Lahore attack: a political context

I wrote this for the Huffington Post after the attack on the Lahore park on Easter Sunday.

How Pakistan’s Religious Right Uses ‘Blasphemy’ to (try and) Usurp Political Power

Aamir Qureshi/Getty Images

The horrific suicide bombing at a park in Lahore on Sunday that killed over 70 people, mostly women and children, is one of many assaults by religious hardliners in Pakistan who are striving to remain politically relevant and in the media limelight.

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India/Pakistan: Sedition and blasphemy – Southasia’s déjà vu

Something I wrote last month about how sedition and blasphemy are the two sides of the same hyper-nationalist coin in India and Pakistan. Updated after the tragic bombing at a park in Lahore on Easter Sunday, published in Himal Southasian on March 30, 2016. 

People vote in the February 2008 elections in Lahore Photo: Wikimedia Commons / boellstiftung - Flickr

People vote in the February 2008 elections in Lahore Photo: Wikimedia Commons / boellstiftung – Flickr

From Pakistan there is mixed news. Recent headlines on the country juxtaposed with news from India prompts the thought that the kind of fascism that Pakistanis have been fighting against is now erupting across India. The encouraging news from Pakistan includes its second award at the Oscars, the execution of convicted killer Mumtaz Qadri (arguments against the death penalty notwithstanding) despite the militant rightwing support for him, and the recovery of the kidnapped son of Qadri’s victim Salmaan Taseer, killed for alleged blasphemy. The bad news includes the horrific suicide attack, allegedly by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar, on Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park in Lahore on 27 March 2016.

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The return of Salmaan Taseer’s abducted son gives Pakistan another ray of hope

Very happy to be able to write about some good news – the recovery of Salmaan’s Taseer’s son Shahbaz Taseer, kidnapped nearly five years ago. Wrote this piece on March 8, 2016, for Scroll.in

The return of Salmaan Taseer's abducted son gives Pakistan another ray of hope

The best news coming out of Pakistan this week was about the recovery on Tuesday of Shahbaz Taseer, the abducted son of slain Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. The businessman, in his early thirties, had been kidnapped in August 2011 as he drove to his office in Lahore. Continue reading

Rest in peace, Shahab Ahmed, prominent Islamic scholar from Pakistan

A beautiful sunny day…  and Shahab Ahmed’s funeral. His friends, including prominent scholars some of whom had known him for decades and traveled long distances to be there, like Kamran Ali Asdar and Shahnaz Rouse; many from Harvard like Homi Bhabha, Parimal Patil, Asad Ali Ahmed, Martha Minnow, Asim Khwaja; students and former students now themselves teachers; family members; all devastated and in shock. We were together in this panel at Harvard on the ‘blasphemy’ issue a few years back. I had last heard from him in July when his then fiancé Nora replied on his behalf to an email I’d sent. That’s when I learnt he was ill in hospital. My report today, basically just getting the facts out for now. Thanks to Nora for sharing his biographical details and photo at her time of grief. (NOTE: Updated below with comments from Michael Cook, his dissertation advisor, and others):

Prominent Islamic scholar Shahab Ahmed laid to rest

Shahab Ahmed-Photo by Rehan Lashari

Shahab Ahmed in Pakistan. Photo by Rehan Lashari, courtesy Nora Lessersohn

Prominent Islamic scholar Shahab Ahmed, originally from Pakistan, was laid to rest on Saturday morning at the historic Mt. Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his adopted home. Born in Singapore on Dec 11, 1966, he passed away on Sept 17, 2015 in Boston.
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A tele-evangelist, poison in the body politic and murder most foul

Online petition to AamirLiaquat accountableI recently wrote ‘Poison in the body politic’ on the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan, the hate-speech against them in public spaces and the impunity their attackers enjoy. One of the people I spoke to was Farooq Kahloun, an Ahmadi leader and successful businessman in Karachi who had left everything behind in Pakistan and taken political asylum in the USA after a murderous attempt on his life that left his son Saad Farooq dead two years ago. Four bullets still lodged in Kahloun’s body are a permanent reminder of the attack (details below) — and of the poison in Pakistan’s body politic, the menace of takfirismContinue reading

Pakistan needs #ruleoflaw. Arrest and punish those who murder and those who incite violence

Shama Shehzad and daughter

Upd Shama and Shehzad with one of their daughters, in front of a tropical backdrop. How dare they aspire for a better life?

Update: For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the state has become the plaintiff in a case involving murder due to alleged blasphemy. Let this be the start of a new era where no one dare attack or kill anyone on such a pretext again. Let the rule of law prevail, and religion not be used to cover up heinous crimes.

The vicious cycle continues in the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. It will not end unless the ‘takfiri’ (declaring someone a non-Muslim) ideology and justifying murder for alleged ‘blasphemy’ are not curbed. Once again a violent mob incited by calls from mosque pulpits has killed on the basis of such allegations. Once again the motive was not ‘religious’ but financial (as often happens). Rule of law MUST be imposed and the culprits caught, charged, tried and punished. Enough of this culture of impunity for crimes committed in the name of religion. This time it was a poor young couple – read Asif Aqeel’s comprehensive account of Shama and Shehzad, brick-kiln workers, lynched after being accused of ‘desecrated’ pages of the Quran (she was pregnant, they leave behind four children including a baby). Fifty people have been arrested. The next day, in another city, a policeman axed to death a man brought into custody after being arrested for a brawl – his justification: the man had been committed “blasphemy”. The policeman has been arrested. Below: Society for Secular Pakistan’s demand that  clerics involved in hate speech be arrested and punished for inciting religious feeling.

The cycle will continue because no one is ever punished for either false allegations, or for their involvement in the criminal act of extra-judicial murder, although laws exist against both. The ‘blasphemy’ laws of Pakistan are not divinely ordained. These are man-made laws, imposed on Pakistan by a military dictator. Gen Ziaul Haq added various clauses to the original Article 295 of the British law (shared by India and Bangladesh) that dealt with injuring religious sentiment. While criminalising other aspects of ‘injuring religious sentiment’, the critical words ‘malicious intent’ were quietly dropped. ‘Intent’ or ‘neeyat‘ is crucial when someone is accused of such crimes. If the intent was not to defile or injure religious sentiments, there is no case. It’s time to openly debate these issues and stop this senseless violence. Even if someone burnt some pages of the Quran, that is not grounds to kill them.  Continue reading

Human rights: Pakistan’s Ahmadis Faced with Death or Exile

Saad-Farooq

Saad Farooq, 26, shot dead in Karachi. “In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others,” says his father Farooq Kahloun, who still has four bullets in his body.

By Beena Sarwar

BOSTON, Oct 20 2014 (IPS) – Two years ago, gunmen shot dead Farooq Kahloun’s newly married son Saad Farooq, 26, in an attack that severely injured Kahloun, his younger son Ummad, and Saad’s father-in-law, Choudhry Nusrat.

Saad died on the spot. In Pakistan after travelling from his home in New York for the wedding, Nusrat died in hospital later. Four bullets remain in Kahloun’s chest and arm. A bullet lodged behind the right eye of Ummad, a student in the UK, was surgically removed months later (See his interview with BBC, while the bullet was still inside).

As an Ahmadi leader in his locality, Kahloun knew he was a target for hired assassins in the bustling but lawless metropolis of Karachi. General insecurity in Pakistan is multiplied manifold if you are, like Kahloun, an Ahmadi – a sect of Islam that many orthodox Muslims abhor as heretic.

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