Don’t snuff out the lights

The horrific murder of a journalism student lynched on a university campus in Mardan on April 13 after being accused of ‘blasphemy’, 2017 has revived the urgency of coming together on a joint platform with a minimum common agenda to uphold humanitarian values. Nothing will bring back Mashal Khan, a poet, self-declared humanist and “voice of the voiceless”, but we can at least try to ensure that no other mother loses her Mashal (light) to such barbaric ignorance and orchestrated violence.

We drafted this statement a few months after the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar, signed by over a hundred activists, teachers, lawyers and other professionals as well as students in March 2015: Pakistanis against terrorism: Minimum common agenda against violence in the name of religion – below. Does it need to be amended or updated?  Continue reading

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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#StandwithJNU… “But what about Pakistan?”

I wrote this piece a couple of days ago for Scroll.in on why I, as a Pakistani, am bothered about what’s happening in India – and also what people like me have to deal with from hyper-nationalists on both sides of the border. Also see this post from New Pakistan raising the question of whether the applause in Pakistan for political dissent in India means that such dissent is acceptable in Pakistan too – with reference to the young cricket enthusiast Umar Daraz in Pakistan, arrested for raising an Indian flag. Also see this excellent piece by Rubeena Mahato in Nepali Times raising alarm bells about South Asia’s constricted freedoms.
JNU crisis: But what about Pakistan?

JNU crisis: But what about Pakistan?

 

For the past few days, the row between those who stand for free speech and those who don’t has intensified in India. As a journalist from Pakistan, I stand unequivocally with the students and journalists in India who are being vilified and targeted by hyper-nationalists. In the process, I am getting more than my usual share of nasty comments from Indians – and Pakistanis – on social media. Continue reading

It all comes together: Kashmir Day, banned organisations, and a warped narrative

DIG Khalique Shaikh and PPP leader Sharmila Farooqi negotiating with protesters outside CM House, Karachi. PPI photo

DIG Khalique Shaikh and PPP leader Sharmila Farooqi negotiating with protesters outside CM House, Karachi. PPI photo

It all comes together. When the Sindh government agreed on Tuesday to the demands of the citizens observing a sit-in for over 30 hours in protest against the Shikarpur blast, probably everyone forgot about Kashmir Solidarity Day. It has been observed annually in Pakistan every February 5 since 1991 when the Nawaz Sharif government during its first stint in power demarcated it as a national holiday. Continue reading

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

Shama Shehzad and daughter

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

Pakistan court upholds death penalty for Asia Bibi despite serious legal loopholes in trial

"Blasphemy: The True, Heart-Breaking Story Of The Woman Sentenced To Death Over A Cup Of Water by Asia Bibi" - related by French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet (Virago, London, 2012)

“Blasphemy: The True, Heart-Breaking Story Of The Woman Sentenced To Death Over A Cup Of Water by Asia Bibi” – related by French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet (Virago, London, 2012)

Pakistani Christian Aasia Bibi had an argument with some coworkers over drinking water in 2009. The argument turned into a religious one and she was accused of blasphemy against Islam. Two politicians have been killed for standing up for her. She was convicted in Nov. 2010 and yesterday her appeal was rejected by the appellate court. Legal arguments in this story, published in Worldwatch Monitor, October 17, 2014, reproduced below (emphasis added). Also see The dangers of ignoring ‘malicious intent’ while accusing of ‘injuring religious sentiments’:

By Asif Aqeel

The first Christian woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws had her appeal rejected by the High Court in Lahore on Thursday.

Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, received the death penalty in 2010 after she allegedly made derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman.

While the two women were working together, the Muslim woman had refused water from Noreen on the grounds that it was unclean because it had been handled by a Christian.

The Muslim woman, together with her sister, were the only two witnesses in the case, but the defence failed to convince the appeals judges that their evidence lacked credibility.

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