Blasphemy bulls-eye

In November 2014, Veena Malik along with her husband (and Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman) were sentenced to 26 years in prison by a Gilgit-Baltistan anti-terror court over blasphemy for reenacting their wedding, while a ‘contemptuous qawwali’ played in the background. The sentence wasn’t carried through because GB’s verdicts don’t have to be implemented elsewhere in Pakistan.

The ‘contemptuous qawwali’ entitled ‘Ali ke saath hai Zehra ki shaadi’, however, is actually a popular manqabat often played at, but not limited to, Shia weddings. And in the aftermath of the blasphemy accusations, where both Geo and ARY traced the nadir of journalism, the IHC issued a notice to – among others – Ghulam Amjad Sabri over the manqabat. It became evident that the blasphemy row that evolved into murderous mudslinging over TV ratings was also going to be used to target Sufi and Shia Islam, reiterating their manifestations of reverence as ‘blasphemy’.

On Wednesday Amjad Sabri, who had increasingly received death threats since that episode, was gunned down in Karachi with TTP’s Hakeemullah faction claiming responsibility. Later on Wednesday night news came in that noha khwan Farhan Ali Waris also survived a gun attack in Karachi.

Killing Amjad Sabri, the man who made a name for himself singing praises for the greatness and divinity of Prophet Muhammad, over blasphemy isn’t the extent of this inconceivable paradox. It is the fact that it is those very eulogies that are dubbed contemptuous, which delineates the wherewithal of blasphemy and correlated accusations. For, if a vociferous devotee of the Prophet can be accused of blasphemy, for expressing that very devotion, it’s evident that blasphemy – and all associated jurisprudence – is a homicidal sham, designed to maintain violent status quo and put a target on any deviant’s head.

The blasphemy bull-eye that was put on Amjad Sabri is the same one that was painted on Salmaan Taseer, Sabeen Mahmud, Khurram Zaki, the APS children, and every Ahmadi and Shia mosque attacked for their beliefs. The bulls-eye is most affective when it’s Muslims accusing other Muslims of not being Muslim enough. And hence, accusations of blasphemy, apostasy, heresy or any variation thereof, are quite evidently attempted murders.

Even so, the only reason why blasphemy accusation equals murder in our neck of the woods is because we’re one of the 13 states in the world – all Muslim majority – where blasphemy is punishable by death. And so, the only reason why people are murdered here over blasphemy allegations, in such a high number, is because the state’s Penal Code agrees that people should be killed for blasphemy.

On Tuesday, a day before Sabri’s murder, renowned media figure Orya Maqbool Jan dedicated an entire TV show to atheism, with screenshots of articles that he personally deemed ‘anti-Islam’. Not only did he equate secularism with insulting Islam in a country where people are being killed over allegations of doing precisely that, he also equated it with treason citing the sovereignty that has been granted to the Islamic deity. Before Orya Maqbool Jan it was Kokab Noorani who said on live television that anyone even raising the Ahmadiyya question should be shot on the spot.

In Pakistan, where allegations of being ‘anti-Islam’ are conjured at the drop of a hat, and these prophetic accusations are brought to fruition at an alarming rate, there’s a glaring lack of state action against deafening incitements to murder.

What exactly is the difference between these media figures issuing verdicts over what is and isn’t Islamic and the jihadists carrying out their self-fulfilling prophecies? More crucially, what is the ideological distinction between these jihadists and a takfiri state that not only decides who can be a Muslim in this country, but also gives legislative supremacy to Muslims?

As the sixth World Congress Against the Death Penalty is underway in Oslo, Pakistan still isn’t any closer to legislation against people not being killed over ‘offended sentiments’. Not only is blasphemy a victim-less crime, it is in fact the proclaimed offender who becomes the eventual victim carrying the irremovable burden of proof for innocence, which is completely out-shaded by the blasphemy bulls-eye painted on their back.

The legislative, and counter-terror, buck stops with the government to not only overhaul any law that contradicts universal human rights and hunt down jihadists, but to also make a statement of intent in the war against terror. When terror-mongers are given space in the media, educational institutes and the Parliament itself, the rehashed rhetoric of ‘fighting till the last terrorist’ is insulting to the over 70,000 terror victims in Pakistan. Every single one of these victims was killed because someone somewhere issued apostasy verdicts for individuals, communities, means of governance or the state itself, whether it was courtesy of jihadists leaders or their sympathisers.

This ‘fight against terrorism’ cannot be won even through an infinite number of military operations. It can only be won through a state-implemented ideological overhaul, starting with the Constitution and Penal Code and then sweeping through hate-mongering religious factories, which aren’t limited to mosques and madrassas.

A state can’t exercise excommunication and uphold punishments for blasphemy, while simultaneously claiming to fight against terror groups founded upon these very principles. If the state really wants to pay a tribute to one of its finest artists, it must take away the biggest weapon that his killers had: blasphemy accusation.

But as things stand Rs 300 million are being allocated to the ‘Godfather’ of the Taliban’s Darul Uloom Haqqania, which proudly flaunts jihadist alumni. This is at a time when radical Islamists are targeting the Sufi and pluralistic roots of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The government seems intent on continuing to sponsor the paint for the blasphemy bulls-eye.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

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