Asia-Pacific, Pakistan, Human Rights, Editor's Choice

Blasphemy: Today and the Way Forward

Some issues in Pakistan have had such impact that they have been influencing the very history of Pakistan. Blasphemy! The very idea and the long-standing history associated with it makes this very concept cringe-worthy to any civilized person living in Pakistan. The backlash and the fanaticism associated with blasphemy keep many a people from raising their voices.

What needs pondering begins with the very soul of the blasphemy law and the loopholes that need immediate adjustment. The problem is that both sides defend their perspectives with such rigor that the friction seems to be on an ever-increasing tide. In the recent weeks, Pakistan has witnessed two such events. Mashal Khan took up on social media by the liberal left of the country and the second where three sisters killed a man facing blasphemy charges in a 13-year-old case.

Mashal Khan: The Blasphemy Case

The Mashal Khan case is particularly important because it gave way to the idea that someone impersonated Mashal Khan on social media to build a case against him and it leads to his murder by a mob comprising angry politically active students. Other theories are also under discussion but where most agree that Mashal Khan was innocent, his murder also left many to fear for their own lives.

In the aftermath of this incident, posts disclaiming association with other/fake profiles on Facebook went viral, not just among the liberal activist, but the population in general. This is not the only indicator of the fear that has been associated with blasphemy. One on hand, liberals continue to fight the cause yet they fail to see that getting rid of the blasphemy law altogether is not possible in our society. The backlash of such an effort actually engulfed a serving Governor, Salman Taseer. However, much remain to be clarified from that very incident or rather a chain of events that started at Taseer’s first statement and ended up with his murder.

On the other hand, what most of the populous support is a healthy approach towards the matter. However, in most cases, the loopholes in the law itself do not allow proper room for facts to be differentiated from fiction. A milestone statement, however, came in another recent event where a mentally ill man broke out of his brothers care in Chitral only to be found in police custody, with an alleged accusation of blasphemy. The alleged was brought to the police station by a local cleric, Haji Zafar, who handed the accused Rasheed-Uddin to the nearest police station in fear of his safety and an outburst that may have had a further backlash.

Mental Health and Blasphemy

Not very surprisingly, the accused turned out to be a mental health patient with a long-standing history of his illness. His medical history extends to Dubai where he was relieved of his duty by his former employers owing to this very mental illness. Although the case is under investigation, this case has set an example for fanatics and liberals. Where liberals fail to see that the efforts should be focused on a reform instead of denial or rejection of the blasphemy law, most honorable clerics fail to see that instigating violence without investigation is an act of blasphemy in itself.

Similarly, Taseer clarified his position when he explained his perspective with regards to the statement that he was under the impression that the law is made by General Zia-ul-Haque. Like Mashal Khan, he too was murdered without proper investigation, however, some circles believe that the self-proclaimed punisher, and a hailed hero among millions, attacked only after receiving a confession.

The way forward looks bleak, unless both sides come to terms with regards to reforms in the blasphemy law, and to ensure that further ‘above the law’ killings are avoided at all costs. A government lead JIT and reform committee is the need of the hour. The very base of this reform can be the statement by one of the original lawmakers that the current law is not complete and need further work. Amongst the Panama Leaks case and elections due next year, we can only hope that this issue is taken up, otherwise more innocent blood will inevitably be spilled.

About Saad B. Murtaza

Saad is a journalist, researcher and new media strategist from Pakistan with around a decade of experience under his belt. He started his career with conventional investigative journalism but his love for new media technologies, thirst for knowledge and out of box thinking lead him to expand his horizon into new media strategies, data journalism and research.

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