Blaspheming Against Humanity
Can you imagine how it feels to get killed merely for stating an opinion? Can you envision your last thought as the assassin chants a religious slogan and shoots you in broad daylight? You know in your hearts of hearts that your attacker is fully convinced of his piety by silencing you for good and your people will hail him as a hero. As your body succumbs to the physical pain and your consciousness is slowly fading away you ask yourself one question. Was it worth it?
In another instance you are a poor, middle-aged woman who belongs to a minority. You quarrel with your neighbor over something as petty as a minor water dispute. The next thing you know, you are arrested for a ‘heinous’ crime.
You are sentenced to death. How do you feel?
Now imagine a slightly more complex scenario. You are a lecturer in a university and you are accused of a crime. You are unable to find a lawyer to represent you and you are threatened by everyone around you. Finally a brave man agrees to represent you but he is shot in the very courtroom from which you were seeking justice. How do you feel?
What if you’re an eleven-year-old girl suffering from Down’s syndrome and the local imam at your mosque dislikes you for a certain reason. He accuses you of blasphemy and a mob gathers outside your house with hatred and vengeance filled in their eyes. They wish to burn your house and break you into tiny pieces till their blood lust is satisfied. Luckily for you, the police arrive and take you to jail. How do you feel?
If you are a seventy-year-old pensioner who is mentally disabled and you have an argument with your landlord. What would go through your mind if you are arrested for a crime you don’t even understand? What if a police officer shoots you in jail and you are battling death?
How lucky would we be if all these instances were tales from a novel or from the past? Unfortunately we are not lucky but we are prisoners in our own country.
The first scenario is that of former Governor Punjab Salman Taseer who was shot twenty seven times by the man who had sworn an oath to protect him; his own body-guard. Governor Taseer stood by the poor middle-aged woman described earlier after she was convicted of ‘blasphemy’. His main folly was that he termed Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as a man-made law, not something divine. Little did he know that he would have to pay the price with a full reload of AK-47 bullets, or did he? The after math of this case serves as a catalyst about the state of affairs in my beloved country. Rose petals showered the assassin as he entered court to stand trial for murders. The people giving the murderer a royal welcome were not uneducated or illiterate, they belonged to the privileged part of society; they were lawyers. To top it all of, the former Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court offered his services pro-bono to the assassin and went on to become the defense council for the accused. This is but one of many tales which have been written in the blood of innocents.
Rashid Rehman, a prominent human rights activist and lawyer chose to defend a foreign educated university lecturer, Junaid Hafeez accused of blasphemy. No one was willing to take the case due to threats from the religious right but Rashid Rehman was not willing to sacrifice his principles due to fear. He was openly threatened in the courtroom in front of the judge but in a country like Pakistan, who would care about the life of someone who fights for free speech. ‘Unknown’ assailants shot him in his office the next day. His death reminded us of a phenomenon filled by hatred and intolerance, the concept of killing someone if you don’t like what they say. This phenomenon is constitutionally protected in Pakistan, where the state would act as the killer, should the people fail.
The imam at her local mosque accused Rimsha Masih, 11, of blasphemy. Thousands gathered with the intent to murder that poor girl. Later on it was discovered that the imam’s allegations were false but poor Rimsha had to flee the country since too many people still wanted her head on pike.
The last case is that of Mohummad Asghar. He is a British pensioner with a history of mental illness. He was shot by a police officer whilst he was inside prison.
For how long will this madness continue? Have we become so desensitized to murder in the name of religious faith that we don’t even stop at little girls and old men suffering from mental illness? These cases show that we have gone too far in trying to protect the ‘sensitivities’ of the religious right. Why should the state even care more about the people who are consumed by nothing but hatred rather than the most marginalized segment of the society.
It is my appeal to the civilized citizens of the world to stand up to this cruelty of blasphemy laws. Mankind cannot go forward if states act as catalysts to murder. Freedom of thought and freedom of speech are the two ideals, which have shaped the twenty-first century. If the citizens of the civilized world continue to ignore these primitive and barbaric laws, they will soon understand the importance of combating this philosophy, as religious extremists are growing everyday. If we don’t say anything today, we might not even get a chance to say anything tomorrow.