end of the street was a house which the government of Punjab had obviously not reconstructed: its walls were scorched and the dilapidated door had a big padlock on it.

“This is the house where seven people including my sister and mother were burnt alive,” Haroon said. “It all started with the sermons in the mosque that day. We could hear them over the loudspeakers: ‘Kill the Christians!’ And even though we were forewarned, what could a few Christians do against a mob of hundreds of people who wanted to kill them?” Haroon had fear in his eyes as he narrated the events of that dark day. He went on to tell us how, following the announcement, mobs of teenagers descended on their street, beating people, throwing petrol bombs into homes, and opening fire at those who were fleeing.
“Why wasn’t this house reconstructed?” I asked him.
“Because the son of the man killed in this incident has not withdrawn the case yet,” he said. Apparently, the Punjab government has rebuilt only those houses whose owners have withdrawn charges against members of the mob. And all have done so, except for the owner of this house where seven human beings had been burnt alive.

So that’s what the Punjab Law minister had meant when he said the issue had been settled.

Haroon took us to the Muslim preachers of the area. “That’s the mosque,” he said. “The mullah there is from Sipah-e-Sahaba.” According to reports from the interior ministry, Sipah-e-Sahaba, a banned organisation, was behind the Gojra attacks. I waited for Maulana Kashmiri to finish Friday prayers so that I could talk to him. His sermon that day is something that I cannot forget even today. He was screaming through a microphone and claiming that he was quoting most of it from the Quran. The crowd was mesmerised. “The infidels will lead you astray. They do everything for money — a worldly pleasure that will not last,” he shouted.

While waiting for him to get done with the prayers, I met some teenagers outside the mosque. One of them pointed to the mosque and said, “Maulana Kashmiri is not affiliated with Sipah-e-Sahaba anymore but he was with them. He left it after coming back from jail.”

When I joined Maulana Kashmiri at his home, I asked him whether he was a member of Sipah-e-Sahaba.tase.
“No, I don’t belong to any religious organisation. I am just an imam of this mosque,” he replied. He told me that he had been in jail for fourteen months after the Gojra incident and had gotten out a few months ago. But his fourteen month detention was illegal, he claimed.
He flatly denied having made anti-Christian statements in his sermons. “I have made no such announcements. Nothing of the sort happened that day,” he said, referring to the day of the Gojra tragedy. “Actually some Muslim youth were attacked and injured by Christians. That led to the ‘riots’. You should check the hospital record which shows that Muslims were brought to the emergency room before the time quoted on the FIR registered by the Christians.”
He went on to defend himself and I realised that Maulana Kashmiri was not going to change his version of events. “It was just that people were angry because of the blasphemy committed by a Christian family in Korian, following which Christians tried to attack and ridicule Muslim youth in Gojra. This is what caused the riots.”
“So now you’re out and free?” I asked him.
“Not really, I still have to go to the hearing in the court,” he replied.

No Witnesses, no case
A few days later, I was at Maulana Kashmiri’s hearing at the Anti Terrorist court in Faisalabad. I found out that none of the victims would be present at the hearing, because all had withdrawn their cases except Almas Hameed. Almost all of Hameed’s family including his wife, son, daughter, sister-in-law, mother, aunt and father had died that day. Hameed himself had left the country for Thailand a few months ago, owing to security concerns. Now it was just the state and one Christian that pursued the case.

A few minutes after 9.00 am, a bus stopped in front of the gate and a group of around 50 people got off.
“Who are these people?” I asked the man leading the group.
“They are the nominated accused in the FIR of the Gojra incident,” he said.
The man I had spoken to was Rehmatullah, who belonged to the Jamaat-e-Islami and was providing legal support to these villagers.

When Rehmatullah came out of court he said, “The court has deferred the hearing for the next week due to a lack of witness accounts and has asked the state to present the witnesses next time.”
“We are innocent!” cried one of the men standing next to Rehmatullah. Maulana Kashmiri, who had also come out, nodded in agreement. “There are no witnesses because they know they are wrong,” he said. “We will get justice.”
“Do you know what happened at Gojra and Korian?” I asked him.
“Yes, I do, and even though none of us did it, the Christians still deserved it. They are blasphemers!” he shouted angrily. And a chorus of people echoed his words.

Among the believers
So whether it was the villagers, the educated masses or the politicians — the stance against blasphemy was the same.

I saw all these people come together under one umbrella the following week at a rally in Lahore organised by Islamist parties in support of the blasphemy law. The Jamaat-e-Islami representative Rehmatullah, who I had met outside the ATC in Faisalabad, was at the rally which was to begin from Nasir Bagh on Kachehri Road near the District courts and stop at the Punjab Assembly prominent leaders from the JUI-F, JI and JuD would address the crowd.

Islamist organisations were one of the biggest pressure groups in support of the blasphemy law and I could see how they managed their support. They backed these accused villagers and in return they got the street power they needed to shake the pillars of power. It was a win-win situation.

Rehmat-ullah got out of a bus in which he had brought a crowd of more than 150 people who were now marching towards the Kachehri Road.

The government had set up a loose security barrier that many were bypassing as we followed the group. The crowd was becoming larger and louder, shouting anti-government slogans, holding placards and party flags (including that of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba’s). The rally was astonishing — there were people that carried posters of Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of Salmaan Taseer with statements like ‘He is our hero’, and ‘Free Qadri’. Some people had placards with ‘Hang Aasia Bibi’ written on them. On Mall Road, a truck was painted with a photo-shopped full-size poster of Qadri sitting on a throne. His handcuffs had been digitally removed from the picture and two dead dogs lay in a puddle of blood at his feet. Two other dogs stood by, with Pope Benedict’s face photoshopped on their bodies. People were kissing Qadri’s feet while spitting on the dogs. A group of people carried effigies dressed as witches with the names of who they represented written on a placard. A man pointed at the effigies and shouted, ‘Meet Sherry Rehman and Fauzia Wahab.’

Sherry Rehman’s name had been changed to Sherry Satan. “She wants to bring a change in the blasphemy law. We will not let her,” shouted the man carrying her effigy. “She will end up like Salmaan Taseer!”

I had thought that the Islamists in Pakistan were politically motivated to pressurise the government and that the rally would be their show alone– but I had been wrong, mainstream political parties were at the rally as well. Outside the Punjab assembly, the rally was being addressed by the PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafiq and the ex-chief minister Punjab Chauhdry Pervez Elahi from the PML-Q. The Pakistan Tehreek-I-Insaaf had also sent its representative.

I asked Khawaja Saad Rafique if it was wise to mix politics and religion. “This is not politics; it is our duty as Muslims to defend Islam,” replied the parliamentarian before leaving in a convoy of jeeps.
“Islam will prevail no matter what,” screamed the loudspeakers around me as another political activist started to speak.
“Will it?” I thought to myself. And if so, which brand of Islam? With the hatred and bigotry I have witnessed in the past few weeks, I wondered what happened to the Islam of my childhood, the religion of peace, harmony and tolerance? How many more Taseers, Bhattis and Aasias will pay the price for our inability to tolerate the opinions and faiths of others?

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 13th, 2011.

NB: This e-mail is forwarded by Friends of National Students’ Federation (NSF); striving for a secular Pakistan. Friends of National Students’ Federation (NSF) is an electronic forum to disseminate information from dialectical perspective. This e-forum may or may not agree with the contents of a particular writing, but circulate it for alternative view points and healthy debate

The Friends of National Students Federation is defending the rights of progressives/liberals/secularists/non-believers/minority groups from the demands of religious power-seekers. The FNSF vows to combat the influence of religion on governments. We want to ensure that Human Rights always come before religious rights, and we fight the massive exemptions religious bodies demand – and are sometimes granted – from discrimination laws that everyone else is subject to. Every privilege has its victims.

We campaign for a society where everyone is free to practise their faith, change it or not have one. Belief or lack of it should not be an advantage or a disadvantage. Religion should be a private matter, for the home and place of worship; it must not have privileged influence in the public and political arenas where it can too easily become an excuse for conflict, inequality and injustice.

We fight to protect free expression from attacks by religious groups who often want to restrict or prevent any examination of their activities and the results of their beliefs. We are working to protect artistic expression from religious censors.

We believe that only by secularising our institutions can we ensure that no religious ideology can dominate and discriminate against others and that progressives/liberals/secularists/non-believers/minority groups are given equal treatment.

(This write-up owes a lot to National Secular Society of England)

From CMKP Newsletter
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Repeal the Blasphemy Laws! Candlelight Vigil, Vancouver March 15/11

Protect Human Rights of Minorities in Pakistan!
Repeal the Blasphemy Laws!
Candlelight Vigil to Commemorate the Lives of all Victims of Blasphemy Laws
March 15th, 6pm
Outside the Pakistani Consulate, 510 W. Hastings Street

(corner of W. Hastings and Richards, across from SFU Harbour Centre)

As you may know, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was recently assassinated for speaking out against the Blasphemy Laws and the resulting ongoing persecution of religious minorities. This was preceded by the assassination of the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer who had taken up the cause of Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian labourer who is currently imprisoned awaiting death by hanging under the Blasphemy Laws. Countless other Pakistanis continue to be persecuted because of these heinous legal relics of the Zia dictatorship in conjunction with a dangerous and unconscionable appropriation of Islam, deliberately distorted for the sole purpose of political or economic gain.

We believe that it is the Blasphemy Laws themselves and the resulting persecution and violence that are un-Islamic and contrary to both the tenets of Islam and the founding principles of the nation. We stand in solidarity with the struggles taking place in Pakistan to ensure equality for ALL Pakistanis and feel that we must speak out strongly where other voices are being threatened into silence through harassment and direct death calls.

Through this vigil, we want to begin building alliances with sister organizations and supportive individuals for effective lobbying to put pressure on the Government of Pakistan, the Chief of the Army Staff, and the leaders of all political parties to repeal the Blasphemy Laws, and to abolish religious extremism and vigilantism. We believe, the Blasphemy Laws must be repealed in order to protect Muslim and non-Muslim lives, minority rights, freedom of speech and democracy.

Please stand with us. This issue requires your urgent support.

Protect Human Rights of Minorities in Pakistan!
Repeal the Blasphemy Laws!
Candlelight Vigil to Commemorate the Lives of all Victims of Blasphemy Laws
March 15th, 6pm
Outside the Pakistani Consulate, 510 W. Hastings Street

(corner of W. Hastings and Richards, across from SFU Harbour Centre)

Please join us in a candlelight vigil to
– Protest the persecution of all minorities within Pakistan
– Push for the repeal
of the blasphemy laws and all laws that discriminate against all minorities
– Honour all lives
lost to extremist violence including the recent assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti
– Support the release
of Aasia Bibi and all those now being victimized by discriminatory laws

For more info
repealthelaws@gmail.com
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=150985018294095

Organized by
Ad Hoc Group For the Repeal of Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan
Vancouver, BC
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Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed: Press Release by Pakistani Canadians

Latest:
“30,000 Christians and others came to the funeral of Shahbaz Bhatti. About the same number as the Namoos Risalat rally in Khi (ie all religious parties put together). If we stand shoulder to shoulder in this hour of trial and tribulations, together we can turn the tide of religious extremism” – Taimur Rehman, CFD Lahore
Also view these statements by Asian Human rights Commission:
http://www.ahrchk.net/ and,
http://www.ahrchk.net/
Last day to endorse this letter by Citizens For Democracy (CFD):
https://uddari.wordpress.com/

Press Release by Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians
It is with great shock and sadness that the Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians (CPPC) heard the news of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the prominent Christian leader and Minister of Minority Affairs in Islamabad by Islamist extremists organized into terrorist groups. We offer our deepest condolences to the family members of Shahbaz Bhatti and of all those who have lost their lives in such similar acts.

The Committee of Progressive Pakistani-Canadians strongly condemns the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti and deplores the failure of various governments of Pakistan, including the present one, to bring an end to the blatant abuses of the Blasphemy Law formulated during the reign of military dictator Zia-ul Haque – whose regime, we might add, was supported by the U.S. and other Western powers.

Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination for openly criticizing the Blasphemy Law and its rampant misuse against Pakistan’s minority communities comes on the heels of the murder of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, for taking a similar stand. We feel that instead of taking strong measures against such killings, the authorities have capitulated to those who openly incite murder and violence against political dissent. The Prime Minister’s repeated assurances that his government has no intention of repealing the Blasphemy Law amounts to nothing except abject surrender to organized violence – especially that of religious fundamentalist forces – as a tool of political repression in Pakistan.

It is worth noting that acts of terrorism by fundamentalist elements and/or those linked to security agencies of the state against Christians and churches in Egypt were carried out to both sow disunity amongst the masses and to divert their attention from the real issues facing them. Scenes of Christians and Muslims jointly holding the cross and the Quran in their common protests to replace dictatorial rule and unjust social conditions was, on the one hand, a firm rejection by the Egyptian people of such schemes and, on the other, an inspiration to all of us who believe that inter-religious unity – even in religious societies – is not only desirable but possible.

We believe that bloody violence and political instability will continue to plague Pakistan so long as religion has a place in the affairs of the state. Equality of all citizens, regardless of their beliefs is a core value of any democratic society. The CPPC supports this principle – and a secular society – here in Canada as well as in Pakistan. We join all those Canadians – with origins in Pakistan or otherwise – who have condemned the killings of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer and encourage them to openly and publicly register their disapproval of these dastardly acts.

Committee of Progressive Pakistani-Canadians
Vancouver Chapter
March 5, 2011
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‘Bhatti’s assassination: a sign of a deep malaise’ by Farhat Taj

Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Gilani, was shot dead in broad daylight in the federal capital. Bhatti, the minister for minorities, had been receiving frequent death threats from terrorists. This is the second high-profile killing in two months, following the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who was gunned down by a religious fanatic hailed as a hero by religious groups and even lawyers. Both leaders had been vocally opposing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws and publicly supporting the release of Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman implicated in a dubious blasphemy case. Both had been publicly highlighting legal flaws in the blasphemy laws.

The aftermath of the killing shows nothing to indicate that Pakistanis in key power positions are even acknowledging the deep malaise the country is suffering from: religious extremism nurtured for foreign and domestic policy objectives. All signs show that religious bigotry will continue to be used for state objectives by the military and the political class will continue to succumb to the lethal military-militant alliance.

Reportedly, the Punjabi Taliban took responsibility for Bhatti’s assassination. The PML-N’s Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, expressed his displeasure over the term ‘Punjabi Taliban’ in the media. During a talk with newsmen he was reluctant to declare the Taliban as terrorists. Some people in FATA call the PML-N the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) of Punjab. This is because the party’s position on the Taliban is vague and tacitly pro-Taliban. Recall, some time back the chief minister even asked the Taliban to spare Punjab from attacks because the Taliban and the PML-N’s objectives converge. It looks like the largest province of Pakistan will have to bleed much more with Taliban atrocities before the PML-N wakes up to the reality. Religious extremism, it seems, has permeated a large section of the Punjabi middle class. This is a very bad sign for the religious as well as ethnic minorities of Pakistan. Religious minorities, especially in Punjab, are routinely attacked and people in FATA, especially Waziristan, inform that their land is occupied by the Punjabi Taliban — many of them ISI operatives — who physically control the minority of Pakhtun terrorists and foreign al Qaeda militants.

The PPP is increasingly caving in to the terrorists. It has abandoned people within its own ranks for taking a principled stance against the forces of religious fanaticism. Late Salmaan Taseer gave his life for supporting a poor Christian woman entrapped in a dubious blasphemy case. The PPP, which is supposed to be a supporter of the minorities’ rights, extended him no support. He was left vulnerable to attacks by religious fanatics, who took his life. Another PPP member, Sherry Rehman, who was prepared to table a bill to amend the country’s blasphemy laws in the National Assembly, has been silenced and made to give up the plan by the party. Fatwas (edicts) had been issued against Shahbaz Bhatti, another PPP stalwart and minister, calling for his assassination. The government showed no signs of standing by the minister for fear of losing power under pressure from the right-wing lobby. His request for a bulletproof car was also not entertained by the government. The result is in front of us — he was gunned down. Perhaps next would be the turn of Sherry Rehman. There is no sign the government would publicly stand by her.

The religious parties are silent over the assassination of Bhatti and thus tacitly approving it. The top tier leadership of the right-wing political parties remains quiet, or guarded in its response. Their spokesmen engage in the usual rhetoric.

The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti is a sign of the deep malaise afflicting Pakistan. The overwhelming intelligence agencies of Pakistan have long used religious bigotry as a tool to bleed Pakhtun nationalism in Afghanistan, the Indian state in Kashmir, and assault secular and nationalist forces inside Pakistan. The military-militant alliance remains intact. It has even put the responsibility of Bhatti’s assassination on the US. Pro-establishment rhetorician, Zaid Hamid, has said in a TV talk show that the handlers of Bhatti’s assassins are US spy operatives in Pakistan. I am afraid some time down the road Sherry Rehman would be killed by the bloodthirsty alliance and the blame will be put on US ‘spies’ to fuel anti-Americanism in Pakistan. Assassinations of secular minded people is fetching double benefit for the military-militant alliance: one, it purges Pakistan of secular ‘infidels’ that, by implication, creates more political space for the religious forces, and two, it stokes the fire of anti-Americanism in Pakistan when they blame US spies for such assassinations.

Nothing short of a people’s revolution against the military-militant alliance can save Pakistan. But there is no one to lead such a revolution. Pakistan, as elaborated in a book, Armageddon in Pakistan, is a feudal state. Its power structure is held by a feudal army, feudal democracy, feudal judiciary and feudal media. The army dominates the feudal system and the other three are its beneficiaries as junior partners. Why should the other three break down the system that benefits them? The former three will never come out to speak for the people, especially the ethnic and religious minorities, devastated by the military-militant alliance. There is no place in Pakistan for people who can take a principled stance on the rights of the people oppressed by this deadly alliance. The likes of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti will continue to be eliminated. Let us see who is the next to be assassinated.

From SPN Newsletter