By Faraz Talat
21 May, 2014
Imagine taking an allegedly blasphemous whisper, noticed by very few, and shouting it from the rooftop in the name of alerting the townsfolk of the misdeed.
Would you not consider the screamer to have caused more disrespect than the whisperer himself, by ensuring that the blasphemy spreads far wider than the whisperer had intended?
There are, after all, reasons why the accuser is not made to repeat the actual derogatory remarks in court, let alone re-broadcast them for the entire world to hear.
An accuser may however disregard this rule if the accusation is borne not of personal outrage for the alleged blasphemy, but a desire to rile up the crowds, take revenge, settle a personal score, while simultaneously being cheered on as a hero.
This is where the media war stands today.
We have seen TV anchor Mubashar Lucman condemn Geo for airing what he claims is a blasphemous video. The video features Veena Malik seated together with her husband Asad in what appears to be a wedding.
The occasion depicts wedding rituals of the recently married couple with background score as a Quawwali that ostensibly, and perhaps offensively, compares this couple with a revered religious one.
What Luqman fails to take note of is the fact that ‘Ali Keh Saath’, a Quawwali popularised by Amjab Sabri, is a common recitation at Shia weddings particularly in the rural areas.
This is due to the Quawwali’s general matrimonial theme, and not because it’s intended to compare the bride and groom to personalities of religious significance. Geo neither composed the Quawwali, nor invented the tradition of using it in weddings.
This point should be easy for warring media houses to understand, given that old videos have surfaced on the internet of multiple channels airing similar instances with the same Quawwali.
That said, it is understandable that those who are not accustomed to the tradition may be offended, and it was prudent of Geo to apologise given the prevailing environment.
Unfortunately, this accusation sets a dangerous new precedent.
Also read: IHC issues notices to Geo, ARY, Amjad Sabri in blasphemy case
Will our ever-expanding definition of blasphemy now includes the long-held cultural practices of minority Islamic sects and other religious groups, or at least their sub-cultures?
Is it the majority sect that will have the authority to set 'objective' rules as to what constitutes sacrilege or not?
My fear is that eventually some channel will broadcast a segment of the annual Christmas pageant – a usual nativity scene with a member of the Christian community dressed as Mother Mary – and a competing media group will launch a campaign against the channel (as well as the participants of the play) for offending Muslims’ religious sensibilities.
The fallout from this would be deadly and far wider than that of a simple media war - Amjad Sabri could probably testify to this.
It is now becoming eerily clear that there is nothing our television channels will not do to hurt each other in the name of higher ratings or personal vendetta; even if it means converting viewers by exploiting their religious sensibilities and our nation’s general state of volatility on the subject.