Fundamentalist Islam today is probably the greatest and most dangerous thwart
to 'inevitably scientizing mankind'; Israel adds to it
meanwhile, by defying any 'melioration' whatsoever of West Bank colonization
-the US, sole Western nation knuckling to Jewish and Israeli pressure.
December 27, 2010 Los Angeles Times
Pakistan's blasphemy law seen as tool of oppression
In a country with countless ethnicities and religious minorities, the 1980s law
against insulting Islam is used to settle scores, critics say. The case of a
Christian woman sentenced to death has led to renewed calls for its repeal.
By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Nankana Sahib, Pakistan —
Muslim cleric Muhammad Salim isn't worried that a court or Pakistan's president
might spare a Christian woman from this village who has been sentenced to death
on blasphemy charges.
After all, if Asia Bibi, a mother of two, escapes the
hangman's noose, he's confident someone else will kill her.
"Any Muslim, if given the chance, would kill such a person,"
Salim said calmly, seated cross-legged on a straw mat at a mosque here. "You
would be rewarded in heaven for it."
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Salim isn't the only one calling for vigilante justice. A
cleric in Peshawar has offered 500,000 rupees, or $6,000, to anyone who kills
Asia Bibi, if her execution doesn't take place. Other hard-line clerics have
warned they would mobilize nationwide protests against the government if
President Asif Ali Zardari pardoned her.
Asia Bibi's case has exposed deep rifts in Pakistan over the
blasphemy law, seen by some as an appropriate measure to defend the tenets of
Islam, but viewed by others as a dangerous tool easily abused in a society that
is a volatile patchwork of ethnicities, religions and sects.
The nation's Shiite Muslim minority has been victimized by
extremist Sunni Muslim groups for years. Members of the smaller Ahmadi sect,
viewed by most Pakistanis as traitors to Islam because they revere another
prophet in addition to Muhammad, have been frequent victims of suicide
bombings, kidnappings and other attacks. Last year, in the central Punjab city
of Gojra, a mob of 1,000 Muslims set fire to more than 40 Christian homes,
killing seven people.
Asia Bibi's case gained notoriety because it involved capital
punishment. There have been other controversial blasphemy cases since. Accused
of burning pages from the Koran, Imran Latif was charged with blasphemy in
Lahore but then released on bail Nov. 3 after questions arose about the
veracity of the charges. Eight days later, two men shot him to death in an
attack police believe was linked to the blasphemy case.
This month in the southern city of Hyderabad, a Shiite Muslim
doctor was arrested on blasphemy charges after police received a complaint that
he had maligned the prophet Muhammad. His crime? He tossed out the business
card of a pharmaceutical company representative whose first name, Muhammad, was
printed on it. The doctor belongs to the smaller Shiite sect known as
"There's a fundamental lunacy to it," said Ali Dayan Hasan,
South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. "There is no good spin to put on
the blasphemy law. It's used frequently in these preposterous ways, for
The law makes it a crime to make any derogatory remarks or
insult in any way the prophet Muhammad, the Koran or the Islamic faith. Various
subsections of the law carry different penalties, but under the section Asia
Bibi was prosecuted, the only sentence is death.
The law dates to the 1980s and the rule of Gen. Zia ul-Haq,
who instituted a policy of Islamization to placate hard-line religious parties
in exchange for their political support. Since Zia's rule, 974 people have been
charged under the law, according to reports in the Pakistani news media.
No one has been put to death for a blasphemy conviction. But
at least 32 people awaiting trial or acquitted of blasphemy charges have been
Critics of the law say it can be exploited as a means to
settle scores against adversaries or persecute minorities. Human rights
advocates say the law is frequently used by Pakistanis embroiled in property
disputes or as a tool to bully Christians, Ahmadis or other minorities.
Usually, evidence in blasphemy cases is scant, apart from the accounts given by
In Asia Bibi's case, her accusers were three Muslim women who
worked alongside her picking fruit in a field in the tiny mud-hut hamlet of
Ittanwali, in eastern Pakistan. On June 14, 2009, as Asia Bibi and the three
women sat under a tree eating lunch, an argument broke out. Asia Bibi had drunk
water from the same glass the others had been using, which prompted them to
avoid that glass, said Mafia Sattar, one of the women.
Asia Bibi reacted angrily, making several disparaging remarks
about the prophet Muhammad and adding that the Koran "is not a book of God, but
a book written by you people," Sattar said during an interview at her home in
That evening, Sattar's sister told cleric Salim's wife what
Asia Bibi had said. Five days later, a band of villagers marched to the field,
grabbed Asia Bibi, and brought her to Salim. She admitted making blasphemous
remarks, Salim said, and later repeated her admission at the Nankana Sahib
But according to a police report, Asia Bibi insisted to
investigators that she was innocent. "My God knows that I never used those
words," she told police investigator Syed Amin Bukhari. Arrested and
imprisoned, Asia Bibi was convicted of blasphemy Nov. 8 and sentenced to
Asia Bibi's husband has received death threats and has had to
go into hiding with the couple's two teenage daughters.
"This has been so terrible for us," said Asia Bibi's
31-year-old sister, Najma Younis, shooing away a cloud of flies from her
toddler daughter. "I am very worried that they are going to go ahead and hang
her. Asia's got kids, and I'm very worried about what will happen to them."
No effort to get the blasphemy law repealed has ever gained
momentum. Even within Zardari's ruling Pakistan People's Party, there are stark
disagreements over the law's place in society. Although several party leaders
have been strongly critical of the law, another top official, Law Minister
Babar Awan, has staunchly defended it.
"While I am law minister, no one should think of finishing
this law," Awan told Pakistani news media in November.
After Asia Bibi's conviction, Zardari had signaled he might
exercise his constitutional authority to grant her a pardon. But before he
could do so, the Lahore High Court stepped in and barred him from doing so
while it heard her appeal, a ruling that human rights activists argue was
Whether Pakistan tackles the larger issue of repealing the
blasphemy law remains to be seen. Hasan, with Human Rights Watch, says keeping
the law on the books in effect sanctions the marginalization of minorities:
"Intolerance has been mainstreamed into law."