In a village near Islamabad, an 11-year old girl, who is reported to have Down’s syndrome, was recently accused of blasphemy. As is fast becoming the norm in Pakistan, a crowd gathered and started beating up the child. Her mother also received a beating as she tried to protect her daughter. The rest of the family, along with several other Christian families fled the village for fear of being targeted next. The police registered a blasphemy case against the child and arrested her; she is currently in maximum security prison (Adiala jail near the capital Islamabad) and the most recent estimates report hundreds of displaced families as a result. The local clerics dubbing a child’s actions as a “conspiracy and not a mistake”.
The police were “threatened” into filing the case by the crowd—one wonders why threatening the police, a criminal offence no doubt, and threatening to burn the girl and other Christian houses, results in the girl’s arrest rather than reprisals against the “righteous” incumbents. The government ordered an inquiry whilst reassuring its support for the blasphemy law, and condemning only its abuse and excesses. In the meantime, little Rimsha is still in prison.
At the time the news of this atrocity broke, the country was celebrating Eid. It is a festival that celebrates a holy month of fasting where all believers must be on their best behaviour. A month when good deeds are rewarded manifold, and Satan locked up. In this month, a little child was accused of blasphemy and beaten up by a gathering mob of believers.
I am a Pakistani; but I am not from this Pakistan. The country whose people burnt alive a mentally unstable old man last month, because he was accused of having burnt pages of the Quran, is not mine. I do not wish to be associated with the brutality that is regularly shown minorities and poor classes, ever increasingly under the banner of demands for “respect” of the Prophet Muhammed and Islam. Mine is the country of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who said speak because your lips are free. Mine is the country where we organised a ‘Rally against Fear’ after Salman Taseer’s murder for criticising this law. Hundreds gathered in protest as this poem played in the background.
Speak, for your lips are yet free;
Speak, for your tongue is still your own;
Your lissom body yours alone;
Speak, your life is still your own.
Look into the blacksmith’s forge:
The flame blazes, the iron’s red;
Locks unfasten open-mouthed,
Every chain’s link springing wide.
Speak, a little time suffices
Before the tongue, the body die.
Speak, the truth is still alive;
Speak: say what you have to say. [Bol by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, translation by Yasmin Hosain]
A common ‘liberal Islamic’ rejoinder to such criticisms is that it is the people at fault, they misinterpret Islam. I would love to know where this elusive “accurate interpretation” lies? Is it in Saudi Arabia where women are never legally adult persons or in Iran where even haircuts are regulated? Which acts in the name of Islam can they cite that are its true representatives? To those that want to blame “people” as such, I will point out that it is when ideas become more important than people that the worst atrocities occur.
There is a very loud silence in the Muslim world or the so-called Muslim Ummah over this incident. Worldwide riots occur when the Holy Prophet is insulted. Why the silence when an 11-year-old child is abused in his name? Is this not an insult to the Prophet Muhammed as well? A little girl suffers in his name, as do countless others. How many of the countless self-appointed spokespersons of Islam have condemned this? They will all be quick to deny this as the correct interpretation of their Islam if confronted on this matter. The question remains, if that is so then why the silence now?
If an idea is under threat of perishing when put under scrutiny, should that idea even continue to exist? If it can withstand scrutiny, then let it be challenged. My blasphemy of the day is that human life is more valuable than ideas, wherever their origin. It is not the “people” at fault here but the very idea that demands ABSOLUTE submission. The idea at fault is one that demands silence in the face of oppression. The issue is not that the law of blasphemy is abused; it is its very existence that is itself an abuse. It is a law that says some ideas are more valuable than human life. This law, therefore, must be rejected wholly for this very reason.
Alongside it, demands of “respect” must also be rejected. There is nothing to respect in the idea or the law of blasphemy. All ideas do NOT merit respect, irrespective of whether they originate in culture or religion. The only thing brutality deserves is derision. All ideas, however, do require skepticism.