The ongoing national census, we are told, is designed to get the relevant statistics of the population and, in turn, help the state figure out where we stand as a nation and make policies accordingly. If such indeed is the purpose of the exercise, it has surprisingly failed to include the most critical demographic: blasphemers.
Those who are sceptical about the significance of this particular section of the population, even after thousands spent their precious time and energy to torch a fellow university student in Mardan to death, only need to look at what the government and judiciary have occupied themselves with since the turn of the year.
Ask the Interior Ministry, that has put “the entire government machinery in motion” to identify this demographic for the past two months, which includes taking on the Facebook administration for the release of personal information so that the culprits could be sentenced to death.
The IHC has further clarified that these individuals aren’t only criminals, but “terrorists worse than jihadists”, and forwarded the social media blasphemy case to an anti-terrorism court.
It’s a travesty of justice then that those who post videos, cartoons and words on social media, only get the same punishment as terrorists who use bombs and guns to kill humans.
Of course, like other demographics, accurate calculation of blasphemers in Pakistan is no easy task. It is especially made difficult by the fact that we still don’t have any idea what to call ‘the others’ in this survey.
‘Non-blasphemers’ is too vague, doesn’t help us zoom in on the demographic, and affixes one’s identity in relation to another’s – similar to ‘non-Muslim’.
Calling them Muslims would’ve been convenient, had there been consensus on who a Muslim is, and had many of those killed over blasphemy – like Mashal Khan – not been Muslims.
Also, remember that our textbook founding fathers – Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Dr Muhammad Iqbal and Syed Ahmad Khan – had all been accused of blasphemy at some point in the lead up to the creation of Pakistan. Some would say it’s a shame then that blasphemers have been reduced to a dwindling minority.
The identification is also made complicated by the fact that blasphemers aren’t a monolith. Those of us who refuse to acknowledge Jesus Christ as God’s son blaspheme against Christianity, those who deny the divinity of Hindu deities commit sacrilege against Hinduism, so on and so forth.
There also are targeted insults to other religions common in pop culture, national television and often state approved school curricula.
Of course, no one needs any reminding on the many ways one can blaspheme against Islam, without intending or even knowing how one did it – because that reminder would be sacrilegious as well.
All this technically means that, to paraphrase, most of us blaspheme against every religion, barring one. Others go one step further.
Even so, the three reactions to the Mardan lynching have, perhaps, come up with the possible identities to divide our nation into on the blasphemy front.
First, those who support the mob; second who assert that nobody should be killed regardless of whether they blasphemed or not; third who say murder is only justified if blasphemy is proven and condemned the mob for “taking law in their hands”.
With reference to the third: which law are we talking about here?
The one that says that you could get away with a fine for destroying a temple or church, but words against Islam are punishable by death?
Or the one that’s dedicated entirely towards judicially outraging the religious sentiments, and denying fundamental rights, of an entire sect of Islam, and needed a Constitutional Amendment to be rammed into the Penal Code?
That law has been crying out to be ‘taken into hands’ since it was passed three decades ago. And understanding why that’s the case, is crucial in all of us finalising our identities on the blasphemy spectrum.
Once the legal status of a religious ideology is elevated over others, its most radical proponents take command over the implementation of the law. Not only are those not adhering to the religion under the cosh, any nonconforming member of the same religious community is an excommunicate thrown to the wolves as well. That’s how beef and blasphemy militia muster mobs for massacres in India and Pakistan.
Secondly, when you add capital punishment to outraged feelings – which Pakistan, of course, has along with 12 other Muslim states, with India threatening to follow suit – the trial becomes superfluous. For, if a large enough number of religionists claim that their sentiments have been offended, how does a lawyer or judge prove the contrary to the abstract, intangible evidence of human feelings?
Thirdly, when not a single person has been judicially executed over blasphemy, among the hundreds accused in Pakistan, the stage is further set for the mob. This is why mobs don’t attack blasphemers in Saudi Arabia or Iran. There, mob rule is the penal code, with decapitated heads representing justice and setting the necessary precedents.
This is how Pakistan’s blasphemy law intrinsically legalises mob violence, by allowing those who want to settle personal scores, or pushing others without the superhuman ability of controlling their feelings, to ‘take law into their own hands’, since the state isn’t following through with the capital punishment for offended sentiments of a religious group that its own penal code sanctions.
Now bringing this to our search for identities; anyone who supports murder for criticising any particular idea, scripture or individual – like the Constitution of Pakistan – is in effect an integral part of the mob. Conversely, anyone who says that no idea or belief – or lack of one – deserves death, and asks for the blasphemy law to be repealed, is in effect blaspheming as well by ‘outraging’ this mob.
And so, for all intents and purposes, the blasphemy spectrum is a straight-shooting binary. The Pakistani society can be divided into two segments: the blasphemers and the mob.
The survey question then simply is: to blaspheme or to mob?
If you were given the choice, would you commit blasphemy or would you prefer to be a part of the mob? Because in Pakistan, in the year 2017, there’s no third choice.
Either we blaspheme and repeal the law that has no place in the 21st century, or we continue lynching the ideological minorities as active or passive members of the mob and incinerate any semblance, and remnants, of a tolerant Pakistan.
Those too scared to embrace their identity will be torched by the time they make up their mind.