TAG | Pakistan
From the Economist:
In July a mentally disturbed Muslim man, arrested for blasphemy in the Punjab city of Bahawalpur, was dragged out of the police station by a crowd of 2,000 and set on fire. In 2009 accusations of blasphemy led a mob to attack Christians in Gojra in Punjab province. At least eight were burned to death.
Writing in the Spectator, Shiraz Maher suggests (correctly, surely) that most people are unlikely to have heard about Pakistan’s contribution to the discovery of the Higgs Boson, and explains why that is just fine with Pakistan:
Dr Abdus Salam, a theoretical physicist, carried out pioneering work in the 1960s to suggest the existence of a hypothetical particle after creating a grand unification theory for weak forces and electromagnetic fields. He won the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his efforts, the only Pakistani to have ever received the honour. Yet, his name is largely airbrushed from textbooks in Pakistan and is rarely mentioned in public debate. The problem is that he belongs to the Ahmadi sect, a branch of Islam which is officially regarded as heretical by the Pakistani state and which is constitutionally discriminated against. Ahmadis cannot call themselves Muslim or build mosques, and are frequently the victims of violent attack.
After Salam died and was buried in the Punjab his headstone recorded his legacy as: ‘the first Muslim Nobel Laureate’. The word ‘Muslim’ has since been forcibly scrubbed out.
A pioneering scientist celebrated by theoretical physicists, Salam is a source of shame and embarrassment to Pakistan. That clash, between open inquiry and endeavour on the one hand, and the strictures of religious fundamentalism on the other, is a metaphor perfectly capturing the struggle which now engulfs Pakistan.
Even if you are going to watch nothing else over the Internet today, make sure you check out a clip of actress Veena Malik taking on some snake of a mullah on Pakistani television. You can find it here on the (London) Spectator’s website.
Here’s what the Spectator’s Nick Cohen has to say:
If we are going to avoid a clash of civilisations, we are going to need many more like the Pakistani actress Veena Malik. Watch her take on a mullah, who is trying to accuse her of immoral behaviour. This is no small accusation in Pakistan where Islamist death squads and their collaborators in the state intelligence service, operate at will. The talk show setting of the attempt at trial by media is commonplace too. The murder of Salman Taseer followed days of hacks whipping up “Muslim rage” against him.
Instead of being frightened, Malik turns on her accuser and the journalist, who helped set her up, and lets them have it.
Brave, beautiful and utterly magnificent.
And, I’d add, very moving.
My only dissent would be over Mr. Cohen’s implication that it is still possibile to ‘avoid’ a clash of civilizations. It’s too late for that. The main questions now concern the form that this contest is taking, and, of course, how it will unfold. So long as there continue to be people in traditionally Muslim countries with the courage to speak out against bullying clerics and the rising tide of retrograde and brutal religious intolerance there are, I think, still some grounds for some hope.
Just watch the video.
Cross-posted over at the Corner.
Writing in the Guardian Nick Cohen puts the terrible killings in Pakistan into wider context:
One Pakistani journalist I spoke to described his fellow liberals as members of a persecuted minority, who now knew that if they spoke out, they would be shot down. Salmaan Taseer’s daughter, Shehrbano, wrote a heartbreaking piece for the Guardian in which she despaired of a “spineless” Pakistani elite that was too frightened to praise her father or condemn his murderers…
…Fear plays its part in keeping western opinion quiet as well. It is hard to credit, but liberal society responded pretty well to the threat to Rushdie in 1989. Penguin refused to withdraw the Satanic Verses. Booksellers ignored threats and bombs and carried on selling it. But once the global wave of terror had passed, no one wanted to put themselves through what Rushdie and Penguin had been through, and a silence descended. Even the supposedly militant “new atheists,” whom genteel commentators damn for their vulgarity, steer clear of religions that might kill them. Close readers of Richard Dawkins will notice that almost all his examples of clerical folly are drawn from the Catholic and American evangelical churches, whose congregations are unlikely to firebomb his publishers…
…The world may pay a price for the monumental blunder of treating religious ideologies – which are beliefs that men and women ought to be free to accept or reject – as if they were ethnicities, which no man or woman can change. Not the smallest reason why the Arab revolution is such an optimistic event is that al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood have been left as gawping bystanders. Their isolation cannot last. Eventually, if Arab states move towards democracy, there will be a confrontation with political Islam. Arab liberals, like Pakistani liberals, will search the net for guidance. They will discover that far from offering strategies that might help, timorous western liberals have convinced themselves that it is “racist” to criticise raging fanatics who no longer even bother to pretend that they are anything other than liberalism’s mortal enemies.
Via the Guardian, another story that only should only increase fears for the future of Pakistan:
All Sherry Rehman wants is to go out – for a coffee, a stroll, lunch, anything. But that’s not possible. Death threats flood her email inbox and mobile phone; armed police are squatted at the gate of her Karachi mansion; government ministers advise her to flee.
“I get two types of advice about leaving,” says the steely politician. “One from concerned friends, the other from those who want me out so I’ll stop making trouble. But I’m going nowhere.” She pauses, then adds quietly: “At least for now.”
It’s been almost three weeks since Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down outside an Islamabad cafe. As the country plunged into crisis, Rehman became a prisoner in her own home. Having championed the same issue that caused Taseer’s death – reform of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws – she is, by popular consensus, next on the extremists’ list.
Giant rallies against blasphemy reform have swelled the streets of Karachi, where clerics use her name. There are allegations that a cleric in a local mosque, barely five minutes’ drive away, has branded her an “infidel” deserving of death. In the Punjabi city of Multan last week opponents tried to file blasphemy charges against her – raising the absurd possibility of Rehman, a national politician, facing a possible death sentence.
Absurd? Not in Pakistan, a country where madness is clearly in the ascendant.
“Nowadays, he’s perfectly heroic,” says Imran Shiekh, the owner of a small jewelry store tucked away in the market’s depths. “Qadri did the right thing, and he did it well. Ninety-nine percent of Pakistanis would agree.”
I’d like to see some surveys on this. But note the following results from Pew Global Attitudes Project:
The tragic events in Arizona are a hideous conclusion to a week already scarred by the assassination in Pakistan of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. The ominous implications of Taseer’s killing have only been underlined by its aftermath. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, one of Taseer’s sons (the two were estranged, and the story of their relationship—described in the same article—casts an interesting light on the complexities of today’s Pakistan) takes up the story:
For if it is science and rationality whose fruit you wish to see appear in your country, then it is those things that you must enshrine at its heart; otherwise, for as long as it is faith, the men who say that Pakistan was made for Islam, and that more Islam is the solution, will always have the force of an ugly logic on their side. And better men, men like my father, will be reduced to picking their way around the bearded men, the men with one vision that can admit no other, the men who look to the sanctities of only one Book.
In the days before his death, these same men had issued religious edicts against my father, burned him in effigy and threatened his life. Why? Because he defended the cause of a poor Christian woman who had been accused – and sentenced to die – for blasphemy.
My father, because his country was founded in faith, and blood – a million people had died so that it could be made–could not say that the sentence was wrong; the sentence stood; all he sought for Aasia Bibi was clemency on humanitarian grounds. But it was enough to demand his head.
What my father could never say was what I suspect he really felt: “The very idea of a blasphemy law is primitive; no woman, in any humane society, should die for what she says and thinks.”
And when finally my father sought the repeal of the laws that had condemned her, the laws that had become an instrument of oppression in the hands of a majority against its minority, he could not say that the source of the laws, the faith, had no place in a modern society; he had to find a way to make people believe that the religion had been distorted, even though the religion – in the way that only these Books can be – was clear as day about what was meant.
Already, even before his body is cold, those same men of faith in Pakistan have banned good Muslims from mourning my father; clerics refused to perform his last rites; and the armoured vehicle conveying his assassin to the courthouse was mobbed with cheering crowds and showered with rose petals.
I should say too that on Friday every mosque in the country condoned the killer’s actions; 2,500 lawyers came forward to take on his defence for free; and the Chief Minister of Punjab, who did not attend the funeral, is yet to offer his condolences in person to my family who sit besieged in their house in Lahore.
More background on this topic here.
OK. You know that there have been floods in Pakistan which have displaced ~20 million. No worries, there’s still time to for suicide bombings aimed at killing Pakistani Shia (the Shia believe that the the descendants of Ali are the rightful heirs to the leadership with Islam). Well, this is a long standing conflict. No excusing it, but evil people will take any opportunity to cause havoc. On a more trivial, but still creepy, note, Punjab govt goes after Hindu mythology cartoons:
Even though Indian TV channels are currently off-air in Pakistan, several cable operators are broadcasting Indian content to meet the demands of their clientele.
A meeting of the committee was held in Lahore, which discussed ways to get these cartoons banned in Pakistan.
Deeba, who attended the meeting, told The Express Tribune that participants had discussed “cartoons which glorified mythology characters such as Hanuman had a bad impact on the minds of the young children.
She said that “these cartoons were in contradiction with the teachings of Islam and young kids could not differentiate between what’s true and what’s not so these should be banned.”
This is a nuclear armed Islamic state.