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Qanta Ahmed, MD

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Pakistan and the Policing of Belief: Islamist Lawfare Abducts Democracy

Posted: 06/06/2012 11:59 am

The Lawfare Project defines lawfare as 'the use of the law as a weapon of war, or more specifically, the abuse of the law and legal systems for strategic, political or military ends." But lawfare also includes the "manipulation of the legal system to achieve purposes other than or contrary to, that for which they were originally enacted..."

Pakistan, America's ailing ally, on closer examination is a democracy abducted by Islamist lawfare. Six decades after its formation, through one of the most sustained examples of wholesale civil lawfare, Pakistan has rightly become notorious for domestic and international Islamist extremism fueled on demagoguery.

Worse, Pakistan's democracy has been waging unopposed lawfare on its own citizens for decades without incurring international opposition. Through this particularly breathtaking civil lawfare, religious intolerance has become a de facto component of Pakistani identity.

Human rights violations have been legally ratified into Pakistan's constitution based on the supremacy of Sharia law as Islamist Pakistanis in power interpret, in stark, contrast to Pakistan's pluralist ideals at its inception. Those Pakistanis who dare remind us of these lost ideals, like Governor Taseer -- murdered for defending a Christian from false accusation of blasphemy -- pay the price for their bravery, and memory, in blood.

The authorship of Governor Taseer's felling is enshrined not in bullets but bylaws. The labyrinthine rewriting and ultimate subjugation Pakistan's constitution is an unparalleled exercise in Islamist lawfare ensuring Pakistan both polices belief, and murders in its name.

The director of the Lawfare Project, acclaimed human rights attorney and documentary movie maker Brooke Goldstein, Pakistan's lawfare exacts a perfect trifecta of domination through legal abuse: the use of law to first silence, and then punish, any speech deemed blasphemous (also known as libel lawfare) and an added component of Islamist lawfare imposing intolerant elements of Sharia law on the framework of a westernized legal system. Her recent book (co-authored with Aaron Meyer) Lawfare: The War Against Free Speech navigates the hazards of Islamist lawfare for any journalist who dares approach Islamism as a subject of scrutiny.

Today Pakistani constitutional law is mere scaffolding for a mutated Sharia. This ghoulish man made (not divine) hybrid is monstrous in both intention and execution.

Despite this overt abuse of the rule of law, Pakistan has been celebrated by the United States (and others) as a legitimate democracy. Worse, Pakistan has been invited to sit on UN Human Rights panels including the United Nations Human Rights Council (from 2006 to 2011). Emboldened by such acceptance, Pakistan leads OIC efforts to broaden the application of abusive blasphemy laws across the world, under the false guise of 'protecting' Islam.

Cannibalistic civil lawfare advanced by Pakistan's Islamists has resulted in both the genesis and violent implementation of the Pakistan's blasphemy laws, the most notorious in the world. While claiming to be written as religion-neutral, since their 1984 enactment, these laws have never been applied to protect minorities but rather their persecution.

The erosion of freedom of speech and press in Pakistan is directly derivative of Islamist lawfare, guaranteeing the stranglehold wielded by Islamists and their backers: ruthless interest groups, autocratic feudal interests, and seditious extremist religious clergy.

Pakistan was once conceived as a shelter to minorities from religious extremism and stated as such in its inaugural constitution in 1956, which was categorical about this belief -- based on UN ideals. Sadly, these ideals would die in their infancy.

Muhammed Ali Jinnah (Pakistan's founding father) was a staunch democrat and conceived Pakistan as a Muslim state with welfare, community and popular sovereignty as its foundational principles. Jinnah's words -- three days prior to Pakistan's independence -- emphasize the principle of religious tolerance as the bedrock of the new state. As President of the Constituent Assembly, he addressed future Pakistanis at The Karachi Club:

"You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State."

Yet since then, the history of the malleable Pakistani legislatures -- molded in the hands of masterful rogues -- truly horrifies. I direct concerned readers to Amjad Mahmood Khan's comprehensive treatise in the Harvard Human Rights Journal, and his 2009 congressional testimony on persecution in Pakistan; to the definitive volume Silenced authored by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea, and to David F. Forte's 1994 work Apostasy and Blasphemy in Pakistan, published in the Connecticut Journal of International Law.

Obstructed almost from inception by Pakistan's orthodox clerics, the state secularism Jinnah aspired towards was destined to fail. Sophisticated fundamentalists, aware that targeting Pakistani non-Muslims would now be too fraught with risk with the world's eye on the nascent Muslim state, instead, trained their focus on a little known minority of moderate Muslims: the pacifist Ahmadi Muslims, avowed rejectionists of violence.

Claiming Ahmadi Muslims contested the primacy of the Prophet Mohammed (a fallacy), they targeted this peaceful minority, in a brilliant exercise in Islamist Lawfare. In 1962 after decades of anti Ahmadi acts including destruction of property, discrimination, violence and intimidation, the first seeds of Pakistan's Islamization arrived when the religious clergy, (non-elected religious leaders of mainstream Pakistani Sunni majority) and the Advisory Council for Islamic Ideology added a 'repugnancy clause' -- carte blanche to declare any law repugnant to Islam. Even though the Council's functions were putatively 'advisory,' their recommendations were swiftly became constitutional law.

Extremist Sunni majority Muslims were now both owners of the culture and authors of its laws empowered by Presidential decree rather than an electorate. A 1974 amendment to the constitution to shore political capital for Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto and seek approval of the middle classes and religious radicals (while both appeasing clerics and secure his own legitimacy) advanced this concept of 'proprietary' Islam.

Knowing bigotry would further cement his power, under Bhutto's watch, by presidential decree, Pakistan introduced new legal definitions defining Muslim and non Muslim identity. Islamist lawfare laid the ground for a self-defined Muslim majority to disabuse any deemed 'not one of them.'

In 1978 President Muhammad Zia Al Haq legislated a separate electoral system for non-Muslims. Disclosure of religion became required prior to casting a ballot under Pakistani law (and still remains a requisite today). Additionally, only 10 of 211 parliamentary seats were reserved for all Pakistan's minorities, which constituted 5% of Pakistan's 187 million populace ensuring their electoral weight remain negligible.

Though Christians dominate, Pakistani minorities also include Ahmadi Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Baha'is, the Zikri Muslims and Zoroastrians. Ahmadi Muslims, however, were specifically disempowered among all Pakistani minorities because they couldn't vote in elections without renouncing their faith. For these committed Muslims this became an impossible choice, and henceforth Ahmadi Muslims were effectively denied legislative representation: faith-apartheid had entered the electoral system in a 'democracy'.

A final assault on religious tolerance would arrive in the form of the 1984 amendment to the Pakistani constitution in Haq's tireless efforts to permanently entomb Sharia law into the corpus of legislature, placing interpretation firmly in the hands of the ferocious Islamist theocracy Haq had empowered.

So effective was this empowerment that the Pakistani theocracy accomplished what even Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia or Afghanistan have not: Pakistan revised the basic oath a Muslim takes in profession of faith -- the only Muslim nation to do this. In Pakistan, it is insufficient merely to profess 'belief in one God and that Mohammed is his Messenger' in order to become Muslim. Instead, to avow oneself a Pakistani Muslim, one must also renounce, by name, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, an astounding amendment of Islam's near 1500 year-old first pillar of belief.

A second injunction followed, even more problematic for minority Pakistanis. Passed by parliament, classical Sharia was now named as supreme to all other influences in the nation's law, overarching even the very constitution which first spawned its legitimacy.

Haq now gave the Federal Sharia Courts jurisdiction to scrutinize and eradicate any law 'offensive' to Islam. In under a decade, portions of 55 federal laws and 212 provincial laws were dismantled, all found 'contrary' to Islamic law. Soon presidential decrees empowered Pakistan's Federal Sharia Court to authorize as legitimate criminal ordinances passed by Pakistan's parliament.

Five ordinances targeted religious minorities specifically: a law criminalizing blasphemy; a law punishing the defilement of the Quran; one denouncing any insult to the family companions or personage of the Prophet; and two laws expressly targeting Ahmadi Muslims' activities. Collectively these are called 'The Blasphemy Laws.'

Ahmadi Muslims now became constitutionally prohibited from identifying themselves as Muslim in any way, prevented from all forms of active worship as Muslims, their translations of the Quran were destroyed, their books advocating interfaith dialogue and coexistence deemed illegal: all gross violations of the citizen's right to free speech, religious self-expression and private worship.

Unsurprisingly, over 40% of all arrests under the Blasphemy Laws have been of Ahmadi Muslims. Though no one has been executed by the state for blasphemy, by late 2009, 32 individuals were murdered by mob violence after accusation of blasphemy, proof that the laws incite vigilante violence. This number continues to grow. Be clear. In Pakistan it is now legal to persecute a minority into extinction. Pakistan is now constitutionally empowered to persecute any individual deemed non-Muslim, or simply 'not the right kind' of Muslim.

Both Muslims and non-Muslims have suffered. Over one hundred Christians have been arrested for blasphemy since the laws were enacted. Some were forced to flee overseas for their safety. One Christian was found dead while in prison, apparently tortured and beaten while awaiting trial. Another, a Roman Catholic bishop, committed suicide outside a Pakistani courtroom protesting the arrest of a Christian charged with blasphemy. More often the anti-blasphemy laws are used to intimidate and unjustly 'resolve' property or land disputes and once charged (often on hearsay) under Pakistani constitutional law 'blasphemers' are punishable by death. Even if released on clemency, the accused are likely to be lynched.

The first nation conceived as a democracy for Muslims has failed irretrievably at a time when the world hungers for alternatives to crumbling Islamic theocracies. Be warned: Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim state, follows. Like Pakistan, Indonesia legislates belief while turning a blind eye to vigilantism and intolerance centered on tiny disenfranchised minorities. Like Pakistan, much of this paradigm shift from Indonesia's former secularist pluralism to legislated Islamism is driven by Indonesia's criminal blasphemy provision Article 156(A) of the Penal Code. Put more crudely, Indonesia is the 'before' picture, Pakistan is the 'after.'

While America has infused massive monies and munitions into Pakistan, Pakistan's internal apparatus disempowers precisely those Muslim moderates who could provide a counter-narrative to the fire-breathing Islamists which drive Islamist terror both in acts and ideology. Covert and overt Islamist lawfare has steered us to these seamless, constitutional superhighways to religious extremism, demanding we all learn more not only about Islamists but their skillful deployment of lawfare in the guise of democracy.

 

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