Over the past couple of weeks Shama and Shahzad Masih have been burned alive after being accused of blasphemy, while ASI Faraz Naveed chopped off Tufail Haider’s throat, slashing the same accusation on his decapitated head. Both are high profile cases and need no introduction.
Considering the inexorable frequency of the allegation, and the loitering swords that Articles 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code are, Pakistan looks set to continue beefing up its list of crimes against humanity in the days, months and years to come. And despite most of our population being ‘enlightened’ enough to discern the wrongdoing in the act of burning human beings alive, there is still the lingering certainty of more minority blood being shed at the sacrificial altar of the gods of blasphemy – who are evidently as human as any other demigod.
However, the positive – if one could be excused for the insensitivity – is that condemnations have poured in from all quarters. Even the conspiracy theory leeches are first acknowledging the injustice before launching into tirades against the West’s treatment of Muslims or diatribes against the global – and liberal – media’s interest in defaming Islam and Pakistan.
It has been established that that it’s wrong to slice throats off or torch human beings over mere blasphemy accusations. And hence, it has also been agreed that these barbarous acts need to be curtailed. But for that we would need to further raise the value of human life from its current slot between unsubstantiated blasphemy accusations and the sanctity of religion.
Unless we’re brave enough to say that human life is more valuable than the sacrosanctity of any ideology, any condemnation of crimes committed under the pretence of safeguarding said ideology, is hollow rhetoric. Because if Muslims continue to be more offended by burnt pieces of paper, than burnt human bodies, minorities will continue to be burned alive. And unless the act of killing human beings owing to disrespecting an ideology is condemned, the myriad interpretations of ‘respect’ would ensure the lethalness of uncorroborated allegations.
The explanation for that is simple: as long as an ideology’s superfluous respect weighs more on the judicial weighing scale than human life, as it does in Pakistan, protecting its integrity would be a tailor-made facade to settle personal scores. What easier way to murder someone than accusing them of something that you won’t even have to prove in court? And of course, there are fewer allegations easier to conjure than accusing a non-Muslim of insulting Islam.
However, it indeed is idealistic, and naïve, to expect public figures to publically criticise the blasphemy law, let alone ask for it to be repealed, considering what happened to Salmaan Taseer for doing precisely that. But there are uninhabited acres between suicidal criticism of the blasphemy law and hollow condemnations that bolster apologia adding to the inertia of bigotry. And the gaping hole needs to be bridged for there to be any tangible deceleration in the outpouring of minority blood.
The crucial point that regularly goes amiss in the discussion is that it’s not just Muslim countries that have blasphemy laws. When you highlight that 29% of the countries of the world covering 64% of the world’s population have laws that protect all religions against deliberate insult, the task of modifying the blasphemy law would become less suicidal. It would also be easier to claim that the proposal to amend the law isn’t a conspiracy against Islam.
The blasphemy law in European countries, like Germany and Italy, theoretically shields religion (in general) against malicious acts.
Article 166 (1) of the Strafgesetzbuch (German criminal law) states:
“Whoever publicly or by dissemination of writings defames, in a manner suitable to disturb the public peace, the substance of the religious or world view conviction of others, shall be fined or imprisoned for up to three years”
This virtually paraphrases Article 295-A of Pakistan Penal Code.
As long as the blasphemy law applies equally to all ideologies, as is the case outside the Muslim world, the law would be triggered in extreme cases only, as was the case when Pakistan’s blasphemy law didn’t discriminate between religions. Only after Islam-specific clauses 295-B and 295 C were added by Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s has the law become an extrajudicial noose for the minorities.
Phrases like ‘repealing the blasphemy law’ would obviously be dubbed an attack on the religion of a community that is always on high alert to launch jihad against the imaginary threat to Islam. But even the biggest supporters of the blasphemy law would have trouble saying no to the idea of the law applying equally to all religions.
Once that happens, it would become less delusional to dream of the possible removal of capital punishment for alleged blasphemy. For, the judicial noose that is yet to hang a ‘blasphemer’ would be a theoretical deterrent for Muslims as well.
What, however, doesn’t help is hogging airtime and column spaces, rambling on and on about how humanity was massacred in Kot Radha Kishan, without adding a practicable solution to the hotchpotch of emotionally invigorating rhetoric. What also doesn’t help is fabricating history from the 7th century to present the blasphemy law as a 180 degree flip from what was practiced back then; because the mullah would present significantly more authentic evidence to substantiate his case.
Humanity will continue to be massacred till we raise its value above religion
Humanity will continue to be massacred till we raise its value above religion. If one has to shy away from solutions fearing for one’s life, it’s best to avoid commentary on the ramifications of the law, regardless of how noble your intention is.
This doesn’t mean that one would have to go gung-ho in the jihad against the jihadis. One simply needs to have the tactical, and legislative nous to reduce the blasphemy law to the theoretical stature of the guardian of religion. Just like it is outside the Muslim world. Just like it used to be in pre-Zia Pakistan.