By Hayat Alvi
25 January 2014
Here we go again.
“A court in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi has sentenced a 70-year-old British man to death after convicting him of blasphemy” (BBC News Jan. 24).
This knee-jerk emotional reaction is very barbaric. Laws are meant for the protection of society, not for persecution. That’s the ideal. These blasphemy laws and rulings resemble medieval Europe and how the Church dealt with accused “heretics” in those days. Blasphemy laws similarly project the mentality that society cannot handle or tolerate non-conformity. That is very dangerous, because such intolerance is the very definition of fascism. It is also the essence of barbarism.
Pakistan and other countries that employ blasphemy laws, especially on a whim, are pulling their societies backward, rather than progressively advancing into modernity. They are rejecting modern norms and values of freedoms, rights, and rule of law for the protection of society and for the prevention of persecution and fascism.
According to the BBC article:
“Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws carry a potential death sentence for anyone deemed to have insulted Islam.
Several recent cases have prompted international concern about the application of these laws. Mr. [Muhammad] Asghar, who is from Edinburgh, Scotland, was accused of writing letters to police officers claiming to be a prophet. He is thought to have lived in Pakistan for several years.
… Muhammad Asghar is a British Pakistani from Edinburgh who came back to Pakistan to look after the family's property here. He has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh and is also partially paralyzed from a stroke.
The blasphemy complaint against Asghar was filed by a tenant in his building, after he was given an eviction notice. Sources say there is pressure on the court from religious extremists who have been seen in mobs outside the courthouse.”
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are not simply controversial; they are backward, medieval, intolerant, and barbaric. If the religious zealots are so concerned about insults and offenses to the Prophet Muhammad, then why do they even name their children “Muhammad?” Shouldn’t that also count as blasphemy, if we apply their poor logic? After all, presumably no one can live up to the Prophet’s character and title as Allah’s messenger, right? So, why should naming children Muhammad be permitted then? Next, the utterance of the Prophet’s name could be blasphemous as well. Muslims do so in numerous daily supplications and obligatory prayers. But, why draw the line there? Why not stretch the intolerant concept of blasphemy to all references to the Prophet? Hopefully, one begins to see the foolishness of the religious zealots in their intolerance and fascist desires to control everyone, as well as to punish anyone they wish for any petty transgression they would like to define as sins. They wish to serve as lawmakers, jury, judge, and executioner. Break out the dungeons.
Here is the profanity embodied in their intolerance: while they emotively cannot tolerate perceived insults or offenses to Islam, the Prophet, and Allah, they do not consider murder an offense or sin. They relish the thought of wielding the death penalty as punishment for blasphemy. Imagine the potent allure of having such power over society and individuals. Ironically, they themselves are playing God, and isn’t that the epitome of blasphemy?
Blasphemy is a convenient excuse to settle scores and persecute minorities. But, with each case of blasphemy, the respect for the country chips away, and its membership in modern civilized society erodes. If countries that practice blasphemy laws want respect and want to be viewed as members of the modern, civilized global community, then they have to eliminate these nonsense laws. They are doing no favors to anyone by keeping them in the books and allowing courts to prosecute individuals for blasphemy. This word, “blasphemy,” should have no place in the modern vocabulary.
Fascist intolerance threatens the lives, safety, security, and peace of innocent people and populations. Fascist intolerance should never be tolerated. Blasphemy laws give intolerant fascists license to practice and spread their zealotry, and to bully others, all too frequently with deadly consequences.
Consider Pope Francis’s wise words, “To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”
Islam and Muslim societies desperately need to embrace this wisdom.
Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College.