By Dr Haider Shah
December 13, 2014
The demon of blasphemy has gone berserk. After targeting the poor, illiterate and deprived sections of our society it has turned its attention towards those who live off the fat of the land. How life suddenly turned topsy-turvy for the stylish morning anchor Shaista Wahidi when a mischief monger from a rival channel actively promoted a blasphemy allegation against her morning show we have already seen in the recent past. So potent is the weapon of the blasphemy charge that the biggest private channel in the country was stabbed and wounded by a handful of hardwired instigators. And now blasphemy has the most interesting victim. The pop singer-turned-cleric-cum-fashion designer Junaid Jamshed is now in the jaws of this demon.
In all honesty, while I feel a bit sorry for the hapless sermoniser on the one hand, I draw some comfort from the fact as well that now the potential destructive power of the blasphemy laws and related rhetoric can be seen in its full, horrific detail. This latest episode again reminds me of the story of two cadaver (corpse for anatomy) supply criminals, which I narrated in a column about two years ago. Burke and Hare, two poor opportunists from a 19th century Edinburgh slum area, accidently found a new moneymaking opportunity by supplying the corpse of an old tenant to Dr Knox of the University of Edinburgh to reclaim the debt the dead tenant owed them. Like vultures, they started spotting old and abandoned persons and would bring them to their lodging to let them die and, realising profit from the corpse supply to Dr Knox, instead of waiting for natural death, they started suffocating their drunk victims to death for a quicker delivery. After some local uproar over the missing persons, the police arrested the criminals when one day a student of the university was murdered by the two and his corpse was supplied to the medical school. As long as blasphemy had its jaws upon the poor like Aasia, Rimsha and Shama Bibi, little did we care about the issue. A little alarm was caused when, more recently, two Karachi University Religious Studies professors were killed in broad daylight over alleged blasphemy charges. However, for the first time, we see the sinister shadow falling upon someone who had iconised faith-coated piety for the rich and fashionable. Using his celebrity status he became a very sought after showbiz cleric, threatening the monopoly of the likes of Aamir Liaqat.
On the Rationalist Society forum we have had frequent discussions over many misogynist statements made by Junaid Jamshed. Unfortunately, often the first deadly symptom of born again faithfuls is the tendency to consider females inferior to men. This is a great disservice that clerics like Maulana Tariq Jamil are doing to society when they turn useful contributors of social services into self-centred male chauvinists. Jamshed’s music was a source of comfort to millions of music lovers who would listen to his songs to neutralise the toxic effect of our stressful lives. Ever since Junaid Jamshed became Tariq Jamil’s disciple, the country lost that singer. Instead was born a highly arrogant male chauvinist who equated piety with the propagation of irrational views about women’s role in society. On one programme he forced a morning show host to wear a Hijab and then went on declaring that he had banned his wife’s driving as that was against Islam. His recent outburst against women that has led to him becoming a fugitive is therefore just a manifestation of his newly prejudiced thinking, installed by the Tableeghi programmers in his brain. In that way, Junaid is himself a victim of surgery gone wrong.
In Pakistan, hypocrisy is institutionalised on various levels of society. Junaid Jamshed constantly issued venomous statements against the 100 million living females of Pakistan yet he remained a darling of the media and its viewers. Neither was he ever boycotted nor did his super expensive apparel business suffer. However, hardly had he uttered something that referred to a personality from the distant past, so strong was the reaction that he had to flee alive from his Dil Dil Pakistan. Day and night Junaid Jamshed taught us that secularism was a synonym for evil. Today he has found refuge in the streets of London, a secular, evil city. The supporters of Junaid Jamshed rightly argue that he should be forgiven after he has apologised for his comments. But if we compare the cases of Aasia and Jamshed, we find Aasia a much more sympathy-deserving case. In Jamshed’s case the evidence of blasphemy is well established and irrefutable. In Aasia’s case the evidence is based on hearsay as no documentary proof is on record. Secondly, Junaid Jamshed made the comments fully knowing the nature of his offence as he has made a living out of religious sermons. Aasia is an illiterate, poor, rural Christian woman who cannot be imagined to fully appreciate the nature of blasphemy and related law.
A Baltistan’s judge’s verdict against Veena Malik, Dr Shaista Wahidi and Mir Shakil ur Rehman had already shown that the blasphemy law was like a loaded pistol left unguarded in a house full of children. Now, after Junaid Jamshed’s case, no one should feel safe from the pernicious reach of the tentacles of blasphemy. Pakistani society and its sensible opinion makers should revisit this burning issue as sleeping over grave matters is hardly a strategy at all.
Dr Haider Shah teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org