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The Insanity behind Anti-Blasphemy Laws Takes another Life In Pakistan: Islamist Extremists Have Complete Impunity


 By Mujahid Hussain, New Age Islam

9 May 2014

The cold blooded murder of Rashid Rehman in Multan is a shocking example of violence perpetrated in the name of religion. It shows the powerful presence of religious extremists in the country who enjoy complete impunity. What led to the brutal killing of Rashid Rahman was merely his being an advocate of a man who is accused of blasphemy. Since people in Pakistan generally perceive of an advocate as a supporter of the accused, the religious extremists, who commit mindless acts of violence, killed the advocate who did nothing wrong and was just providing legal assistance to the accused who is still a suspect, not a criminal.

Let us not forget that this is not an isolated event in Pakistan. A former judge, Arif Iqbal Bhatti was also brutally killed because he did not sentence the accused to death in a fake case of blasphemy. The religious extremists in Pakistan went to the extent of burning alive an insane person accused of blasphemy, while the Islamic Sharia does not allow it, particularly when the accused has lost his senses.

I vividly remember one such obnoxious incident that took place in Gujranwala in 1996. Dr. Farooq Ahmad, a Hafiz-e-Quran (Memoriser of the holy Quran), was taken from the police custody and mercilessly beaten to death and then his dead body was burnt by religious vigilantes in Gujranwala on the false accusation that he had desecrated the holy Quran. The deceased was an Ata’ee (God-gifted) doctor, so when he was accused of desecrating the holy Quran, a madrasa student made an announcement from the loudspeaker of the mosque saying: “The vicious Ata’ee doctor has committed the desecration of the holy Quran”. But the people mistook in hearing and took the word Ata’ee (God-gifted) as Isa’ee (Christian) and got provoked so much that they beat the Hafiz-e-Quran (Memoriser of the holy Quran) to death and burnt his dead body.

What distresses us more is that no such case has yet ended up in bringing the culprits to justice, because both the police and the courts were under the pressure of religious extremists. Most probably, the assassins of Rashid Rahman, the lawyer recently killed in Multan, will not be caught, and even if they are found in any way, no court will be able to bring them to justice. Thus, the case will end up as a very sad story of an innocent man having been targeted and brutally killed by the extremists. If we say that Pakistani society is beginning to surrender to the religious extremists and sectarian goons, it will not be wrong because the state has totally washed its hands of the responsibility in this regard. Without delving deeper into the question whether criticising blasphemy laws itself falls under the category of “blasphemy” or not, I would like to affirm the view that the Pakistani state has surrendered to the religious fanatics and given them complete impunity for whatever brutality they want to perpetrate in the name of safeguarding Islam and the honour of the prophet or Quran. Therefore, the possibility for a halt to acts of violence in the country is distant.

 Rashid Rahman’s assassination has once again proved that Pakistani government is not be able to provide legal assistance, safety and security to any person accused of blasphemy, even if the accusation proves to be false. This is a very dangerous development in the country. Now every extremist group can settle his personal scores by accusing its opponents of blasphemy and can kill them wherever and whenever they want. No one is going to ask them why they did so. Once a person is accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, he/she is half-dead, because nobody is allowed to raise his concern in favour of the accused. No one can even ask for a fair probe into the case to confirm whether the suspect has actually perpetrated the crime or it was just a false allegation against him/her. Obviously, it is not difficult to see how vulnerable has become the life of the accused who was the client of the recently killed lawyer, Rashid Rahman. Most likely, from now in Pakistan judges will not be ready to take up such cases because of fear of reprisals from extremist religious groups.

 The silence over this shameful incident of brutal killing can be seen in all circles. None of us wants to put his life at stake. Even the prime minister and the president of the nation will find it tough to condemn this virulent act, as they know it will create  a serious danger for them too. Islamic scholars of great repute will not be available to say a few words condemning and discouraging this act, while the intellectuals will be busy with writing rhetoric instead of doing an article on this incident. The reason is that both state and society in Pakistan are living in constant fear of the religious extremists. None of us knows when the religious zealot living in his neighbourhood will come out and stab him to death.  

However, the government’s failure to deal with this turbulent situation is now quite understandable. When the political parties seek support from the religious extremists and sectarian goons to win elections, both of them make an agreement that if the supported party comes into power, it will have to provide “facilities” to them. If you can’t believe me, you should take a look at the outcome of the recent tacit agreement between the provincial government of Punjab and the local extremists. As a result, the Punjab government has washed its hands off the religious fundamentalists in the region.

Similarly, the extremists and sectarian elements are free from all sorts of fear and are actively engaged in strengthening their power and number with the massive support of the government. Recently, the government of Punjab has praised, off the record, at least three radical religious organisations, which are not only financially supported by the government but also have been given full freedom to raise their funds. So many political stalwarts of the state have been paying huge money to the extremist organisations to ensure their survival and safety of their relatives. How can we hope from such people to come to the rescue of the victims like Rashid Rahman?

The author of nine books including the recent "Punjabi Taliban", Mujahid Hussain writes a regular weekly column for New Age Islam. He is also Chief of New Age Islam Brussels Bureau. He has been contributing to leading papers as an investigative journalist for about two decades. His writings cover a vast panorama of topics concerning political and societal existence of Pakistan, a nation passing through difficult straits since a short time after its birth. With terrorism and security issues at local, regional, and global levels as his special area of study in recent years, Mujahid Hussain has earned a sizable readership in serious circles in Pakistan and abroad. Follower of an independent, non-partisan, and objective way of thinking, the author offers honest analysis of the challenges threatening communities, nations, and humanity at large.

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