Published on Chowk.com on January 14th 2011
In Pakistan the populous is still operating on a pre-partition colonial mindset. Psychologically Pakistanis are in a state of oppression even today. They are thankless for having achieved a nation state where the majority can freely practice their way of life.
The country is nursing the wounds of way back when they were fearful of a Hindu Majority. They have replaced the thinking that they are under the shackles of Hindus with the belief that they are a global Muslim minority oppressed by western powers.
A Muslim majority country has little reason to act with the extremism it does on the issue of the blasphemy law, yet Pakistan still does. But for the sake of Islam’s own transformation into a region that can be willfully adopted by future generations, there needs to be a toning down of the misconception that it is under attack.
Far from it, there is an oversupply of religion in the important pillars of the state. Among the many misconceptions developed in the national psyche, one is that, the founder of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, defended a blasphemer, Ghazi Illum Din.
This dubious claim is then used as a defense by some fringe groups against the recent cold blooded murder of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab. Ghazi Illumdin was an 18 year old who was provoked by a mosque imam to rally against, and even kill, the author of a book called Rangeela Rasool, by a Hindu merchant in Lahore. At this impressionable age, the instigator acted in defense of what was seen as a threat to Islam. The case however was not that simple. The context was a different from what is seen today in Pakistan.
At the time there was a Hindu majority, a tyranny of sorts and a hegemony of ideological space in united India. Much like the way Pakistan is now dominated by Islam, with little free thinking going on even on liberal campuses. In that scenario a Hindu authored a book on the prophet of Islam that was meant not to engage in theological debate, but to insult and demean him. Much like the way a Muslim could easily get an anti-Christ text published from majority of the publishers in Pakistan today.
Muslims in India were already crying the loss of their glory days and such a publication further instigated their sense of insecurity. Angry and radicalized, less integrated among the economic milieu of the British merchant class, the Muslim religious right brought this up as a cause – to put to an end the marginalization of the Muslim community by right wing Hindus.
Case records show that Illumdin had pleaded not guilty. Case records show that there were four witnesses, two of whom were Hindu and two of whom were Muslim. The Muslim witnesses had testified that Illumdin had not killed Rajpal. Mohammad Ali Jinnah took on Illumdin’s appeal in the High Court as he would do of any client whose claim was that he did not commit the crime. Mr. Jinnah’s aim was not to get him acquitted but to get him a softer sentence than the death penalty on the grounds that he bought the imam’s story and acted in rage not reason.
The killer of Salman Taseer is operating in a Muslim majority country, where the laws are overprotective of the Muslim majority, draconian even in their support of one particular version of Islam – Sunnism. He acted in defense of something that did not needed to be defended – Salman Taseer had not insulted the Prophet of Islam. The killer did not act in rage, but through premeditated murder of a civilian who at the time was defenceless.
Salman Taseer’s support for Asia Bibi was one based on the fact that the Blasphemy Law is one where it victimizes minorities, instead of protecting them as is the responsibility of a state in Islam. Those creating similarities between Illum Din and the killer of Salman Taseer should know that there are more similarities between Illum Din and Asia Bibi- both poor hapless victims of communal bigotry and class strife. The circumstances makes it so – Both are provoking a “ganging up” mentality against a minority community; both are acting out their insecurities despite having the social construct of reality in favor of their own religion; both have insulted the sentiments of humanity and humanism – Asia bibi accused of insulting one of the greatest men in History and Illumdin by virtue of abusing the law though with chaos and anarchy is prevented in the land.
As for the stance of the founding father: This is what Mr. Jinnah said when 295-A – a much more lenient law- was being discussed as a result of the Lahore controversy: “We must also secure this very important and fundamental principle that those who are engaged in historical works, those who are engaged in the ascertainment of truth and those who are engaged in bona fide and honest criticisms of a religion shall be protected.”
Far from allowing religion to be a force of attraction though discourse and example, there are those who want to spread it by the sword. No amount of terror can stop rational people from calling an abusive law an abusive law. The blasphemy law as pointed by Sherry Rehman needs to work for the purpose it was intended and hence it should be amended.
It is a pity that lawmakers have to be called courageous and brave just because they do their work and act in the line of duty. Let us not be dictated by the authors of hate or those that shoot at the freedom of speech. And let us call a spade a spade