I normally don’t respond to the death threats and hate mail I get with regards to my weekly Tribune column (which is actually a great deal less than the amount of people who have complimentary things to say, but my insecurities and self-loathing tend to focus on the one guy who heckles instead of the 10 who laugh), but after this weeks rant on the blasphemy issue, one particular comment posted caught my attention.
Written by a Ameer Hamza, it said:
“We are not sure about this Bibi, whether she committed blasphemy or not. It is for our courts to decide, not us. But then why did Salman Taseer say what he did. Why did he call this a black law? It is not a black law and I condemn anyone who calls this law a black law. Salman Taseer may have been a liberal but it does not allow anyone to call the law of ALLAH as black. As far as your contention that we as a nation have become more and more bigoted, there can be no two opinions about it. We have turned into extremists but to call love of Prophet as extremism is not proper.”
Now the inherent ludicrousness of a man criticizing extremist behavior while getting riled up about the blasphemy issue aside, it highlighted my anger at people on the other side of this debate. A lot of otherwise rational and intelligent people seem to lose their sense of coherence when it comes to the blasphemy issue in Pakistan, made all the more evident by the upper and middle classes of the country having simultaneous orgasms over the assassination of a vocal critic of the Blasphemy Law. It is the first time these two socio-economic groups have agreed on anything since the advent of the Benjamin Sisters and it seems to be an agreement founded on a lack of information and ignorance that goes beyond lazy and into the realm of destructive.
I’ve been accused of blasphemy myself a few times by people misunderstanding stand-up bits of mine. The fact that I dared to make fun of anything related to religion was enough for some people to declare me blasphemous in the past, fortunately just not in any public forums. It’s an issue I’ve even directly addressed in stand-up shows just before organizers asked me to never again “go down that route”. After my last column family members asked me to not say anything more on the issue because the reaction tends to be violent and irrational. I haven’t decided where I stand on that. As a father I should shut the hell up because her life would be worse without me (despite what my critics say), but as a citizen of this wretched country wouldn’t my silence just make me morally as guilty of the prosecution of Aasia Bibi as the people who are actively campaigning for her death?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that in all the rhetorical and polemic frippery of my last column, I missed out on something important and that is a simple clarification of my stand point. So here it is. A response to Ameer Hamza and everyone else who calls the Blasphemy Law “Allah’s Law” and demands the death sentence for transgressions committed against it.
(I originally posted this in the comments section of my article but given the generally devolved level of debate that ensues there, I am reproducing it here)
“Normally don’t respond to these but Ameer Hamza’s comments have put me in a bit of a mood, so this is largely addressed to him and anyone else who reads this without having taken the time to understand the details of what is happening.
@Ameer Hamza: It’s not Allah’s law. Explain what that is please? The Quran doesn’t state any punishment for blasphemy and the few Hadith cases used as vague justifications are actually more focused on not questioning the authority of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by people during his lifetime. But that is still irrelevant to the point at hand. Truth be told, if someone wants to twist the words of the Quran and Hadith to justify their intolerance then they probably will.
The second issue that comes up is, can you condemn a non-Muslim for blasphemy? A Christian, whether you like it or not, does not believe in any the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Is then their entire existence blasphemous? Is everyone other than a Muslim committing blasphemy just by existing?
There is also, of course, the sheer audacity involved in presuming you can decide who is and is not a Muslim (as have many of the Mullah-league). Such a judgment is God’s to make and one of the definitions of blasphemy is “the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God”. So haven’t those who called Salman Taseer and Sherry Rehman non-Muslim then committed blasphemy themselves.
Unfortunately these discussions are inherently academic because the law already is in place and its enforcement has already resulted in many innocents being victimized. I say “innocents” because I refuse to believe anyone would rationally dare to insult Islam or it’s Prophet in Pakistan. It just beggars belief.
The real issue here is what do the critics of the Blasphemy Law, in its current incarnation, want? Maybe some of them, in an ideal world, would like it gone altogether since they see the lack of sense in it. But no one is currently saying this. Everyone knows that such a change is not possible without serious, open discussion by the religious and legal authorities. Something unlikely to ever occur in Pakistan. Even Salman Taseer wasn’t asking for this. Sherry Rehman still isn’t. What everyone is asking for is that the law be amended. That it be written in a way that it protects against the possibility of misuse and puts the burden of proof on the accuser, nor the accused. That is what Salman Taseer meant when he called it a “black law”. That it is a law which is open to misuse and abusing the rights of citizens of Pakistan. Should he have been more careful in his phrasing? Probably. But then it was his opinion and shouldn’t there have been debate with him over his use of the phrase as opposed to just shooting him dead?
No one is calling “love of prophet” extremism. What they are saying is enshrining the oppression of minorities and suppression of free and fair justice through a systematic campaign of violence and fear-mongering is extreme.
I hope that clears things up for you. Sorry for droning on like this but I would much rather there be a concerted effort to clear up misunderstanding, instead of the usual mud-slinging that goes on in these comments pages.”