Reformist Muslim

Exploring possibilities for the future of Islam and other thoughts

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Location: London, United Kingdom

Monday, February 06, 2006

Blasphemy Laws

I have another post on Der Spiegel and the cartoon crisis coming up, but before that I would like to deal with the suggestion that there is a need for countries which don't have Blasphemy laws to implement them.

In Pakistan, Blasphemy laws were introduced by General Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator who lacking popular support tried to use religion legitimise his rule (famously, the question in his sham referendum was, Yes if you are for Islam and No if you aren't).

Not surprisingly, Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code has largely been used as a weapon by religious extremists to harass and intimidate their opponents. Often the use of the law is not even political - but used by scheming people to attack Christians with whom they had a personal dispute.

I sense that the Blasphemy law is something which isn't important to the majority of Pakistani's. However the threat from fanatics and the lack of any clear political gain has led to successive governments staying well away from it.

When Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister, he disregarded threats of unrest and changed the weekly holiday from Friday to Sunday without any catastrophic consequences. Given the current global environment, it would be a bold and positive move for General Musharraf to stand up to the embassy burning elements and repeal the Blasphemy laws. I suspect the negative fallout would be minimal and the General's credibility would be enhanced. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening anytime soon.

For more on the issue, here are two excellent pieces from Prof. Akbar S. Ahmed and renowned Pakistani columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee.

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