Dr. Faheem Younus Headshot

Pakistan's Blasphemy Knife

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After the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963, a white reporter asked Malcolm X in reference to civil rights movement, "You feel however, that we are making progress in this country?" Malcolm responded by saying, "No. You stick a knife into my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that's not progress."

Such is the condition of the likes of Asiya Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman accused of blaspheming Prophet Muhammad, facing the death penalty under section 295B of the Pakistani Penal Code. This is the same law that has subject Pakistani Ahmadi Muslims to relentless and systematic persecution since 1984. Hundreds of Pakistani citizens belonging to various minority sects have been killed over the past decade in the guise of blasphemy laws. As Shariah Courts continue to hand down decrees to kill, stone, and humiliate and the Blasphemy laws continue to impose death sentences as a punishment for freedom of expression, the situation with America's strongest ally remains dicey.

Just over the past six months Pakistan has twisted this "knife" among minorities nationwide. A mob burnt down the homes at the outskirts of Karachi when a Hindu boy drank water from a mosque cooler in July. During the same month, a Christian priest and his brother accused of blasphemy, were shot dead outside a Faisalabad court as they were returning from a hearing. In November, an Ahmadi family was pressured into exhuming the body of their relative buried in the Muslim graveyard after clerics threatened violence. And now a death sentence was awarded to a Christian, Asiya Bibi, as a punishment for blasphemy. Pope Benedict XVI has called upon the Pakistani authorities to release Asiya Bibi on Wednesday.

And as Amnesty International, Human Rights Commission and Jinnah Institute are rousing with condemnations against such human right abuses, Pakistani parliament and judiciary are silent. Governor Salman Taseer's passing remark to repeal these laws in 2009 was too little too late.

Which brings me to the million dollar question: Is Pakistan even committed to pulling the knife back? Not really, say many of the pundits. Some say the Blasphemy laws are Shariah-compliant based on a 1988 court decision. Some go as far to declare them constitutional (based on the 1993 Supreme Court of Pakistan decision). Regrettably, these laws now form the basis for the defamation of religions resolution currently pending before United Nations.

And the actions of politicians like Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, support the dismal outlook painted above. Earlier this month he directed to withdraw all cases against clerics within 48 hours for protesting against alleged blasphemy incidents during the Musharraf government. And after the May 28th gruesome attacks on Ahmadis in Lahore, 13 religious leaders convened and publically declared the attacks to be a conspiracy in order to repeal blasphemy laws.

So where do we go from here?

Malcolm X answered this question in the same interview, "Even if you pull the knife all the way that's not progress. Progress is in healing the wounds below. You don't even admit the knife is there."

Reading the mainstream Urdu media and some of the comments online, it becomes clear as day that a majority of Pakistanis are either oblivious or ambivalent of this knife.

It took a revolution in America to remove the knife of racial prejudice, and even after half a century the wounds are still bleeding. Deplorably, as the world lets these human rights violations go unchecked, Pakistani minorities may have to live on the knife-edge for quite some time.