That the lawyer of a blasphemy-accused man being shot down can muster the sympathy of a fraction of people, but can’t garner much surprise, gauges the state of religious fanaticism in this country. Rashid Rehman Khan was repeatedly warned that his defence of Junaid Hafeez in court would prove fatal for him. Those warning him included two fellow lawyers, who gathered what in other parts of the world would be dubbed “audacity” to threaten a lawyer in a courtroom. But when one is on the “right” side of the blasphemy debate in Pakistan, one becomes the Almighty, blaspheming en route to punishing the “blasphemer”. Law, justice and humanity become subservient to this demigod’s wrath.
Choosing to defend a blasphemy accused is quite possibly the most excruciating way to commit suicide. Excruciating because while death is inevitable it is not just a living being that gets killed. The death of every Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and Rashid Rehman massacres hope in Pakistan. The hope that one day the value of life would outweigh the value of indoctrinated ideas. A failed suicide attempt is what we are waiting for…
[quote]Voices like his and that of Taseer and Bhatti were silenced with tragic ease because they never reverberated[/quote]
A crucial lesson, however, is there to be learned – for those still foolhardy enough to be bothered– in the aftermath of Rashid Rehman’s killing. Voices like his and that of Taseer and Bhatti were silenced with tragic ease because they never reverberated. It is difficult to shush up a voice that echoes. The more the reverberation the stronger is the wave. It is easy to hunt down a target when it towers above the realm of isolation.
Granted people are not exactly queuing up to speak up against the blasphemy law, but there is a section of the population – albeit a very small segment of the opinion makers in the country, almost exclusive to the English press – that condemns killings that have a blasphemy related subplot. While almost none of these would unequivocally call for repealing the blasphemy law itself, a lot of them would want to be able to say that. Not necessarily because they undermine the significance of religion, but because they realise that the blasphemy law itself puts any religion’s humanistic credentials and sanctity at stake and is more often than not misused to settle personal scores.
[quote]No one bothered checking the ISP address to substantiate the allegations in the Junaid Hafeez case[/quote]
Case in point: the blasphemy law charges against 68 lawyers for “protesting against police, using foul language and the name of the inspector” earlier this week. The inspector, whose name happened to be Umar Daraz, incidentally shared his first name with Hazrat Umar. Insulting the inspector, hence, meant insulting the second Caliph of Islam, especially when it is done in Jhang, the hub of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), originally – and actually – known as Sipahe Sahaba, the self appointed guardians of the sanctity of the caliphs of Islam. Self-appointed militants of the caliphs. Self-appointed demigods.
Similarly Junaid Hafeez is in jail for allegedly blaspheming in a Facebook group through an account that uses a pseudonym. No one bothered checking the ISP address in that case to substantiate the allegations. And now the Facebook account the accused allegedly controlled is still active, along with the group, while he has been in jail for the past year. If there is a silver lining to any of this, it is the fact that Junaid Hafeez might just be safer in jail, considering that thousands would be ready to decapitate him and book their place in heaven by following the “esteemed” footsteps of Ilam Din and Mumtaz Qadri. But we may just be clutching at silver-dyed straws here.
No matter where you stand on the religious spectrum, there is a need to understand the counter-productivity of the blasphemy law. Killing people for any kind of dissent is as medieval as actions get. And if the justification provided for chopping off proverbial heads, or even asking for them to be chopped off, traces itself to a particular religion, it would tarnish the sanctity of the religion itself, which, ironically, the blasphemy law ostensibly vies to shield.
While no one in Pakistan has been judicially executed for blasphemy, self-appointed demigods like the killers of Salmaan Taaseer and Rashid Rehman, and the “divine” mobs that regularly kill those accused of blasphemy and torch and desecrate other places of worship, ensure that the menace of Section 295-B and 295-C of the Criminal Code remains a daunting reality. The eighty-fold increase in the decade between 2001 and 2011, from one blasphemy case to 80 vindicates the rise in the (mis)use of the blasphemy laws.
Amending the blasphemy laws, a seemingly quixotic idea as things stand, would be the first step to sort out this mess. Ideally though, the blasphemy law should be repealed, with all voices believing so, voicing the opinion in unison. Because united we live in delusion, divided we die.