You know you are living in tough times when Afghanistan sends financial aid and when Saudi Arabia points out the rise of extremism in your country. Governor Salman Taseer’s murder has triggered a round of reactions about the current state of Pakistan on both, national and international platforms.
The assassination of Governor Taseer and especially the reactions that followed in the aftermath are a huge setback for Pakistan. Governor Taseer’s death not only highlights the rampant intolerance and bigotry but also the loopholes in our struggle against extremism. However, it is worth mentioning that extremism, with respect to Pakistan, is a deeply polarised phenomenon. Contrary to popular belief, Governor Taseer’s assassination is not the death of liberalism in Pakistan; rather a huge setback for human rights and the struggle for justice.
The blasphemy law issue is not a conservative vs. liberal scenario. It is about pressing for counter abuse of the law and extra-judicial killings. One of the main reasons why the debate regarding the blasphemy law has been blown out of proportion is because we cannot help avoid cliches and labels. Realistically, our focus should be on solving the issue rather than getting into battle of ideologies and name-calling.
Therefore, to be able to reach a mutual consensus we must look at the situation in black and white. Let’s take a look at popular beliefs and misconceptions regarding the blasphemy law.
Those in favour: These people believe that an insult or abuse to Islam or the Quran or the Prophet (PBUH) is a crime worthy of punishment. Therefore, any movement that asks for repeal of the law is seen as a threat to protection of Islam, Quran and the Prophet (PBUH).
Those against: They believe that the law in the Constitution has been abused to justify extra-judicial killings. They also believe that modifications in the law during General Ziaul Haq’s era has given rise to an extremist mindset and provided room for persecution of minorities. Their stance is based on the rampant abuse of the law over the years.
The misconceptions: Those in favour of the law believe that anyone who wants amendments to the law or wants it repealed, is justifying insults to Islam, the Quran or the Prophet (PBUH). Whereas, those who are against the law believe favoring the law is justifying the abuse and persecution of a certain sect.
The reality however, is rather simple and glaringly obvious. The blasphemy law has been abused over the years, resulting in extrajudicial killings. However, that should be a matter of concern for both in favour and against the law. The deeply polarised stance overlooks the real issue which infact needs our immediate attention; the abuse of the law. No religion or judicial system allows room for abuse of laws. Laws are meant to punish perpetrators and not to promote lawlessness. If we look at counter-abuse of laws specifically in the light of Islam it is be exceptionally clear that Islam emphasises on curbing the abuse of laws. The punishment for a false accusation, according to Islamic laws, is greater than that of the abuse itself. This is to ensure that justice is served and that lawlessness is curbed. The point we are missing here is that, one does not need to be a liberal to protest against violence and murder. It’s not about right- or left-leaning views, it is about human rights that transcends all stereotypes.
The need of the hour is to unite and clarify our stance, identify the real issues and promote an open dialogue. A public discourse can only be possible when activists and clerics come together to resolve the issue with a mutual consensus. The issue is that of abuse and wrongful accusations which can only be resolved by means of activism both religious and political.
Why is it we need to label ourselves? Why must we be categorised as “liberals,” “champions of human rights” and “secular?” Moderation is key. The “are you with us or against us” question will only result in backlash when in fact the question we should be asking is, “can we unite to curb abuse, injustice and lawlessness?”
Instead of rallying for or against the laws, we need to rally against hate mongers, hijackers of Islam and promoters of lawlessness. Let’s rally to restore sanity (quiet literally).