FaithWorld

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and the taboo of secularism

graveFor everyone trying to understand the implications of Salman Taseer's assassination, this essay from 2007 is good place to start (h/t Abu Muqawama).  "The Politics of God" is about why Europe decided, after years of warfare over the correct interpretation of Christianity, to separate church and state.  But it is also relevant to Pakistan, where the killing of the Punjab governor over his opposition to the country's blasphemy laws has shown that what was left of Pakistani secularism, is, if not dead, at least in intensive care.

Read the opening paragraph to understand why it resonates:

"For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong."

The point of highlighting this essay is not to argue that Pakistan should emulate the west, nor indeed that secularism is necessarily the answer, but rather to suggest that there is still a debate to be had in a country where even using the word secular is becoming taboo. (And before anyone accuses me of orientalism, the advantage of looking at it through the lens of European history is that it also strips out some of the other factors which contribute to the nature of Pakistani society today -- the war in Afghanistan, America's response to 9/11, the role of the army, its past use of militant proxies, the weakness of its civilian governments, the fragility of the economy etc, etc).

As  the blogger kala kawa put it, "too much space has been ceded. Too much PUBLIC space has been ceded. This debate cannot go underground. It must not be behind closed doors. We don’t have guns, and we don’t have bombs, and we don’t even want to kill anyone. We just want to talk it out.  Unfortunately, that’s enough for them to want to kill us."

Or to quote Pakistan's ideological father, Ellama Mohammad Iqbal, himself not a secularist, in one of his early letters: "Let the many-headed monster of public (opinion) give their dross of respect to others who act and live in accordance with their false ideals of religion and morality.  I cannot stoop to respect their conventions which suppress the innate freedom of man's mind."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In Pakistan, a death foretold

taseerIn one of the more anguished posts about the murder of provincial governor Salman Taseer, Pakistani blogger Huma Imtiaz wrote that his assassination "is not the beginning of the end. This is the end. There is no going back from here, there is no miracle cure, there is no magic wand that will one day make everything better. Saying 'enough is enough' does not cut it anymore ..."

It was a sense that permeated much of the English-language commentary about Taseer's killing in Islamabad by one of his own security guards. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Taseer, governor of Punjab province and a leading politician in the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was killed because of his opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws.  A sense that the forces of religious intolerance are becoming all but unstoppable; and that those who oppose them by promoting a more liberal vision of Pakistan occupy an ever diminishing space.

"Salmaan Taseer was many things, but most recently, he was a champion of a particular strand of liberal, secular discourse in a country where such voices are dwindling down to nothing. He was a minority because he chose to stand next to the Christian and Hindu minorities who are denied basic protection in their own nation.  This is a great loss," wrote historian Manan Ahmed at Chapati Mystery.

Sacred Shi’ite ritual tests Pakistan’s security resolve

ashura (Photo: Shi’ite men at an Ashura procession in Peshawar, January 19, 2008/Ali Imam)

Pakistan is deploying tens of thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police ahead of a religious festival that could be a major security test for authorities struggling to contain militant violence. Many of Pakistan’s minority Shi’ite Muslims, who make up 15 percent of the population, will be vulnerable to suicide bombings when they stage large rallies Friday to mark Ashura, the biggest event in their calendar.

Highlighting concerns, paramilitary forces carry people away on stretchers in mock exercises televised live. Officials say army soldiers will be on standby. Recent suicide bombings carried out in defiance of a series of military offensives which the government describe as successful highlighted U.S. ally Pakistan’s instability.

“Ashura is going to be very tense. There is a danger of terrorists trying to attack processions. We are taking all possible measures to avert that,” a senior security official said.

Guestview: The infliction of the blasphemy law in Pakistan

asia bibi 1 (Photo: Protesters demand release of Asia Bibi, in Lahore November 21, 2010/Mohsin Raza)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone.  Naeem Shakir is a Lahore-based human rights activist and advocate of the Pakistan Supreme Court.

By Naeem Shakir

The religious minorities in Pakistan are once again awe-struck over the death sentence passed against a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, for committing blasphemy. The fear and scare such tragic events create and spread amongst the minorities goes down their spine and dampens their spirits as citizens of Pakistan. They wonder for how long they would be persecuted for having a faith different from the Muslim majority. Each time it has been found that the blasphemy law was used either for religious persecution or for settling personal scores or grabbing land.

In Asia Bibi’s case, the complainant was a local clergyman Qari Mohammad Salam. He was neither present at the place of occurrence nor personally heard the blasphemous words allegedly uttered by Asia Bibi. Muslim women who worked with Asia Bibi in the falsa fruit fields of a local landlord informed him on June 19, 2009 that on June 14, Asia uttered blasphemous remarks about the Prophet (PBUH) and the Quran. The two sisters admitted in evidence that a quarrel took place regarding drinking water that Asia brought, which was declared as ‘unclean’ and they refused to drink it. The complainant stated that she confessed her guilt before a religiously charged mob.

India says local Islamists bombed Hindu pilgrim city Varanasi

varanasi 1 (Photo: After the blast in Varanasi December 7, 2010/Stringer)

India said Wednesday a home-grown Islamist group with ties to Pakistani militants was behind a bomb attack in one of its holiest cities, Varanasi, and local media reported two people were questioned over the attack. Home Secretary Gopal Pillai said traces of explosives were found at the site of Tuesday evening’s blast in the northern city that killed a two-year old girl and injured 37 Hindu worshippers and foreign tourists.

Pillai said the crude bomb was set off by the Indian Mujahideen (IM), a local group India says has been trained by militants based in Pakistan, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The IM claimed responsibility for the attack in an email to local media, police said. That email was traced to a Mumbai suburb and two people were questioned over it, local media said.

“The main players of Indian Mujahideen are based in Pakistan and they are definitely running the game from there,” Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjeev Dayal told a press conference. Pillai has said it was “too premature” to say if individuals or groups operating from Pakistan were involved.

Hardline Pakistan imam offers reward to kill Christian woman

qureshiA hardline, pro-Taliban Pakistani Muslim cleric on Friday offered a reward for anyone who kills a Christian woman sentenced to death by a court on charges of insulting Islam. The sentence against Asia Bibi has renewed debate about Pakistan’s blasphemy law which critics say is used to persecute religious minorities, fan religious extremism and settle personal scores. Non-Muslim minorities account roughly 4 percent of Pakistan’s about 170 million population. (Photo: Maulana Yousef Qureshi in Peshawar, February 17, 2006/str)

Maulana Yousef Qureshi, the imam of a major mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar, offered a $5,800 (3,700 pounds) reward and warned the government against any move to abolish or change the blasphemy law. “We will strongly resist any attempt to repeal laws which provide protection to the sanctity of Holy Prophet Mohammad,” Qureshi told a rally of hardline Islamists.

“Anyone who kills Asia will be given 500,000 rupees in reward from Masjid Mohabat Khan,” he said referring to his mosque. Qureshi, a cleric who has been leading the congregation at the 17th century Mohabat Khan mosque for decades, later told Reuters he was determined to see her killed. “We expect her to be hanged and if she is not hanged then we will ask mujahideen and Taliban to kill her.”

Pakistan Pres. Zardari barred from pardoning Christian woman

bibi 1 (Photo: Pprotesters demand the release of Asia Bibi at a Karachi rally, November 25, 2010/Akhtar Soomro)

A Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has sparked criticism over the country’s blasphemy law. Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of four, requested a pardon from the president after a lower court sentenced her to death on Nov 8 in a case stemming from a village dispute.

The Lahore High Court barred Zardari on Monday from pardoning Bibi in a petition filed by Shahid Iqbal, a Pakistani citizen. Iqbal’s lawyer Allah Bux Laghari told Reuters a pardon was illegal as the court was already hearing an appeal against her sentence.

“We believe it is the court’s duty to evaluate the evidence against her, not individuals, and if she is found innocent, she should be freed,” he said.

Condemned Christian woman seeks mercy in Pakistan

bibiA Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan on charges of blaspheming Islam said on Saturday she had been wrongfully accused by neighbours due to a personal dispute, and appealed to the president to pardon her.

Asia Bibi, mother of four, is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law which rights groups say is often exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores. (Photo: Asia Bibi in an undated photo handed out by family members on November 13, 2010. Standing left to right is Bibi’s brother Ramzan, Asia, brother Yunus and son Imran)

The 36-year-old farm worker was taken into custody by police in June last year and was convicted by a lower court on Nov. 8. She has been in prison since then, with her case drawing international media attention as well as appeals by human rights groups, and, according to Pakistani media, Pope Benedict.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Sentenced to death: On Pakistan’s minorities

aasia bibiEarlier this year I asked someone who had been a senior minister in the government of Pakistan why the country could not change laws which discriminated against minorities. I asked the question because more than 80 people from the minority Ahmadi sect had just been killed in two mosques in Lahore, which at the time served as a wake-up call of the dangers of growing religious intolerance in Pakistan.

His answer was unhesitating. You could not possibly do something like that in Pakistan.

Such is the power of the religious lobbies that no government dares challenge them. Each "wake-up" call is soon forgotten until another injustice against religious minorities punches its way to the surface.

Book Talk: UK Muslim author seeks roots of militancy

malikThe prominence of Britain’s Muslim minority in the nation’s debate about security and social cohesion provides the backdrop to journalist Zaiba Malik‘s memoir of growing up a British Muslim of Pakistani descent.

“We Are A Muslim, Please” tells how she was raised by first generation immigrant parents in the run-down former industrial center of the northern English city of Bradford in a tradition of conservative piety. (Photo: Pakistani-born British journalist Zaiba Malik in Dhaka on November 26, 2002/Rafiqur Rahman)

At the same time she was desperate to fit in at school, an overwhelmingly white British institution, an effort that led to years of excruciating anxiety and moments of low comedy.