Universal Blasphemy Law – Do we really need it?
By Ijaz Mathew Zulfquar
Recently I read an article by a friend who suggested that there should a Universal Blasphemy Law to stop disrespect of religions and prophets. Though I am deeply convinced of his sincerity behind the suggestion still I’m obliged to disagree for the reason that such a law can do nothing better than strengthening the point of view of the extremists. With this they will have another excuse for more killings in the name of religion and we shall see extension in persecution of Christian and other communities in Pakistan and elsewhere.
In Pakistan the punishment for blasphemy is death. Since its introduction by military dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, the incidents of accusing people have grown many-fold and the already weak minority communities like Christians have become more vulnerable to terror and victimization by the Muslim extremists. Pakistan has plus 90 % Muslim population and there had never been notable incidents of profaning the Quran or showing gross irreverence to the Prophet of Islam therefore never the elected parliaments felt a need for any kind of a Blasphemy law. General Zia’s motive behind introducing it was not religious but a political one because he had come into power by overthrowing an elected government and he was desperate to get the support of the people. So his best godsend could be to counter the popular image of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto by portraying himself as “Murd-e-Momin” (a true follower of Islam) and “Murd-e-Haq” (The righteous man). Zia took many steps. He banned consumption of alcohol (I don’t know why didn’t he ban its production) and eating publically during Ramadan. He also introduced many Islamic provisions into the constitution. Worst of them is PPC 295-A, 295-B and 295-C, commonly known as the Blasphemy law.
Oddity is, when the Blasphemy law exists in Pakistan with death sentence as its punishment why is it only being used for the persecution of minority and harassment of the weak. If this law is good than it should have stopped people from desecrating the Quran or prophet Muhammad because this is what the laws are meant for when they are made. But when we see an increase in the registration of cases based on blasphemy charges we think, “Has this law urged people to disrespect Islam”? Precisely not. Reality is that this law has given a gun in the hand of a senseless ape.
When a person is accused of blasphemy the police who arrests the charged man or woman is Muslim. So are the investigators, the prosecutors, the courts; everyone is a Muslim, then why the ordinary Muslims don’t trust them and their own county’s justice system? When they hear about such an incident, why do they blindly follow the Mullah and the mosque and why do they go for street justice like a batman movie? Does the rule of law and value of human life means nothing to them? Have we forgotten that this law has resulted in letting the prayer places and property torched and human life lost in the most barbarous manner ever known in human history? Don’t we know that in Pakistan the non- state actors are beyond government control? We should be aware that the political leadership in Pakistan is incapable of solving peoples’ daily problems like inflation, healthcare, education, jobs, etc. So it can do nothing more than taking funny steps like passing a parliamentary resolution against Charlie Hebdo caricatures. The opposition is also without an agenda of reforms. It is also busy fooling people by flaming people’s religious sentiments, by attacking the French Embassy and asking France to apologize or break diplomatic ties.
Looking at the Charlie Hebdo cartoon I pondered hard why they are everyone’s travesty. Why the magazine draw the church and the Papacy, Islam and its prophet, leaders and politicians, governments and their officials in a funny rather disrespectful manner. May be it thinks that when people and institutes get too powerful they stop caring for people or become too conventional. May be it wanted to wake them up from their siesta by some crazy ideas and something banging for the deaf ears to hear. But with all respect to freedom of expression I would remind all of us that the more powerful we are the more responsible we should be. We should never forget our obligation to global peace. We can’t live together peacefully if we don’t respect each other’s belief and values. We are certainly not better than those why came before us therefore we owe them a lot of respect.
On the other hand we should strongly condemn the attack and massacre at Charlie Hebdo because taking a human life is a greater evil than blasphemy. Why did the Al Qaida, ISIS and Taliban fail to react when saw reports of Quranic pages found in the gutters of Saudi Arabia? Why are they sparing the Saudi government for destroying the Holy sites of Mecca and Medina? How would they convince the world that a small mosque anywhere in the world holds more respect than Masjid-e-Nabvi or places linked to their prophet and his family members? If Saudis can destroy these revered places for development of Mecca and Medina, what is blasphemy then?
When the security agencies raid the places of Jihadis they find the modern gadgets, costly perfumes and pornographic material; When the Taliban attack the jails in Pakistan and along with Jihadis they take the ladies on duty as “maal-e-ghaneemat” or ransom; when the preachers encourage Muslim women to support Jihad by being the sex partners of Jihadis in Iraq and Syria, then it is hard for us to believe that they have shunned the way of the sinful world and living a pure life. Then we are bound to believe that their war is not for the glory of a religion but a struggle to get into power by violent and clever tactics. If they are really pure and they live for a cause then they should wait for their prize of 70 virgins whose very mouthwatering description they have been hearing from the Mullah. In a single ticket they have now right to enjoy two amusements.
When the Blasphemy Law was presented in the Parliament of Pakistan, a renowned lawyer and Christian Lawyer Emmanuel Zafar had also demanded that there should be a law for protecting the respect of other Prophets. But I would disagree with this suggestion. Asking for a Universal Blasphemy Law would be seeking evil to curb evil. The human society has made a long painful struggle in correcting its mistakes made in the name of religion. We should not repeat them. Should we ask today a protection for Jesus when he did not allow Peter to do so at the time of His arrest? And when He asked pardon on the Cross for all those who insulted, lashed and nailed Him to cross saying, “Forgive them Father for they are unaware of what they are doing”, then who am I to jail or kill someone for Him. We cannot create fear in the hearts and force people to respect our faith. We can convince them by our friendship and good behavior to respect us and our belief. I read in my Bible that God is almighty. He is the creator and protector of the universe. Such a powerful being does not need our protection. It is the same case with religion. My religion is a code of life that wishes peace and happiness to me and to others as well. It does not want my destruction or other humans’. My Bible teaches me to love my God with all my heart, my soul and my strength. Jesus commands me to love my neighbor as equally as myself and tell me that every human is my neighbor. So every human in this world have the right to be respected and loved by me, by us. If we really believe in our respective religions than we ought not to say that I can and we should protect our faith by killing others or by making strict laws. The real blasphemers may not be Charlie Hebdo but we who think our weak faith needs protection. In my opinion Blasphemers are those who kill humans for religion, who announce head money for Terry Jones, who issue a Fatwa against Salman Rushdi.