By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
On Wednesday October 11 a court in Pakistan sentenced three Muslim men to death for “blasphemy.” According to the report “In his verdict, Additional District and Sessions Judge Mian Javed Akram ruled that the three members of the Ahmadi community of Bhoaywal village had committed blasphemy by displaying a poster and banners at their place of worship in a manner that was offending.”
The Ahmadi are a Muslim sect.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are similar to those in force in Europe in the 15th century, the kind of laws that led to the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Except it is more than 300 years later. In 2010 a “mother-of-five from rural Punjab was convicted in 2010 for defaming the Prophet Mohammad during an argument with a group of Muslim women over a bowl of water. She has been on death row ever since.” Her name is Asia Bibi.
In April 2017 “A 23-year-old student of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan was killed and another seriously injured by a vigilante mob for allegedly ‘publishing blasphemous content online’, local police said Thursday.” The student’s name was Mashal Khan.
In May “A 10-year-old boy has been killed and five other people wounded after a mob attacked a police station in an attempt to lynch a Hindu man charged with blasphemy in south-west Pakistan, officials said.” His name was not released by media.
In June “An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced a man to death for allegedly committing blasphemy on Facebook, the latest step in an intensified crackdown on dissent on social media.” His name is Taimoor Raza.
To appease Pakistan Facebook sent a senior official to meet with Pakistan’s interior minister. According to Fortune, “Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of public policy, met Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, who offered to approve a Facebook office in Pakistan, which has 33 million users of the network.” Pakistan told Facebook: “We cannot allow anyone to misuse social media for hurting religious sentiments.” Facebook called this a “constructive” meeting.
In September 2017, “Nadeem James, 35, was arrested in July 2016, accused by a friend of sharing material ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad on the WhatsApp messaging service.” He was sentenced to death.
ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq but its ideology runs Pakistan
As the US-led coalition defeats ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the ideology of ISIS increasingly runs countries such as Pakistan. It isn’t just official support for murdering people for “blasphemy,” it is also the incitement and far right religious hatred that leads to be “honor killings,” the genocide of women for “moral crimes.” In 2016 a woman burned her daughter to death for “shaming” the family. Murdering women and sentencing people to death for “blasphemy” and lynching students and children are just the tip of the iceberg. It is part of a populist far-right culture of hatred that begins in parliament and goes all the way to the poorest tribal area. Recently Pakistan Muslim League-N party leader retired Captain Muhammad Safdar reportedly “launched into a virulent tirade against Pakistan’s persecuted Ahmadi community while speaking in the National Assembly. He accused the faith group of acting against the country’s interests and called for action against its members.”
He happens to be the son-in-law of a former Prime Minister. “He criticised the renaming of Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) physics centre after Professor Dr Abdus Salam, the country’s first Nobel laureate — the grounds for the lawmaker’s objections being the scientist’s Ahmadi faith,” according to the report at The Dawn.
While parliament has official hate speech against Muslim groups such as Ahmadis, Muslim minorities are targeted by far right Islamists frequently in Pakistan. On October 5th a Sufi shrine was attacked in Balochistan, killing 20. In February a Sufi shrine was bombed. In March 2009 a Sufi shrine was attacked in a bombing. In July 2010 a Sufi shrine was bombed. In November 2016 another shrine was bombed. Sufis are targeted as are Christians. In Easter 2016 bombings killed 72 in Lahore. Shia Muslims are targeted every month in Pakistan. On the 10th of October in Quetta Shia were murdered. On 11 September also in Quetta. In April 6 attacks in Parachiner. In one attack 85 were murdered. In July 4 members of the same family were murdered. Media calls this “sectarian violence,” which is like describing the Nazi attacks on Jews in 1938 as “sectarian violence.” It isn’t sectarian violence. It is a genocidal form of religious terror and it has been going on for a long time. It often targets not only religious minorities but targets them on holidays such as easter or Ashura, such as the 2004 Quetta massacre.
It is convenient to label this “violent extremism” as if it is some kind of amorphous violence that just happens spontaneously. But the reality in Pakistan, and elsewhere, is that far-right religious violence is not just “extremism.” It has backers in parliament and popular culture, on TV and in education systems. When ISIS arrived in Iraq in 2014 and was greeted by cheers, these cheers were not only about anger against Baghdad’s policies. the fact that thousands participated in selling and trading and raping Yazidi women is because of a long term indoctrination of Nazi-like hate. The mass murder of Shia by ISIS is no different than the constant attacks on Shia and Sufis and Ahmadis in Pakistan. The behavior of Iran’s Shia Ayatollahs is a mirror image of this far-right religious extremism. When a state gives sanction to executing people for blasphemy it labels them sub-human and makes an excuse for crowds to lynch and murder. Often, like in Salem, these lynchings are based on rumors. These lynchings are no different than the KKK terror of the Old South, designed to make minorities fear and keep them second-class. The difference is that in Pakistan the KKK is not being reduced but growing.
Foreign media and foreign governments collaborate with ISIS-like hatred in Pakistan by having relations with the country. They gravitate towards its elite culture, its country clubs and old colonial edifices, and pretend to not notice the hatred boiling up on the streets, the drip-drip of near-daily killings. In some ways ISIS has been defeated on the ground, but the ideology of ISIS, which is religious hatred and genocidal religious-based world views, have not gone away. They have won in the long run because their views are accepted in places like Pakistan and in other countries. Western policymakers and TV shows such as Designated Survivor want to hide behind Orwellian terms such as “violent extremism,” to not mention the religious element. But people are sentenced to death in Pakistan not by courts whose judges are “violent extremists” but by judges who follow the country’s law. Is the law “violent extremist,” or is the law based on far-right wing Islamist rulings? Was the KKK and the Salem trials just “violent extremism”? No, it was much more than that. Unfortunately Pakistan is a far more religious extremist country today than in 1948 when Mohammed Ali Jinnah died.