Madness in the 'land of the pure'

A large group of civil society activists have lodged a complaint against Sultan Mosque cleric Munir Ahmed Shakir at the Darakhshan Police Station in Karachi. The said cleric issued a fatwa (edict) against PPP parliamentarian, Sherry Rehman, because she tabled a bill to amend the flawed blasphemy laws. The complainants said that the cleric’s fatwa will provoke people’s sentiments and incite violence. There is a serious threat to Ms Rehman’s life following the recent furore over the issue of blasphemy laws. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer lost his life at the hands of a religious zealot because the governor took up a principled stand against the misuse of the blasphemy laws. Following Governor Taseer’s assassination, the threat to Ms Rehman is now more real and palpable. What is worse is that Interior Minister Rehman Malik told her to leave the country for the time being due to the security threat. Ms Rehman has refused to leave Pakistan. It is a matter of great shame that instead of providing adequate security to Ms Rehman, the PPP is trying to abandon her. The PPP isolated Governor Taseer but he refused to cow down before the right-wing forces because he was a man of principles. In the end, he was martyred. At a time when the PPP has lost its sitting governor due to religious fanaticism and another leading PPP member’s life is in danger, the interior minister of our country ‘advises’ the latter to flee Pakistan. On the other hand, civil society and other concerned citizens of Karachi have taken up Ms Rehman’s cause, which is commendable.

Yesterday, at the call of Tanzeem-e-Islami (TI), thousands of people gathered in Karachi to protest against any changes in the blasphemy laws. It is all but obvious what kind of hate speeches were delivered at the rally. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman addressed the rally and said that Governor Taseer “was responsible for his own murder” because of his criticism of the blasphemy laws. The maulana’s justification of a horrid murder is revolting and should serve as a wake-up call for the PPP. It has been mollycoddling the Maulana for quite some time now but his statement vis-à-vis Mr Taseer should put a stop to all such attempts.

In the meanwhile, authorities are looking for a cleric who instigated Mumtaz Qadri to assassinate Governor Taseer. It is imperative that the cleric be found as soon as possible and given exemplary punishment. Other clerics should be rounded up as well who gave fatwas against the late governor and cases against them should be filed under the law. Incitement to murder and hate speech is strictly forbidden under our laws. There should be no exceptions to this rule. Apart from the clerics, all those media persons and politicians who played a role in Mr Taseer’s murder by inciting hatred against him should be held responsible for this gruesome tragedy. Many television anchors gave airtime to illiterate mullahs on their programmes who spewed venom against Mr Taseer and Ms Rehman. In the print media, too, a lot of space was given to provoke the sentiments of religious zealots on the blasphemy laws. It would be a disservice to Mr Taseer if such people are left unpunished.

Pakistan’s tragedy is that the religious right has organised itself so well while the liberal voices are disunited. It is time for the progressive voices to unite and launch a campaign to counter religious extremism. Too many innocent lives have been lost in this madness. It is time to stand up and be heard!

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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