Blasphemy flaw
Editorial
We have created a history of incidents involving blasphemy. A lot of it is shameful. It is a history of abuse of law, of false accusations, of accused killed in police custody, of judges hearing blasphemy cases threatened and actually killed, and worst of all of mobs lynching the accused and penalising entire communities. And yet nothing has been done about it.

"Our government
doesn't have the guts to amend the law"
Asma Jahangir, chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
The News on Sunday: How do you see the recent events in Gojra?
Asma Jahangir: We have had incidents of this type in the past and we will continue having them because: first, in our society we promote bigotry, glorify it, and think it is in national and Islamic interest; second, we have provided legislation which has lent a tool of oppression in the hands of those who know how to use violence.

Pattern in madness
The blasphemy law has become a tool in the hands of unscrupulous elements
By Ayra Inderyas
Last week, following the blasphemy allegations, which resulted in the eruption of violence against Christians, 3 women, one young girl, 2 men, and a child were burnt alive in Gojra while another man in the nearby Korian village succumbed to injuries and lost his life.

On day 9
A visit to Gojra and Korian village reveals how relief work in the affected areas is yet to begin
By Zulfiqar Shah
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has announced an aid worth Rs 200 millions, but hope is yet to return to the people whose lives have been badly shaken by the recent incidents of violence.

"State has the right to punish"
-- Asif Iftikhar, a PhD student of Islamic Law at McGill and a visiting faculty member at LUMS and Pakistan College of Law
By Usman Ghafoor
The News on Sunday: In a recent interview, you said that there is "no prescribed punishment" for blasphemy in Islam. Elaborate.
Asif Iftikhar: When one speaks of Islam, one is not referring to a monolithic whole in terms of interpretation. The foundational sources may be the same -- mostly, the Muslim people would like to invoke the Quran or the Sunnah or the Hadith -- yet the interpretations, right from the earliest times to the modern times, have not just been one monolithic whole; there is diversity of opinion. So, the first question is, whose Islam? When I say that there's no specified punishment in Islam, it is actually vis--vis the understanding of those scholars who I believe have more correctly deciphered the message of Islam.

"Citizens of majority religion have a sense of power"
-- Rubina Saigol, sociologist and activist
The News on Sunday: What is mob psychology and how does it operate?
Rubina Saigol: Psychologists, in particular psychoanalysts, have worked a great deal on crowd and mob psychology. Sigmund Freud found that when a person is a part of a crowd, the intellectual and rational functions of the brain become less dominant and the factors that control emotions and passions become more dominant. In solitude the opposite happens as reflective and intellectual functions become heightened and emotions take a back seat (this is why people prefer privacy when they do mental work).

So who's the main culprit?
Religious parties were united but SSP may have had a dominant role
By Waqar Gillani
Though the religious parties were united in attacking the Christian settlement of Gojra, the banned religious outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Deoband Muslim group, has been blamed for creating havoc on August 1.

 

Blasphemy flaw

Editorial

We have created a history of incidents involving blasphemy. A lot of it is shameful. It is a history of abuse of law, of false accusations, of accused killed in police custody, of judges hearing blasphemy cases threatened and actually killed, and worst of all of mobs lynching the accused and penalising entire communities. And yet nothing has been done about it.

Gojra is only another incident in the sequence, though no less shameful.

Exactly a month ago, in another case of alleged blasphemy in a village in Kasur, houses were burnt, though no FIR was lodged and the administration was said to have done the damage control. Compensations were offered to the victims of the Christian community.

But the very fact that we remain so vulnerable to such incidents of violence kept us on the edge. And then there was Gojra along with its most brutal face of mob violence. So here we go back to ask the same set of questions that have been raised many times before. Is it the laws on the statute books that encourage blasphemy? Is there no possible way we could get rid of them? Will procedural amendments do instead? What of society and its attitudes, its perception of difference? When does a group become a mob and when and why does a mob turn violent? What if there was no blasphemy law? Will we be able to shed this superiority complex? What do the scriptures say about blasphemy? What would the Prophet who preached and practised forgiveness make of this senseless hatred and violence committed in his and religion's name?

Like always we build on hope. We attempt to seek answers to these questions for our own selves and not to build our image for the sake of the international community. The senseless killing, the brutal burning and the loot and plunder in Gojra is our collective shame. We cannot create an image beyond reality. This country will have to change its reality and the image will automatically improve. The flaw of blasphemy must not become our tragic flaw.

 

"Our government

doesn't have the guts to amend the law"

Asma Jahangir, chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

The News on Sunday: How do you see the recent events in Gojra?

Asma Jahangir: We have had incidents of this type in the past and we will continue having them because: first, in our society we promote bigotry, glorify it, and think it is in national and Islamic interest; second, we have provided legislation which has lent a tool of oppression in the hands of those who know how to use violence.

To this day, I have not seen anyone murdered in the name of religion getting justice. Look at the case of Dr. Farooq in Gujranwala. He was proved to be innocent and yet the mob took him out of the police custody and burnt him alive. So people are not safe even in police custody. Then there was Tahir Iqbal who was poisoned in jail. I was his counsel and we had informed the court in writing that his life was under threat; we had sent telegrams to the prime minister, chief minister, to the chief justice but nobody responded. Till he was killed in the prison and I only got to know about it from a newspaper report on the day that I was going for the hearing of his case. The jail authorities knew very well that I was his lawyer. I used to go and visit him. In this case I was not even informed of his death because they were scared of the repercussions.

Naimat Anwar, a young peaceful man, was threatened just because somebody wanted his job. He was transferred to Faisalabad and then stabbed to death. The person who stabbed him was kissed by the police officers. When the HRCP team went to see him in jail, it found that people had come there with flowers and sweets for him. In such an atmosphere, how do you expect incidents like Gojra to stop?

What has happened in the Sheikhupura district proves that this is not limited to non-Muslims. We are all giving attention to Gojra because the Christian community has some support from the world outside. What about Ahmedis? What about Ahmedi students who were thrown out of medical schools or children who were put into prison in Layyah? Whenever anything goes wrong in this country, Ahmedis are blamed and not a single political figure stands up and says we will not tolerate it.

Everybody is going to Gojra after the deed is done. But one has to look at the larger picture, which is that we cannot say, "okay you can go and kill Ahmedis but you cannot kill Christians." What is happening to shias in this country? Has anyone talked about what happened in Bajaur? The stories are horrendous of how they were massacred.

TNS: What about the government response?

AJ: It's not only the government response, I think it's also about the people. They cannot go around talking about vajibul qatal, shiah kafir. This has to be discouraged. We are nobody to judge people on the basis of their religion. If they want to worship a stone, it is of no concern to us and people in this world do worship stones. It doesn't mean that we should kill them. Next, if we have a liberal interpretation of the Quran that will also be considered defamation. If we criticise these blood-thirsty mullahs, that too might be considered defamation of religion.

One of my strongest demands is that they have to screen all the mullahs in the mosques. If they are breathing fire they are not capable and must not be allowed to lead prayers. The loudspeakers are not there for them to incite violence and hatch murder conspiracies.

TNS: Some people have pointed out the link between such incidents and the PML-N government in the province?

AJ: I don't think so, I think this is again a conspiracy theory and we shouldn't really confuse it. The governments are putting blame on each other even though it is a collective blame. Since this case is going to get the international eye, they want to raise their voice.

I don't have any confirmed information but I do know that the administration closed its eyes and did not react at all. Actually, the administration has always been told that those who protest in the name of religion must be let off even if they resort to violence. We must change their mindsets by sending a very strong message from the very top.

When I was fighting this case of blasphemy for a young boy, Salamat Masih, the mobs were banging the court room doors saying "kill them, hang them" and they were all over the High Court premises. They just broke my car apart and not one of them was arrested. They can be easily identified if you look at the BBC documentary. They look so scary that it is not possible to tell the world that Muslims are peaceful people.

These are not just individual groups who are spontaneously reacting. Organised groups soon take over local religious conflicts. The linchpin between the community and the organised group is the mosque Imam; he is the catalyst. He blows the whistle and even if somebody wants to diffuse the situation at the local level, he is not capable of doing it.

Thus in this case the neighbours saved the Christian women, for they couldn't do anything else; they were not familiar with the crowd gathered there. So this mullah organising mob violence has to go; he is the local mole of the militants, the trouble-maker. He is not there for peace or sanctity or spiritual uplift of the people.

TNS: The repeal of blasphemy laws is an old demand. Aren't there any alternatives?

AJ: This argument has gone on for many years, and we obviously want it to be repealed. But a middle path has also been suggested whereby anybody who makes a false accusation should be punished. The result of that suggestion was that the mullahs came out in the streets saying they would not allow this law to be made. In other words they were saying they will go and kill people for no rhyme or reason and no one should say anything to them. Our government doesn't even have the guts to get the law amended forget about repeal.

When you say blasphemy law you are only talking about 295-C. Hundreds of people have been convicted under 298-A (Use of derogatory remarks, etc.), 298-B (Misuse of epithet, descriptions and titles, etc), and 298-C (calling himself a Muslim or preaching or propagating his faith) that targets the Ahmedis directly.

The British made article 295, 295-A, to protect the public order, and only the Deputy Commissioner could make the complaint. So the concept of 295, and 295-A is to grant power to the government to arrest someone for the purpose of maintaining public order. But then Ziaul Haq added 298-A, B and later 295-B and C, which simply persecute people in the name of religion and the minorities are the worst hit.

TNS: What about the recent procedural amendments made during Musharraf's rule?

AJ: The procedural changes are in the policy not in the law. The Lahore High Court rules in a case of 295-C that it is the right of every individual to file an FIR.

This is all counter-productive even if you look at it from the perspective of giving respect to your religion; where people must deal with issues in a sensible manner and negotiate with others. If blasphemy has been committed there are other ways of dealing with it also, other than killing. I was fighting a case for a 14-year-old boy who was wrongly accused of blasphemy, but I would say even if he had committed blasphemy, you tell him this is wrong, re-educate him, you don't have to put him to death.

According to research, when there were no blasphemy laws there were hardly two reported cases on anything related to blasphemy but now you have hundreds of cases. Every year you have examples of harrowing incidents. You can't say that the laws encourage blasphemy but obviously it is being misused. Well I support repeal of the law but at least if anyone makes a false allegation he or she should be taken to task.

TNS: What is your take on the judicial inquiry instituted on Gojra?

AJ: What judicial inquiry? This is a criminal case, there must be a criminal investigation, and people should have been arrested, people should be investigated and the evidences are there.

What the government should have done was to ensure the investigation was done by a team of senior police officers who would not be influenced and that the investigation is then supervised by a judge of the High Court.

I have handled cases of blasphemy. The judges in the subordinate courts are given no protection, and there are hundreds of religious zealots standing outside the courtroom all armed. Which judge will have a death wish to give a judgement against them? One of the High Court judges was killed in the Salamat Masih case. On top of it, the government of Pakistan wants to make defamation of religion an international law. If you are going through hell why do you want the whole world to go through hell?

 

-- By Alefia T. Hussain,

Aoun Sahi and Naila Inayat

 

Pattern in madness

The blasphemy law has become a tool in the hands of unscrupulous elements

By Ayra Inderyas

Last week, following the blasphemy allegations, which resulted in the eruption of violence against Christians, 3 women, one young girl, 2 men, and a child were burnt alive in Gojra while another man in the nearby Korian village succumbed to injuries and lost his life.

In June this year, houses of Christians were burnt down in Kasur, on the pretext of blasphemy. Fearing more violence, over a hundred Christian families were forced to flee.

In the past, attacks on churches, Christian settlements and different church-run institutions on charges of blasphemy, have also been witnessed in Sangla Hill, Shantinagar, Rahim Yar Khan, Murree, Taxila and Sukkur. Such ferocious acts -- of religious bigotry -- have naturally instilled a fear among the mostly poor and downtrodden Christian community of Pakistan. The blasphemy law seems to have become a tool in the hands of unscrupulous elements who can further their own agenda, as suggested by Mr Victor Azriah, Executive Secretary, National Council of the Church of Pakistan.

Local Muslim clerics are also to blame, as they have been found to have made hate speeches against Christians. In Gojra, reports have it that a frenzied mob consisting of vigilantes equipped with guns, sticks, hammers and toxic and inflammable chemicals gathered within no time in the area, responding to the call of their religious cleric, and unleashed terror on the local Christians.

As of June 2008, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) registered a total of 892 people who had been charged with blasphemy ever since the laws were introduced. Of all, 50% were Muslims, 11% Christians, 6% Ahmadis and 1% Hindus. Between January and April 2008, a total of 15 people were accused of blasphemy.

Reviewing such laws might end in fruitless amendments as it happened in 2004 during the Musharaf regime when procedural amendments to blasphemy laws were made. The investigation level was raised in that before lodging an FIR, investigation had to be conducted by a high-ranking police official. However, the procedural changes of 2004 failed to prevent violent incidents. Over blasphemy cases, police official can succumb to the pressure of the angry mob thus filing an FIR against blasphemy accused drawn within no time, he further added.

 

On day 9

A visit to Gojra and Korian village reveals how relief work in the affected areas is yet to begin

By Zulfiqar Shah

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has announced an aid worth Rs 200 millions, but hope is yet to return to the people whose lives have been badly shaken by the recent incidents of violence.

Outside the house of master Riaz, in Gojra, a group of mourners were gathered. It transpired that Riaz, a heart patient, died of a cardiac arrest as he lost all money he had saved for his surgery. In another part of Gojra, Zeenat, a frail old woman, is forced to sleep out in the street. In Korian, a poor woman had lost all items she had collected for the dowry of her young daughters. "Nothing is left for our future. Whatever we have is on the bodies of our children," she told TNS.

There is an entire lot of people who have been left destitute, and the much-announced aid is yet to reach them.

A visit to the places reveals that no arrangements have been made to provide immediate shelter to the homeless and the terrorised.

"It was like the bottom dropped out of our world," a young girl named Neelam told TNS, in a very jittery tone. She looked horrified as she spoke of how she had a very "nice, comfortable" place of her own, and called for some psychiatric treatment.

Food was the only relief item one saw. "People have been bringing us food; indeed, we're surviving on that," said a young man, talking to TNS.

"Food can fill your empty stomachs but it cannot dress you in clothes and it cannot build you a roof to live under."

No official was available for comment on the issue of relief work. The story was typical: an official had arrived before a dignitary's scheduled visit and left soon afterwards.

It was day 8 in Korian. The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) was setting up its camp office. The Board had been entrusted the task to rebuild homes, but the kind of material being used in construction (of the camp office) had prompted the locals to complain. ""They are using foam and very fragile material, I don't think that will be appropriate for the homes promised by the government," "They are using foam and a very fragile material which is not appropriate for construction. I hope this is not used for construction of our homes," said Sadaquat, a local activist.

Ms Kausar, another social activist from Toba who had been visiting the victims from day one also spoke to TNS. She said that there were gaps in relief efforts. "People are still in distress and the response is very slow."

 

"State has the right to punish"

-- Asif Iftikhar, a PhD student of Islamic Law at McGill and a visiting faculty member at LUMS and Pakistan College of Law

By Usman Ghafoor

The News on Sunday: In a recent interview, you said that there is "no prescribed punishment" for blasphemy in Islam. Elaborate.

Asif Iftikhar: When one speaks of Islam, one is not referring to a monolithic whole in terms of interpretation. The foundational sources may be the same -- mostly, the Muslim people would like to invoke the Quran or the Sunnah or the Hadith -- yet the interpretations, right from the earliest times to the modern times, have not just been one monolithic whole; there is diversity of opinion. So, the first question is, whose Islam? When I say that there's no specified punishment in Islam, it is actually vis--vis the understanding of those scholars who I believe have more correctly deciphered the message of Islam.

If you ask any scholar for what is termed as 'Ibaaratal-Nass' -- any explicit, unequivocal statement in the Quran -- which says that such-and-such is the punishment for blasphemy, no scholar worth his name will be able to point that out. There are only inferences which have been drawn from different verses and ahadith. My own point of view is based on the works of certain scholars that I believe have interpreted these verses more appropriately. And that interpretation is that the Quran itself has specified all the cases where death punishment is possible. Blasphemy against the Prophet (peace be upon him), for instance, is one of the gravest sins in Islam that renders a person devoid of faith. But as far as worldly punishment is concerned, the Quran, according to some scholars, still does not specify death punishment for such people. God may, of course, punish such people even in this world as happened during the times of the Prophet. Furthermore, there is no concept of lynching in Islam.

TNS: Does the state have the right to award any kind of punishment?

AI: The Islamic state does have the right to punish the person who commits blasphemy against the Prophet. But the laws for this purpose should be made through a democratic process in the light of the Quran and in accordance with the constitution and the principles of justice. It should not be imposed by any dictator or religious sect. My own preference would be that in case a person is duly found guilty of committing a crime -- that is, if there is sufficient and reasonable evidence that the person committed this act purely out of malice and not unintentionally -- through a court of law, through a proper procedure, punishments can be given. But, again, the Quran does not specify death punishment, according to some highly meritorious scholars.

Besides, there is no concept of an individual or a group taking the law into their own hands for the purposes of indicting and punishing any person on blasphemy. At best what a person can do is to report the matter to the police; they can then investigate the matter in an appropriate way which does not infringe upon the basic human rights of the person. And if he is found guilty, the court can see what punishment can be given in accordance with the law.

TNS: Don't you think the right to free expression is exploited?

AI: In the European Convention of Human Rights, there are clear indications that free speech must be limited by a regard for the religious sentiments of people and there are precedents in Poland and other countries where certain punishments were given for the purpose. So, this is a right.

Any person, whether a Muslim or a non Muslim, who desecrates any religion or divine/revealed book, for instance, the Bible or the Gita, should be reprimanded to some extent. Quran variously asks us not to abuse other peoples' gods.

TNS: Are there any precedents of foregoing punishment in Islamic history?

AI: Yes, there are incidents where the Prophet himself preferred not to give any punishment to the people who had blasphemed against him. Why, because -- his statements clearly indicate -- he did not want Islam to be presented this way. And this is exactly our situation right now.

TNS: How do you view the blasphemy law?

AI: Two most important sections of the blasphemy law are always a subject of debate. They look not only like prescribed punishments, they also to some extent prescribe a procedure which is at times whimsical. For the procedure itself, there is hardly any foundational text. It's so whimsical that any person can accuse anybody of blasphemy.

See, accusation also requires an elaborate procedure, because it puts a person in a very difficult legal and social situation. In some way, a punishment of sorts already begins as soon as a person is accused and is considered to be a legally suspect person. To go to the extent where somebody's accusation can be considered worthy of merit itself requires a lot of elaborate investigation before that person is made to go through the ordeal. For instance, in case of the punishment for fornication, the religious texts of Islam very clearly prescribe that there must be four witnesses, four honourable people whose reputation is impeccable; they go and testify that they've seen this person doing the act in its last form with their own eyes; only then the case will be registered. If they are unable to do so, they will be punished for wrongly accusing the person.

So, where you are talking about a person who in our society is likely to be either maltreated by the law enforcing agencies themselves or lynched, even before the matter goes to the police the mere act of accusing itself has to be brought within the ambit of reasonable laws. And I would go to the extent of saying that one can draw some analogy from this case of fornication.

TNS: You have said before that the blasphemy law should not be repealed.

AI: What I said was that it should not be repealed through an executive order.

See, the democratic norms should not be bypassed. Just as the religious laws created issues because they were imposed without democratic norms, if you repeal them in the same way, you will be harming the democratic process.

There are two ways of going about it in a democratic fashion. The court reserves the right to say that, in certain situations, the law can be suspended to safeguard the basic objectives of the Shariah which include protecting the lives of innocent people. Another way is to revisit the law in the parliament, discuss its religious, social, cultural aspects and then change it.

TNS: What would 'revisiting the law' entail?

AI: In cases such as ours where it is very likely that this law will be misused and innocent people will be killed, the court can say that even though the law is correct in its own right, let's suspend it for now.

My contention is that if the law is revisited in the parliament and the democratically elected majority decides that the death punishment will not be awarded and that the person who has committed blasphemy will be extradited or exiled, this kind of punishment will not be against Quran or against human and moral values.

TNS: What could be the balanced approach?

AI: The balanced approach, according to me, is that it will neither be against Islam to revisit the laws based on human interpretations nor would it be wrong to suspend them in a proper, democratic way until they are replaced by appropriate ones.

Secondly, I believe, a punishment, such as extradition or exile or a penalty, is possible if there is no reasonable fear of misuse or injustice or loss to innocent lives. Why, because it is the right of Muslims in any country where they have the majority to see that no one desecrates their religion or blasphemes against their Prophet. Furthermore, if you don't have even these laws, there is a greater possibility that the people will start lynching.

TNS: The role of the Imam masjid or the clergy has been quite crucial on such matters. Do you agree?

AI: Well, the religious scholars do not have the right to present themselves as the final authority in the enactment of law. At best, they have the right to interpret religion. It is up to the parliament which represents the majority opinion to enact laws.

Secondly, many of these people who are using the forum of the mosques are not even qualified to be there, in the first place. In the Islamic tradition, there was no concept of a religious scholar being the Imam of the mosque. The Imam of the mosque used to be the head of the state, the governor and his representatives. Because this tradition has been thrown away and has been taken over by the maulvis, the mosques have become citadels of sectarianism and of extremism and militancy. This needs to be checked.

TNS: What precisely is the concept of 'desecration' in Islam? A lot of Quranic text is casually printed in newspapers without considering that these papers often land into trash bins.

AI: There are three aspects to the issue. First is a deliberate act of desecration. There is malice in the mens rea. This is something which can't be condoned by any decent society. Another situation is where your academic opinion is seemingly different from that of the other person. If you take that to be blasphemy, then there can be no intellectual discussion on anything. The Brelvis will kill the Deobandis because the opinion of one is blasphemy to the other. Quran grants you the right of difference of opinion.

Then, there are problems at pragmatic level. For instance, how should you hold the Quran, how should you keep it, et al. To a large extent, these problems are dependent on social conventions. A lot of people on Hajj have read it while sitting on the ground. These conventions have their limitations and can be rectified through a social mechanism. Legal measures in such cases are not always possible or desirable.

 

"Citizens of majority religion have a sense of power"

-- Rubina Saigol, sociologist and activist

 

The News on Sunday: What is mob psychology and how does it operate?

Rubina Saigol: Psychologists, in particular psychoanalysts, have worked a great deal on crowd and mob psychology. Sigmund Freud found that when a person is a part of a crowd, the intellectual and rational functions of the brain become less dominant and the factors that control emotions and passions become more dominant. In solitude the opposite happens as reflective and intellectual functions become heightened and emotions take a back seat (this is why people prefer privacy when they do mental work).

When a person becomes a part of a mob his individual sense of identity merges with that of others and he/she feels more powerful than when alone and is, thus, able to transgress the boundaries of morality or conscience that normally restrain him. In a mob a person surrenders a part of his/her individuality to the larger whole and feels a part of something bigger than the self. At a larger level, the same mentality operates when individuals surrender a part of their autonomy to the fascist state and, through identification with something larger and bigger, no matter how criminal, feel bigger themselves. Erich Fromm has laid out this tendency quite well in his classic work, Escape from Freedom. A lot of the studies on crowd behaviour owe a lot to Gustav Le Bon's famous study, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.

TNS: Why is it that mobs become more violent when it comes to religious issues?

RS: This is, strictly speaking, not true. Mobs can become violent over many issues ranging from religion to nationalism to economic suppression. All human beings have a measure of aggression within them as a part of the heritage of the animal kingdom. This aggression can have positive aspects when used to eke out a living and to protect oneself against danger. However, this aggression can be harnessed by states, movements and other ideologies by crafty ideologues and rabble rousers. Life's frustrations from repression, economic depression, failure to achieve aims can be manipulated by those with vested interests to create consensus for violence. This happens at the level of mobs as well as states when an entire nation can be harnessed to a project of war, militarism and violence. Religion is just one such ideology that incites passion within people who then forget its basic teachings against killing, murder and harm to others.

TNS: How does the human psyche work in perceiving differences, like between religions, sects, classes?

RS: Normally, people can live with difference without much difficulty -- in fact, people often enjoy difference against monotony and sameness. Difference only becomes threatening when it posits competition. In a world of increasingly scarce resources there is a tendency to secure one's livelihood against rivals. Most people identify with some group or the other -- national, religious, ethnic or sectarian. They feel that through this immediate identification they can better secure resources than when alone. This is when difference becomes a matter of competition, power, violence and alienation. In situations of abundance, the conflict over resources is likely to lessen. But you can see that rich and powerful countries are scrambling, fighting and warring over world's scarce energy resources and covering up this aggression and violence with other names such as 'war on terror' and 'fight for justice'.

As long as there is exploitation, and some groups, countries, nations, sects etc control more than others, quarrels over resources will continue to take the shape of identity politics.

TNS: What are the origins of this tension and the attitude that we do not like to dine with Christians etc.?

RS: Religious prejudices exist around the world and are more often than not expressions of insecurity. A part of it also comes from a fear of the unknown. There is also some fear of loss of one's own self if another group becomes powerful. But in cases such as the one in Gojra, people's passions were inflamed by rabble rousing priests whose livelihood depends on creating and spreading hatred and violence. The main problem is that the state privileges one religion over others and citizens belonging to the majority religion have a greater sense of power. If the state declared itself equidistance from all religions and refused to favour or disfavour any one religion, it would be able to discourage violence based on religion. Articles 2 and 2-A of our constitution, which declare one religion to be the state religion, should be removed as they debase religion and also create inequality among citizens. Additionally, the blasphemy laws have been used and manipulated by the powerful in money and property disputes against the less powerful. The blasphemy laws should be immediately repealed as they help create the atmosphere and environment that encourage such violence. The state's own policies, made by the powerful classes, need serious revision to protect all citizens.

TNS: In a country like Pakistan, and given our level of literacy, how can the situation be improved?

RS: Literacy alone will not resolve any problem. Often the worst violence is committed by the most educated and this is true all over the world. This is not just a matter of ideology and lack of education. Violence and oppression have a material basis in the differentials of power and resources between citizens. A more just and equitable distribution of wealth, power and resources would help to reduce such violence which is almost always against the less powerful classes of people.

(The interview was conducted via email)

 

So who's the main culprit?

Religious parties were united but SSP may have had a dominant role

By Waqar Gillani

Though the religious parties were united in attacking the Christian settlement of Gojra, the banned religious outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Deoband Muslim group, has been blamed for creating havoc on August 1.

The Christian colony in Gojra which lies adjacent to the Ansar colony of Muslims is known to be influenced by Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). The organisation's involvement in the unfortunate incident of Aug 1 has been confirmed by the district administration and the Punjab government. "There is clear evidence of the involvement of the SSP. There is also evidence of the people moving in here from Jhang to attack the Christian settlement," says Ahmad Raza Tahir, Regional Police Officer, Faisalabad.

The presence of Wahabis and Sunni Brelvis is dominant in the area, too. Supposedly, people belonging to these two schools of thought actively participated in rallies against the Christians on the day of the incident.

Qari Abdul Khaliq Kashmiri, a Sipah-e-Sahaba cleric serving the local Deobandi mosque for the last 15 years, is accused of being the main instigator. He made a fiery speech during Friday prayers a day before the incident. He is currently under arrest.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah claims that the cleric is related to Ilyas Kashmiri, an extremist leading an independent group of Taliban in Waziristan. The Muslims of the area who joined protest said the people were out of control and in rage after blasphemy allegations. They also alleged Christians, whose houses have been totally burnt, for sparking the violence after 'threatening' the Muslims.

A local vendor, Muhammad Naseer, who witnessed that they protest, says that while delivering the Friday sermon, the Qari condemned the incident held in the Korian village. "After the Friday prayers, a strike was called and a rally organised. All the religious organisations took part in the demonstration. Thousands of people joined in."

He adds that the situation worsened when some Christians tried to stop the rally. And that is what actually infuriated the crowd who was protesting against Christians over the alleged blasphemy."

Muhammad Sarwar Ansari, brother of the local nazim, thinks. Ansari, who attended the Friday prayers led by Qari Kashmiri, also admits that it was not confirmed whether blasphemy was committed in the Korian village before the riots erupted. But, "as Muslims we had to react. We were furious."

Standing near the mosque, Ansari says Muslim protestors were on the streets and on the railway tracks near the Christian colony. "Christians threatened the Muslims first," he says, adding, "A Muslim cannot set another man on fire. Actually, the Christians burnt their own houses and set the seven persons on fire to gain sympathy."

Half of the houses were burnt by the Christians themselves he said, claiming that Muslims were very 'peaceful'.

Established during General Ziaul Haq's rule of the 1980s, by Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba had been initially an upfront of Sunni extremists. It was basically designed to counter Shia influence in Pakistan. Reportedly, about 4,000 religious leaders and their diehard followers were killed in sectarian feuds in the last two decades. The organisation working under different names after being banned in 2001, mainly as Tehrik-e-Jihad-e-Islami, is still active, TNS learnt from the locals. It always hates Shias, Christians and Americans.

Qari Noor Ahmed, who belongs to Sunni Brelvi school of thought and represents the Sunni Tehrik in Gojra, has also been nominated in the police case against this vandalism. He is currently in hiding. While talking to TNS on telephone from a secret place, he blamed Sipah-e-Sahaba and Taliban-related elements in SSP for the act. "We saw vans coming from Jhang. We have many times requested the district administration to take action against such elements in the past."

According to him, Sunni Tehrik has always opposed such vandalism.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah also points his finger at the banned outfits like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. He feels that the terrorists are trying to change the pattern of terrorism and want to create instability in the country by targeting minorities.

Investigations conducted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reveal that SSP was involved in planning the attacks. The commission's report reads that the announcements made from the mosques in Gojra on July 31 urged the Muslims to react against the Christians.

Amir Mir, a senior journalist, does not rule out the possibility of the involvement of Sipah-e-Sahaba because of their influence in the area. They are anti-Shia, anti-Christian and anti-Americans, he says. If there were protests and announcements of strike from the mosques, then the attack could have been planned with the strong possibility of having help of trained activists from Jhang. He says though this was a united act of the religious organizations, Sipah-e-Sahaba would have a dominant role because of their Deoband activism. He recalls that Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants and activists were already involved in Church attacks in Islamabad and planning to attack two Murree churches few years ago. He views that they always wanted to pressurise Americans by harassing Christians. And if the arrested Qari Kashmiri is linked with Ilyas Kashmiri then there could be the involvement of Harkatul Jihadul Islami too.

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