Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Don't get your hopes up about Pakistan

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

Scanning The Guardian’s latest dispatch on the (latest) Pakistan blasphemy case, I was slowly but steadily driven to a stupor of incredulity. Hold on a moment, what’s all this? The chairman of a major Islamic council sides with the accused in a blasphemy case? Says “our heads are bowed in shame for what [the accuser] did”? Calls the defendant (a Christian, no less) a “daughter of the nation”? Is this Pakistan we’re talking about?

As the journalist talked up the “remarkable turn of events in a country where individuals accused of insulting Islam are almost never helped by powerful public figures,” I began to wonder if a new dawn really had broken on the society that, a year ago, was showering the murderer of a blasphemy reformist with rose petals.

Turn to the Pakistani press, however, and the scribblers take a somewhat different angle. Allama Tahir Ashrafi, the same cleric described in the Guardian’s piece, is found warning “of a conspiracy to do away with the blasphemy law which, he said, would never be allowed.” In his own words: “We support the […] judicious use of blasphemy law but will never allow repeal of the law on flimsy grounds or under international pressure.” A watered-down version of the same quote was pushed to the final paragraph of the Guardian’s story.

You have to love that “judicious”. No doubt there should also be “judicious” killings of apostates, adulterers and homosexuals, in addition to “judicious” second-class citizenship for members of the Ahmadi sect. An old joke among atheists is that blasphemy is a “victimless crime.” Sadly in Pakistan, as in other countries frenzied with religion, the victims are all too real.

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