Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pakistan: religious hatred not being addressed


By Elizabeth Kendal

(1) Is Pakistan terminally ill?
(2) Rimsha Masih and the Mehrabad Conspiracy

INTRODUCTION

The blasphemy case against and cruel treatment of Rimsha Masih, an 11-14 year-old illiterate girl from a Christian colony in Islamabad's Mehrabad slum, has elicited revulsion and dismay both domestically and internationally.

Rimsha's arrest comes hot on the heels of Asia Bibi's death sentence and the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shabaaz Bhatti; and immediately prior to the obscene torture-murder of the Christian boy Samuel Yacoub (11). Not since Dr John Joseph, Bishop of Faisalabad, poured out his own life in front of the Sahiwal court house on 6 May 1998 in protest of the death sentence handed down to Christian slum dweller Ayub Masih who was, like Rimsha, the victim of a malicious blasphemy accusation, has attention to Pakistan's sickness been so intense.

However, if Pakistan's authorities and Muslims elites manage to whitewash and sideline this case by making it all about child rights and mental capacity rather than intolerance, hatred and the blasphemy law; and if they fail to address the real issues of Islamisation, Sharia and the radicalisation of the masses; then nothing will change. Systematic religious hatred must be addressed and remedied before Christians, Shi'ites, Ahmadis and Hindus face genocide. 

For background on the Rimsha Masih case, see:

PAKISTAN: intolerance grows; child accused of blasphemy
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 173 | Wed 22 Aug 2012
AND the update:
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 174 | Wed 29 Aug 2012
under the subheading: "THE SHAME OF PAKISTAN".

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IS PAKISTAN TERMINALLY ILL?

As passions soared over the arrest and cruel treatment of Rimsha Masih, British correspondent Rob Crilly opined that the international show of support for Rishma might actually endanger her life and risk undermining her case. "For although the law is rarely best carried out in secret," says Crilly, "Pakistan's archaic blasphemy laws fall apart entirely when conducted amid the blaze of publicity."

Crilly asserts: "Christian campaigners and democracy activists have turned Rimsha into a poster girl for their causes and are in danger of creating a martyr. Having propelled the issue into the open, creating headlines around the world, Pakistan's lawyers, judges and politicians have little room to manouevre. They are under intense pressure to act as good Muslims. Any leniency will be interpreted as a pro-blasphemy, anti-Islam stance. And all the while they will be reminded of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, whose courageous support of Asia Bibi ended in a hail of bullets outside his favourite lunch spot.

"With the case in the spotlight, it will take a brave man now to do the right thing."

The reality however is this: in many cases the spotlight is often the only thing that enables or sometimes forces a man or woman or government to be brave and do the right thing.

Crilly seems totally oblivious to the fact that the courts are not Rimsha's greatest threat! Muslim mobs are straining at the bit, hankering to lynch this child, to burn her alive. The only reason she is alive today is because, after surviving a savage beating at the hands of the mob, she was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison.

As terrible as her plight is, what it says about Pakistani society is far worse.

Absent a massive international public outcry, Rimsha would doubtless have been quietly sacrificed to appease the Islamists. She would either been quickly acquitted and handed over to the mob or placed at the mercy of Islamists inside the prison, to become, like so many before her, another religious minority death-in-custody statistic.

Absent a massive international public outcry, Rimsha's family will not survive. The international outcry needs to be so loud that the only way for Pakistan to secure US aid and avoid a public international shaming at the UN General Assembly will be to have Rimsha released and the family resettled in the West. The difficulty lies in effecting this coup in a manner that will limit the fallout from Pakistan's powerful Islamic fundamentalists.

Crilly has failed to see what many Pakistanis are beginning to see very clearly: Pakistani society is sick to its core.

Writing in Pakistan's Daily Times on 31 August, Farahnaz Ispahani of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights goes right to the heart of the matter: "Pakistan is continuing to become an intolerant society".

Ispahani believes that if Rimsha's case is treated as a child's rights or disability rights issue, then it will only "take the heat away from the real problem". As she intimates, this may well be the government's intention as it seeks to "'re-set', yet again, Pakistan-US ties" or prepare for the "forthcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting".

As Ispahani rightly notes, "The real problem continues to be the day-to-day persecution, harassment and murder of Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus under Pakistan's laws. . . Even after Rimsha has been freed, which we hope she will, the [Islamic Sharia, Hudood, blasphemy] laws opposed by most of the civilised world will still stand.

"The deep-rooted problem of oppression and intolerance of religious minorities, to which one may add the ongoing organised killings (which some plausibly call genocide) of Shias, needs greater resolve than the temporary solution of solving an individual case within the framework of flawed existing laws."

Also writing in Pakistan's Daily Times on 31 August, was Gulmina Bilal Ahmad. Citing the assassinations of Salaam Taseer and Shabaaz Bhatti, she makes the point that you simply cannot talk about the blasphemy law if you are in Pakistan; it is just too dangerous.

"The worst thing about the accusation of blasphemy," she writes, "is that more people die as a result of mob violence. Police in most of the cases are left with no option but to hand over the accused to the mob, which in most instances results in the death of the accused. More accused have died not due to the stringent blasphemy laws but due to the extreme behaviour of mobs.

"Let us take a look at this problem from the societal point of view," writes Ahmad. "Our society has grown insensitive to violence over a period of time. Certainly, there are various reasons for it. Unemployment, rising inflation and lack of security are some of the most obvious reasons that might lead to violent behaviour. But these problems are not specific to Pakistani society. There are other countries where the level of inflation and unemployment is even higher than ours but citizens of those countries do not grow violent.

"Once again, we have to put the blame on the radical shift that Pakistan went through during Zia’s regime. Strict laws were put in place, educational curriculums were altered, religious hatred, sectarian violence was purposely spread, and most importantly, Pakistan was pushed into the abyss of extremism. As a result, society as whole developed narrow views on religion and the interfaith harmony that existed earlier went down the drain."

What was the "radical shift" that occurred under Zia -- a "radical shift" that Ahmad dare not name?

After the Iranian Islamic (Shi'ite) Revolution (1979), Saudi Arabia spared no effort to establish Pakistan (and by extension, Afghanistan) as a Sunni Wahhabi bulwark on Iran's eastern border. In order to hem in the revolution, the US bolstered Iraq while Saudi Arabia bolstered Pakistan. Iraq went to war with Iran, while in Pakistan, Saudi-sponsored madrassas and mosques indoctrinated the masses with anti-Shi'ite, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian religious hatred and jihadist ideology, Islamising the masses along Wahhabi lines. The Taliban were a Pakistani creation, fashioned in Saudi-sponsored Pakistani madrassas for the jihad in Afghanistan (1980s). It was during these years, under the leadership of Sunni military dictator President General Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988), that Sharia Courts, Hudood punishments and blasphemy laws were introduced and Sunni supremacy used to fuel hatred and intolerance of all others.

As Ahmed notes, "The accusation of blasphemy over a period of time has also become an instrument of violence, a sort of violence that is so easy to commit and the best thing about it is that you can walk away from it free. . .

"It is sad," says Ahmed, "that Rimsha, who is also said to have an unstable mental condition, was accused of blasphemy. It will be wrong to state that residents of that area did not know about her condition. They did it because Muslims in that locality did not like living with Christians . . ."

See also: Mob Rule Replaces Rule of Law
by Shiraz Maher, Gatestone Institute
September 17, 2012

RIMSHA MASIH AND THE MEHRABAD CONSPIRACY

The Muslims of Mehrabad do not like living with Christians, not because the Christians are difficult to live with, but because, after decades Islamic fundamentalist indoctrination, the Muslims simply hate the Christians without a cause (John 15:18-25).

Talking to media on 24 August, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the local imam who handed Rimsha to the authorities, claimed that Rimsha's blasphemy was part of a deliberate Christian "conspiracy" to insult Muslims.

"The girl who burnt the Holy Quran has no mental illness and is a normal girl," Chishti told AFP. "She did it knowingly. This is a conspiracy and not a mistake. She confessed what she did."

Chishti had long been at the forefront of a dispute between the slum's Muslim and Christian communities, leading complaints over Christian prayers, singing and music that he maintains is provocative. Chishti is doubtless provoked by the fact that joyful Christian worship can be very attractive; consequently it may introduce fitna (temptation / doubt) into the Muslim community. And "fitna is worse than killing". (Qur'an. Sura 2:191)

After Rimsha was arrested, Chishti reportedly told Mehrabad's Christians, "All you chooras (a derogatory term for South Asian Christians) must leave here immediately or we will pour petrol on you and burn you alive." Chishti denies the accusation.

The Islamic pogrom that tore through Mehrabad in the wake of Rimsha's arrest forced the district's more than 500 Christian families to flee. On 28 August the Associated Press reported: "Over the weekend a group of about 300 [displaced Christians] cleared out a section of land in a forested part of an Islamabad neighborhood [along a sewerage line] and built the skeleton of a church from branches, complete with a cross, and were using it to hold prayer services.

"Christians in the area said Tuesday [28 Aug] that in the middle of the night, people burned their makeshift church to the ground. Then the group was evicted from the site.

"By midafternoon a group of about 150 Christians had gathered in the park a few hundred meters (yards) from the clearing where the church once stood. Many had nothing to eat until an aid group delivered some rice.

"'We are helpless. What can we do? We are just sitting here,' said Naseem Javed, who was holding her 3-year-old son in her arms. 'They don't even want us to have a place to pray'."

Though many of the displaced Christians any had previously vowed never to return, about half of Mehrabad's Christian families have since returned, although they do not feel even remotely safe.

On Thursday 30 August, after a medical report found that Rimsha was a minor with a mental capacity less than her age, prosecuting lawyer Rao Abdur Raheem accused the state of manipulating court proceedings and managing the crisis in an attempt to whitewash it for political reasons. He has accused the authorities of arranging to have doctors give a false account of Rimsha age and mental capacity, in order that she might be treated more leniently or even exonerated. "There are many Mumtaz Qadris in this country . . ." Raheem warned ominously, referring to the Islamist bodyguard who assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer over his criticism of the blasphemy law.  "The girl is guilty," he declared. "If the state overrides the court, then God will get a person to do the job."

Later, sitting in his office beneath a large poster of Qadri, Raheem told the Guardian: "If the court is not allowed to do its work, because the state is helping the accused, then the public has no other option except to take the law into their own hands."

A Conspiracy Indeed!

In a surprise twist, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti was arrested on the evening of Saturday 1 September, after his deputy, Maulvi Zubair, and two other associates came forward accusing the imam planting burnt pages of the Quran in Rimsha's bag. Chishti denies the accusation, defiantly maintaining, "This is all fabrication."

Police investigator Munir Hussain Jaffri reports that Maulvi Zubair, Mohammad Shahzad and Awais Ahme told a magistrate that Chishti added pages from the Quran to the burnt pages brought to him by Rimsha's accuser. The three witnesses reportedly told the police that they had urged Chishti not to tamper with the evidence.

"They protested that he should not add something to the evidence and he should give the evidence to the police as he got it and should not do this," Jaffri said. They claim Chishti told them: "You know this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area."

As Jaffri notes, "By putting these pages in the ashes he also committed desecration of the Holy Koran." Consequently, now Chishti is being charged with blasphemy.

Right from the beginning, local Christians had maintained that Rimsha had been set-up as part of a conspiracy to expel the Christians. After Rimsha was arrested, a man from the community who did not want to be named told the Express Tribune, "The girl did not commit blasphemy. It was the cleric from a local mosque and some others who made up the issue to uproot us from Mehrabadia." He said the local Muslims object to Christians praying in their church and singing carols and hymns, even playing music at weddings. 

Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, Rimsha's lawyer from the All Pakistan Minority Committee, said they had always maintained the evidence was planted. "And now it is proved that the whole story was only designed to dislocate the Christian people," he said. Chaudhry believes the imam's arrest proves his client is innocent. He said he will now move to have the case thrown out.

Ali Dayan Hasan, head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, is absolutely correct in stating that the decision to act against the cleric was "unprecedented".

"What it indicates," says Hasan, "is a genuine attempt at investigation rather than blaming the victim, which is what normally happens in blasphemy cases. They are actually taking a look at incitement to violence and false allegations. It is a welcome and positive development."

Imam Chishti maintains he has been set-up; that it is all part of a political conspiracy and the accusations against him are false. Prosecuting lawyer Rao Abdur Raheem likewise maintains that Chishti's arrest is all part of a political conspiracy being driven by political elites for political interests. "This deliberate twist in the case is aimed at discouraging complaints under the blasphemy law," he said in court Sunday.

The reality probably looks something like this: consumed with hate, Chishti framed the poor, helpless and unwitting Rimsha in order to justify inciting the pogrom that drove the Christians out of Mehrabad. Then, with Islamic and international passions soaring, the government realised it had to find a solution that would both pacify Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalists and appease the West. Fortunately for them this case had all the right ingredients to make that very easy. With the case now being all about age, disability and evidence tampering, it is no longer has to be about blasphemy, intolerance and religious hatred at all and the government is off the hook.

Rimsha's bail hearing has been slated for Friday 7 September.

While she will doubtless be exonerated and released, we must resist the temptation to cry peace, peace when there is no peace! At this point, nothing has changed in Pakistan.

UPDATE:  At the bail hearing on Friday 7 Sept, Judge Mohammad Azam Khan announced to a packed courtroom, “The bail application has been accepted against two sureties of 500,000 rupees each.”

On Sunday 9 Sept, Rimsha was released from prison and transported under tight security in a bullet-proof police van to a helicopter that took her to a secret, undisclosed location where she was reunited with her family. The family remains in hiding as Islamic fundamentalists are still threatening to kill Rimsha.

The next hearing of the case will take place on Monday 17 September.