After several liberal activists including a professor of Fatima Jinnah University mysteriously disappeared, state security agencies once again found themselves facing negative international attention. Critical statements from international human rights NGOs and foreign governments began pouring in. Then came the ultimate trump card. The ‘Ace of Spades’. Blasphemy allegations.
The allegations began from right-wing hyper-nationalist websites and social media accounts like so-called ‘Pakistan Defence’.
There is no proof that any of these missing are responsible for any blasphemy. There is not even any proof that any of these activists is behind the ‘Bhensa’ account that is being accused! Actually, they were originally accused of being anti-Army, not anti-Islam. Now that the blasphemy accusation has been made, though, it has also been formalised under the law as application has been submitted to register blasphemy cases against the missing activists.
However, this could be a test case not only for the democracy but for blasphemy law as well. Civil Rights activist Jibran Nasir is calling for arrest of Pakistan Defence admins for inciting violence against the activists. At first it sounds like fantasy, but on second thought there may be something to his thinking. No less than Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council Tahir Ashrafi has called for extreme care in handling of blasphemy cases and has even called for death penalty for those leveling false allegations. I personally do not support death penalty, but Maulana Ashrafi’s view shows how serious the issue is. Therefore, everyone can agree that such cases should be decided in court based on all the evidences.
In order for a court to evaluate, both the accused and the accusers should be made to appear before the Court to be questioned. The disappeared activists must be produced and also the admins of Pakistan Defence and other social media accounts that are making such serious allegations should be produced before the Court also. Otherwise, isn’t it those leveling such allegations from behind anonymous accounts who are making a mockery of the Court as well as the blasphemy law?
Perhaps there is someone who has committed blasphemy. We cannot know unless the case is heard by an impartial Court. There is also the question whether someone has tried to misuse blasphemy allegations in order to distract attention and cover their tracks. This also cannot be known unless all the actors and evidences are examined by the Court.
At a press conference held by Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia opposing madari reforms, Chairman All Pakistan Ulema Council Maulana Tahir Ashrafi asked a very excellent question about Jihad and the state:
He said as promoting Afghan jihad was the policy of the government, why the jihadis were now being called terrorists.
This is a question that should be taken up by every talk show host and addressed in every newspaper in the country. Is promoting Afghan jihad official state policy? If so, why are we also supporting NATO? Whose side are we on? Is Jihad official policy of the state? Does the state still consider Afghan Taliban as ‘good Taliban’? Or are they terrorists?
Tahir Ashrafi is confused about whose side we are on. Are we supporting Taliban? Or are we against Taliban? It is not clear to Tahir Ashrafi, and it is not clear to anyone else. It’s time the state answer the question.
Page A3 of Daily Times of 21st February features the story, ‘NA committee for programmes on war on terror‘ about legislators calling for new initiatives “for changing the people’s mindset on war on terror”. The problem is larger than just creating new programmes to change people’s mindset, however.
Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) recently convened its conference in Lahore where the top issues were discussed. A report by Raza Rumi notes the unprecedented support for minorities given by PUC chief Allama Tahir Ashrafi, and a resolution was passed saying, “government had the responsibility to protect the lives, wealth, honor, dignity and places of worship of all its citizens regardless of their faith.”
This message of tolerance and inclusion is welcome, but it is a paragraph late in the report that exposes the root of our problem.
In his speech Allama Tahir Ashrafi said madrassas were guarantors of peace in the country. Maulana Muhammad Ali Sherazi said an education system given by Christians was a conspiracy against Islam, which had become a victim of the west. “True education is spread through religious seminaries, which are the fort of Islam,” he added.
Is there any better representation of what ails us? In one moment, Ulema calls on government to protect minorities. In the next moment, they accuse non-Muslims of using education as part of a ‘conspiracy against Islam’.
Which is it? Are We are told note to be suspicious and hateful, and then we are given reason to be suspicious and hateful. If government has a responsibility to protect minorities, doesn’t that responsibility include doing something about the lessons in intolerance being taught at certain madrassas?
Ridding ourselves of the curse of religious extremism, the root cause of terrorism in our country, will require us to move beyond mere words of tolerance. We must shed our victim mentality and stop pretending that the threat is coming from outside and not inside our own house.
In Pakistan, religion is supreme. Which is why one would be forgiven for taking the mistaken impression that the Ulema, or religious clerics, would have great influence on society. Actually, they are almost completely irrelevant, and their irrelevance is a result of their own words.