Hot on the heels of Salman Taseer’s murder two further events have happened, although these have not caught the eye of the media as much. First a medical representative accused a doctor of blasphemy, when the doctor threw away his visiting card which had the word Muhammad as part of his name. And then, three days ago, another shocking news has come from Muzafargarh. This time a 45 year old Imam of a local mosque, who has recently performed his hajj and his 20 year old son were handed down life sentences on the charges of blasphemy.
The Imam and his son had been accused of removing a poster outside their grocery shop, which advertised the event of the Prophet’s birth anniversary in a nearby village, by a (rival?) religious organisation. The Defense counsel Arif Gurmani has vowed to challenge the verdict in the high court because “it has been given in haste” and was the result of inter-faith rivalries, he said. “Both are Muslims. The case is the result of differences between Deobandi and Barelvi sects of Sunni Muslims,” he said.
We wonder and despair. Does our madness know no bounds? As they say, when gods want to destroy a people, they make them mad first. Although we do not have the details of the court hearing record for this latest incidence, surely there must have been a FIR, followed by arrests, investigation, collection of evidence, charges, presentation in the court, hearing in the court, arguments for the prosecution and the defense, time for the judge to consider the evidence and arrive at a verdict.
Surely any presiding judge with some common sense should be able to see through that? Surely there must have been some evidence for the sectarian nature of the allegation. Was that evidence considered by the judge? Was that evidence enough to create any doubt? Was the benefit of doubt given to the accused? Is it really possible that an Imam, who had recently returned from hajj, would do such blasphemous act? After all he was not an ‘urban free thinking, possible free drinking sort of liberal’ that has become a stereotype for acting blasphemously. Did the judge consider all these matters? Did the judge feel under any pressure to convict the accused?
Perhaps we will never get to know all that. But it does make one think. What exactly is the problem? It might sound very cliché ridden and ‘unsexy and unattractive’, but such episodes lead to only one inescapable conclusion. These events raise issues of poor Governance and law and order breakdown. It is clear that the whole procedure for crime investigation and prosecution and the whole system for provision of justice is flawed, broken and it is not applied systematically and properly even in that flawed form.
The blasphemy issue has generated a hot debate among various groups of society including the secularists who term the blasphemy law, and the procedure as it is practiced, repugnant to the core values of human rights and seek reforms. Then there are the right wing religious clerics who deem the assassin as their religious hero who has performed his religious duty. The government though has announced that it will not amend the law.
But regardless of these debates one has to ask of the reasons behind this disorder. Is this the purely a result of the breakdown of law and order? Or should this be seen as an ascendency of religious extremism that is on rise for quite some time in Pakistan?
The fact of the matter is that both these angles are indeed interconnected. The extremists exist, and have existed, in every society. Europe, the paragon of tolerance and democracy, has its own fascist and nationalist anti Islam and anti Semitic ideologues, in every nation and country. It is the effectiveness of the rule of law that can keeps the extremist forces in check. The religious extremism and its demonstration in various forms in our society, in fact reveal a broken and ineffective justice system and the absence of rule of law.
Why people take the law in their own hands? The most simple and basic explanation of this is the lack of trust in the system for justice provision and law enforcing agencies and institutions. Extending this argument the most dangerous conclusion that can be drawn from Mr. Taseer’s murder by his own official bodyguard is not that religious extremists have infiltrated the police force, but that even those who are guardians of the law have no faith in the system and have no discipline. There are also related issues of training and education.
Looking at the break down of Law and order there is another angle. The Islamist bloc which is now praising the act of the assassin of Salman Taseer, is itself going against the basic tenets of Islam. Even the most ardent critics of Islam admit that it is the religion of Law. What is Sharia? Law of Islam. It is one religion that requires its followers to abide by the rules and live with a legal framework.
The irony is that the murderer of Mr. Taseer and his vocal supporters are guilty of breaking the Sharia law themselves. Because even if one goes by the Shariah law there is a prescribed, and a proscribed, method to deal with blasphemy. The procedures for investigating and dealing with Blasphemy are laid down in detail, including the matter of repentance.
Therefore there is a very good case against the murderer himself as a blasphemer, and a similar case against those who are openly supporting him. This matter of legal application and fairness is, what the self appointed thekedar of Islam are completely ignoring.
Iqbal was so right when he said ‘deen e mullah fi sa’bi lillah fasaad’.
There is no other conclusion.
But what is the government and governing elite doing? By standing by silently they are condoning the anarchy and chaos that rules the country at the moment. As our friend Dr Khalil has recently written somewhere else; to quote:
‘This is high time they awake from their slumber and mind the responsibility the state must fulfil: to extend protection of law to each. At the same time, rule of law needs to be the only value the state must adhere with zero tolerance to save the people from falling prey to the anarchists. This should be the one-point agenda of the civil society also: to make the state fulfil its responsibility of establishing rule of law! The freedom the anarchists of all hues have been enjoying since the first day in Pakistan now needs to be brought under law; otherwise we should be ready to face a wholesale anarchy!’’