New Age Islam Edit Bureau
04 May 2016
Asia Bibi and Blasphemy Laws
By Kaleem Dean
Can Women Be Protected By A Bill?
By Umair Arif
Donald Trump, Pakistan and Afghanistan
By Mohammad Jamil
Middle East Conundrum
By S P Seth
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Asia Bibi and Blasphemy Laws
By Kaleem Dean
Asia bibi, a Christian woman has suffered in prisons of Pakistan since 2010 when she was allegedly involved in the blasphemy case over a small incident of drinking water from the same pot as her Muslim lady co-workers while working in a field. After an argument with Asia bibi, those women claimed that she denigrated the Prophet of Islam (PBUH). A case was registered against her by a Muslim cleric who was not present when the altercation happened between Asia bibi and those women. However, the issue being so sensitive, without much ado, the cleric believed the Muslim complainants to be truthful. Muslims fundamentalists’ pressure compelled the police to register the blasphemy case against Asia bibi under the article 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code. She was arrested, convicted and awarded death sentence by the sessions court, which was afterward upheld by the Lahore High Court.
However, Asia Bibi’s lawyers submitted a petition in the Supreme Court (SC) in 2014, and the apex court admitted her appeal ordering the suspension of her death sentence, and advising the two sides to bring the complete record pertaining to the case to the court. Since 2014, there is no development in the case, and the SC has not issued any notice for any new hearing.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan and the case of Asia bibi are tied together, as on national and International level talking about Asia and blasphemy laws are a common feature. This is the only law in the constitution of Pakistan that is known to the world because of Asia and several others allegedly involved in blasphemy cases. Time and again, some brave forces try to speak to bring amendments in the law but it is considered a ‘sacred manuscript’, not to be touched or talked about. Whosoever talked against this law had to pay the price. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, and a federal minister, who struggled to bring some amendments in the law, was brutally murdered in Islamabad. Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Punjab, tried to help Asia, and demanded changes in the law. He was assassinated by his own fanatic guard, who afterward was given death sentence, and hanged on the 29th of February 2016.
The damage done by the misuse of the blasphemy laws is beyond understanding. The truth of the matter is that blasphemy laws are considered dangerous not only in Pakistan but around the world. One may easily understand that in the name of the sanctity of religions, the very law was frequently misused, many a time in an organised way, leaving an adverse effect on the masses. The ethnic minorities remain under the worst societal pressures, under which they have been crippled socially, morally, economically and religiously. The massive pressure of this law has crossed all limits of social atrocities. Not only minorities, many times the majority community is the victim of this law. Laws are made for the protection of citizens; laws are not a licence to persecute and kill the marginalised sections of society. Beyond doubt, the misuse of blasphemy laws has had debilitating effects on the Pakistani society. Before the inclusion of these constitutional provisions in the constitution of Pakistan, there were few examples of individuals involved in desecrating any religion, but after 1986, around 1,400 cases have been registered under this law. Interestingly, there is not a single example where courts convicted someone as a blasphemer and the person was hanged.
It is certainly appalling to listen to many people who claim that the majority of the cases were registered against the majority community. The truth is bitter but cannot be denied. The overall calculation of blasphemy convictions shows that about 50 percent of cases were registered against ethnic minorities, who make only three percent of the total population. There are several examples of the misuse of this law.
In 1996, a Christian man, Ayub Masih, was jailed for the violation of 295C when the complainant, Muhammad Akram, claimed that Masih ‘blasphemed’ by recommending him to read Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. All lower courts and the High Court convicted Mashih but the SC found the case to be a fabricated one. The only reason was to grab the property of Ayub Masih. Dr Muhammad Younas Sheikh was charged under the blasphemy law in 2000; he was acquitted, and afterward he fled to Switzerland, never to return to his homeland. Younas Sheikh was arrested for writing a book Shaitan Maulvi and was given life imprisonment. Hector Aleem, a Christian human rights activist, was charged under this law in 2009. In July 2009, two Christian brothers were charged under the law in Faisalabad. A Christian woman, Asia bibi, was arrested in 2010 on blasphemy charges levelled against her by the neighbourhood Muslim women. In 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian minister of minority affairs was murdered. Eralier that year, Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Punjab was brutally killed by his own guard. In 2014, a Christian man Sawan Masih was awarded death sentence by a sessions court; Masih was involved in a case during the Joseph Colony incident where 300 dwellings of poor Christians were destroyed by a frenzied Muslim mob.
There are several incidents that remain unnoticed by the world. This is unfortunate that after such a long list of brutalities in the name of blasphemy laws, no government is ready to take steps for re-visiting these laws. Indeed, there is pressure from certain religious groups but is it not the duty of Muslim scholars to preach the real doctrines of Islam? The teachings of peace, forbearance, tolerance, equality and love for humanity. Does Islam preach hate? No. Is there any scope of terrorism and killings of ethnic minorities in the name of Islam? No. Does the Holy Quran preach hostility against non-Muslims? No. Then from where these de-shaped ‘Islamic’ doctrines are emerging, which even millions of peace-loving Muslims fear. Is it not the reality that the peaceful religion of more than one billion people is being depicted as a hostile religion?
Who has done all this? The culprits are part of our society; they must be challenged, and they must be brought to the track. Religions safeguard the rights of its followers and non-believers, and suddenly, some sections of society assume that their religion is under threat. But what is that threat? Are we ourselves are not becoming the threat to religion by adopting practices that are forbidden by holy books. Forgiveness is the best tool to promote religion. The Holy Quran does not support such laws that are contradictory to the true Islamic doctrines. By awarding of punishments in such cases, the real picture of the humility of the religion is dimmed. Religion is forgiveness; ethnic minorities in Pakistan are well aware of the consequences of the blasphemy laws. They never ever dare to do anything that may ruin the lives of not only involved individuals but also destroy whole communities.
There is a need to revise the blasphemy laws at the earliest. Along with the damage being done to the downtrodden minorities, these laws are tarnishing the good name of Islam. Setting Asia bibi free will send a positive message. Isn’t it true that since the arrest of this lady, blasphemy laws have been widely criticised and debated? Justice is needed. God sees that justice is done, and He watches over everyone who is faithful.
Can Women Be Protected By A Bill?
By Umair Arif
May 4th, 2016
The passage of the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill was hailed as a big achievement by many in the secular liberal circles while the religious circles are in serious opposition. The argument of the liberals is that the Bill presents a step towards the empowerment of women and the elimination of domestic violence. It will keep those husbands in control who treat their wife/wives as their subjects and exercise different forms of violence against them. On the other hand, the APC that included 35 religious parties condemned the law and said: “This Act … is redundant and would add to the miseries of women.”
Domestic violence is a reality in Pakistan and it needs to be reckoned with. According to Aurat Foundation, “In 2013, more than 5,800 cases of violence against women were reported in Punjab.” A 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll showed that domestic abuse, economic discrimination and acid attacks made Pakistan the world’s third-most dangerous country for women. These are some serious statistics about which the religious group’s stance is quite frankly, ignorant.
But then, let us dig into the secular liberal stance — make a law to criminalise domestic violence and let us hope everything will turn out to be fine — which is absolutely immature. What they fail to see is that such a law does not take into consideration our unique societal dynamics. One can also question the effectiveness of such laws implemented in the Western world. According to data obtained from Health & Social Care Information Centre, Britain, the number of acid attacks against women in the last 10 years has doubled to 925. Two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a partner. A recent article in The New York Times states that “every year, in France, 223,000 women are physically or psychologically abused by their partners”. In 2014 alone, 134 women died as a result of violence at the hands of their husbands or partners. Even though the Western world has strict and intelligent laws on women protection-related matters, these laws are not necessarily solving this social problem.
So what is going wrong? An article, “The Limits of Law”, published in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, discusses the effectiveness and limits of a law, in an intellectual sense. Laws might fail and the failure could be dramatic if there is little understanding of society and human behaviour. Knowing what works and what does not and what will be counterproductive is important knowledge. An article titled “Law vs morality as regulators of conduct” by Steven Shavell of Harvard Law School presents an excellent perspective. He argues that a better sense of developing morality in many cases is the best manner of controlling a specific behaviour pattern. For instance, morality and not law is a means of control of much of our daily interactions and social discourse like fulfilling commitments or talking sensibly or treating guests or respecting the elderly, and so on. He rightly argues that establishing laws is not a very expensive process and does not take much time in being implemented. But the establishment of moral rules is extremely expensive and time-consuming. Making a law to punish littering is easy but inculcating the moral rule that one should not litter requires constant effort over the years of childhood and social projects in elevating the values of a society.
Therefore, without understanding the social dynamics of a Pakistani household, the state will only make laws that fail miserably and are not practised by society at large. Pakistan’s family structure is strictly non-individual. Therefore, in our society, when a problem in the home arises, the first priority is to resolve the issue within the realm of the husband and wife, but if it extends, the parents intervene and try to settle the disputes with utmost secrecy. They consider it a disgrace to discuss their family matters even with uncles and aunts, but where necessary, the elders intervene and try to resolve it. In such a climate of social bonding, interference and family dignity, a matter taken to the police will be considered devastating for the family prestige. The consequences it can lead to need to be investigated before enacting laws.
Secondly, the issue of domestic violence is directly linked to the cultural upbringing of males in society, which creates a male-dominated society with supersized egos. The Women’s Protection Bill provides for a 24-hour helpline for women, women’s shelter homes, women being distanced from men using GPS, etc., giving it a feminist colour and which could collide directly with the supersized egos of our male population. Problems are not solved by triggering the ego of another individual but by gradually changing mindsets. Moral awareness schemes through the media, sermons in mosques and through education curriculum, on the basis of correct social values are fundamental in changing mindsets. Additionally, the style of discourse needs to change i.e., there is a need to emphasise that women are not a rare species, who are being hunted down and need protection. Let us consider women as companions living in a household setting with men, as respectable homemakers or professionals, having an equal day-to-day contribution in any family’s life. Our male-dominated society needs to be educated that women are as human as men and laws are same for them as they are for men. The current police structure should be formalised and educated in this regard.
We need to think deeply about our social dynamics to solve our problems and find ways that would work for us. Ignorance towards problems or lack of objective analysis are dangerous trends.
Umair Arif is pursuing a PhD in Computer Vision from NUST and is an assistant professor at Bahria University.
Donald Trump, Pakistan and Afghanistan
By Mohammad Jamil
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump relies on his visceral instincts rather than cerebral clarity, with the result that he is stoking anger left, right and centre. He has angered the immigrants who have contributed to making the US what it is today. Last week, unruly protests greeted Trump in California, where protesters hurled rocks and damaged police cars, with 17 arrested and a Trump supporter taken to hospital with a head wound. Trump vows to stop helping US allies, and wishes to withdraw funding to the NATO and other such forums. During his recent interview with the CNN anchor, Anderson Cooper, when questioned about nuclear security and American defence policy, he said, “[That] although the US has traditionally provided military support to Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany and South Korea, it may be time to change the existing policy.”
Trump termed Pakistan “a vital problem for the United States (US) because they have a thing called nuclear weapons”, adding that amongst all the presidential hopefuls only he can solve the problem of, what he called “radical Islamic terrorism.” He even went to the extent of saying that Japan and South Korea should be allowed to make nuclear bombs to counter North Korea’s belligerency. He does not realise that by developing atomic weapons, Japan and South Korea would spark a nuclear arms race in the East Asia that would be very dangerous, particularly given the tensions between Beijing and Tokyo. Japan has had a consistent policy not to produce nuclear bombs. After Pakistan had detonated nuclear devices in response to Indian explosions, Japan vehemently opposed the efforts of developing countries to produce nuclear devices.
Trump at a town-hall meeting in Indianapolis in response to a question said, “But the problem with Pakistan, where they have nuclear weapons, which is a real problem. And it’s not the only country; you have nine countries right now with nuclear weapons. But Pakistan is semi-unstable. We don’t want to see total instability. It’s not that much, relatively speaking. We have a little bit of a good relationship. I think I’d try and keep it.” He, however, added that punitive action against Pakistan might see it collapse altogether. One has a problem understanding what Trump wants.
In an interview, Trump bluntly said that the US should stop giving any aid to Pakistan until Pakistan gets rid of its nukes. He compared Pakistan to North Korea while describing it as the ‘most dangerous country in the world’ that could go rogue.
On 2nd of March 2016, the former Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney described front-runner Trump a ‘phony’, and exhorted fellow Republicans to shun him for the good of the country and party. He said: “Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His domestic policies would lead to recession and his foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.” Trump, who seeks nomination from the Republican Party as a presidential candidate is on the surge of popularity among Republican voters. There is a perception that if Trump gets the nomination on the basis of majority of delegates, the Grand Old Party (GOP) would stand divided. Last month, Republican foreign-policy experts had written an open letter opposing Trump’s candidacy for his hateful and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Trump is neither a statesman nor a politician, but a businessman who invests in real estate, casinos, media and other ventures. He cannot realise how much damage he is causing to the GOP by his rhetoric and controversial remarks. Of course, he reflects the sentiments of Republican voters; nevertheless, the majority of Americans do not subscribe to his views. While responding to a question during a presidential debate, Trump said if he were elected to the White House, he would keep the country’s troops in Afghanistan to protect Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. “I think you have to stay in Afghanistan for a while because of the fact that you are right next to Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons and we have to protect those.” Last year, he had suggested involving India to de-nuclearise Pakistan.
As regards security of Pakistani nukes, the IAEA and the United States have expressed confidence, many times, in Pakistan’s commitment and dedication to nuclear security, and have shown appreciation of Pakistan's efforts to improve its strategic trade controls. The State Department has made it public that the administration has been in regular discussions with government of Pakistan on a range of issues on important shared interests, including nuclear security, counter-terrorism and fostering a stable Afghanistan. Neocons and hawks should remember that the US and its allies were defeated in Vietnam. They had invaded Iraq on the pretext that it possessed weapons of mass destruction that were never found. The question is who gained in the process. Of course, Iran did. From 1st of January 2015, the IJC was downsized to about 10,000 personnel, and its focus is towards building Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) systems and processes.
The ego of the superpower may not allow it to accept its failure in Afghanistan, but entering into talks with the Taliban unconditionally was an acknowledgment of the eidetic reality that the war was not winnable. In June 2011, when talks for establishing an office by the Taliban in Qatar began, the then president Hamid Karzai had expressed indignation over efforts to sideline him, and stated that negotiations could falter if his government was not involved in the talks with the Taliban. Washington had already signalled for a negotiated political settlement of the Afghan imbroglio in 2012, and talking of peace with Taliban was acknowledgment that the military option had failed. It has to be said that the Taliban remains a potent fighting force after most foreign forces left at the end of 2014, and they control large swathes in south and east, and even outreach to the north.
Mohammad Jamil is a freelance columnist.
Middle East Conundrum
By S P Seth
The Middle East remains a complex amalgam of civil wars, sectarian strife, and a battlefield for regional and global rivalry overlaid by the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Often all these factors fuel each other. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, the British and the French divided much of the Middle East into their virtual territory/kingdoms, thus creating artificial borders and divisions. After the Second World War, these became part of the Cold War between the west and the Soviet Union. And into it was added the newly created state of Israel, with the US and its allies turning it into a political and security fortress as well as an advanced outpost in what was considered a volatile region. The imposition of Israel was resented and opposed by the Arabs and led to the 1948 War between the newly created state of Israel and a coalition of Arab states. The Arab coalition was defeated but the region was plunged into perpetual conflict, with Israel expanding its territory and control of Palestine, particularly after the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states with Israel coming out much stronger from the war.
It put an end to the then Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser-led project to create a pan-Arab consciousness transcending national boundaries, of which opposition to the creation of Israel was a central element. There was another Arab-Israeli war in 1973. Despite some spectacular initial advances by Egypt, Israel finally prevailed. Not surprisingly, the US supported Israel in all sorts of ways. Eventually, under considerable US persuasion/pressure, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed in 1979 with Cairo recognising Israel. It was one of the great game changers in the region with Egypt, the largest and leading Arab country, virtually abandoning the Palestinian cause. That caused great disappointment and anger for which Egypt’s then president, Anwar Sadat, paid with his life. His successor, Hosni Mubarak, was committed to keeping Egypt out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel continued its policy of occupying and expanding its settlements, thus encircling what was left of Palestine, and following it up with military raids and attacks, as if to periodically demonstrate its military and political prowess. The Oslo Accords of 1993, which laid down a peace process for an eventual two states solution, didn’t work as Israel was never serious about a Palestinian state and did everything to sabotage the process.
This short history of the Palestinian issue is an important backdrop to understand the frustrations of the Arab people, also called the Arab street. The Arab street, in a sense, represented the volatility of the region. And it was sought to be tackled with the repressive regimes of dictators like Hosni Mubarak who, in turn, got all the necessary help from the United States and largely followed US regarding the primacy of Israeli interests by downgrading/ignoring the Palestinian question.
Another element of the Middle East conundrum was the region’s monarchies, with Saudi Arabia as the most important. Saudi Arabia was important because it was (and is) the largest producer of oil in the world, with the US becoming increasingly dependent on imports from that source, until only recently when its dependence is lessening. Being the largest producer of oil, Saudi Arabia also played an important role in setting the price of oil internationally. Saudi Arabia’s strategic importance couldn’t be over-emphasised. Indeed, Saudi Arabia also played a significant role in the Cold War by financing and arming Afghan Mujahedeen, and Pakistan’s role in it which, in no small degree, contributed to the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.
And that in turn led to the rise of the al-Qaeda, with Afghanistan becoming the incubator of radical/extremist Islamic elements from all over the world. The 9/11 terrorist attacks followed, which led to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. In all this progression, the repressive regimes of the Middle East, like that of Egypt and the Gulf monarchies, became even more important to the US. The popular frustration and anger with some of the autocratic Arab rulers burst out into the open with the Arab Spring, starting in Tunisia in 2011, which led to the fall of its dictator, Ben Ali. It also brought down Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, led to the overthrow of Libya’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, with military help from the west, and started a full-scale insurrection against Bashar-al-Assad regime in Syria. In Saudi Arabia, it led to serious protests in the Shia-majority oil-bearing eastern province, which were crushed brutally. For the rest of its Sunni citizens, the Saudi ruling dynasty bribed them into submission with even more financial goodies. And in Bahrain, where its majority Shia population rose in revolt against the ruling Sunni monarchy, the Saudis and some of its Gulf allies sent armed forces to crush the movement.
Apart from Tunisia where post-Arab Spring political order is still a fragile work in progress, everywhere else is either chaos, as in Libya, or seemingly endless civil war as in Syria. In Egypt, another military dictator, almost a successor to Hosni Mubarak, has taken over, and the Abdel Fattah el-Sisi regime and Saudi monarchy are becoming blood brothers of sorts, which means a perpetuation of the decades’ old order responsible for the mess in the Middle East, in the first place, and the rise of Islamic terrorism. It is necessary to point out that Saudi Arabia’s patronage and championing of the Wahhabi brand of Islam has been the ideological foundation of both the al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS).
With the collapse of the Arab Spring, the last hope of a possible political transition to secular liberal democracy has died down for the foreseeable future. Which, in turn, has further shifted the pendulum to Islamic extremism reflected in its even more severe form of Islamic State? And the resultant refugee crisis from the exodus of displaced and terrorised people from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East toward Europe, where they are unwelcome and being pushed back, is only compounding the problem. Brutalised and terrorised at home, and pushed back from refuge in Europe, some of them at least might fall for the IS’ message.
S P Seth is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia.