By Sikander Amani
The naked emperors
What matters for the religious right is obviously not the rightfulness or justice of its cause, be it substantial or procedural, it is naked power. And there are few things like the blasphemy law to give the appearance of power. The aftermath of Salmaan Taseer’s shooting is so very depressing. In a sense, it mirrors the aftermath of the Arizona shooting in the US, where a young man killed six people and injured 14 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. In both cases, we see the more progressive elements of the country embark on massive soul-searching. In the US, a vast debate on the role of the Tea Party’s extreme rhetoric in inciting violence has been launched. In Pakistan, many have written and spoken in defence both of Taseer and the values he stood for; many have revisited recent history to understand the causes of such violence, the betrayal of Jinnah’s dream, the ever damaging legacy of Ziaul Haq, the ambiguities of the subsequent governments towards extremists, and the cowardice of the current government in tackling them. Many are pondering about what went wrong, and how to change the course of a country seemingly running at full speed towards complete failure.
Conservatives have been far more discreet. Not in the least. In the US, Sarah Palin once again distinguished herself by her uncouth and disgraceful speech where, surprise, surprise, she managed to portray herself as the victim. In Pakistan, it is far worse (as everything always is: floods are worse, earthquakes are worse, terrorist attacks are worse...Pakistan excels at doing everything in excess). Not only does the religious right not feel any remorse for its role in creating a space of violence against minorities and dissenters, it actually seems to enjoy calling for murder and issuing fatwas (edicts) left, right and centre. Everyone agrees Salmaan Taseer was not a blasphemer; but he defended a person accused of blasphemy, so by association he deserves to die. And beware! Anyone who defends the one who defended the blasphemer is also at risk now; and by extension, anyone who defends the one who defends the one who defends. The beauty of this regression to infinity is that you ensure the continued supply of traitors to Islam needed for the religious right to keep its fake momentum going. (Oh and by the way: for all those self-appointed defenders of Islam who revel in sending me hate-filled and venomous e-mails, please spare your religion the indignity, and me, the annoyance of your bloodthirsty threats.) The conflation of the blasphemer, the defender of the blasphemer, the defender of the defender suits the religious right well, as it knows that it holds, in blasphemy, its only trump card. This is also why it keeps organising demonstration after demonstration on it, even though this most cowardly government has by now repeatedly stated that no, it would not touch a hair of the blasphemy law, despite its evident injustice. The most recent demonstration, purportedly against the Pope’s statement, just shows the vacuity of their cause, and the instrumentalisation of blasphemy itself (notwithstanding the fact that if one were to demonstrate every time the Pope comes up with some controversial statement, we would be perpetually on the streets). So we can trust them to find an endless source of alleged threats to the Pakistani blasphemy law. The religious right also conveniently omits to explain how one man, Mumtaz Qadri, is allowed (under any type of law — human or divine) to single-handedly decide who deserves to die or not. If any Muslim in entitled to judge any other Muslim’s right to live, coexistence might become a rather, ahem, dicey affair.
But why dwell on these trivial requirements of justice: why dwell on the natural and Islamic imperative of justice; why dwell on the inherent impossibility for one man to unilaterally decide another should die. What matters for the religious right is obviously not the rightfulness or justice of its cause, be it substantial or procedural, it is naked power. And there are few things like the blasphemy law to give the appearance of power. Nothing like it to mobilise people on the streets; it is easy, it is cheap, and it comes at the expense of dispensable minorities. The blasphemy law is a corrupt politician’s dream: an easy tool with which to threaten, mobilise, energise his base constituency, without lifting a finger to fulfil more substantial needs of the population, such as criminal or social justice, or economic inequality, which are incidentally no less important in Islam. Why choose the hard way when the cheap one works so well, snigger our frantic mullahs.
In a famous tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of two weavers who promise an Emperor the finest, most elegant and sophisticated suit of clothes. It is to be made in the finest fabric, so delicate and unique that it is invisible to anyone unfit for his position, “hopelessly stupid”, or incompetent. The Emperor does not see the clothes, but out of fear of appearing stupid he pretends he does, as do his ministers. When the weavers-swindlers claim to have finished the suit, they dress the Emperor, who then proudly marches off, stark naked, in a public procession before his subjects.
Though they are thankfully no emperors, the mullahs who spend their time dishing out fatwas and threats in every direction are very much like the naked Emperor: they have nothing. No political legitimacy, no concern for justice, nothing but a flimsy, self-proclaimed theological authority, no electorate, and please, let us not forget that they have lost dismally at every single democratic election held in Pakistan — but the invisible clothes of threats and imprecations against blasphemers (and assimilated) is efficient in keeping everyone, at least in the government, terrified. As the government gapes in awe, like the stricken ministers of the Emperor whose vanity prevents them from admitting that he is naked, the religious right marches off vainly through the streets of Lahore or Karachi. But let not their threats of violence fool anyone: they are actually naked.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at email@example.com
Source Daily Times, Pakistan