Speak no evil

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Optimists say there is light at the end of the tunnel; pessimists agree but add that the light is of an oncoming train. junaidYes, that’s a cliché, but then so is the tragic theatre of the absurd that is our lot, the latest act of which is the blasphemy accusation against Junaid Jamshed. We won’t recap the merits of the case; that would be redundant and also dangerous, given that recapping may well constitute an act of blasphemy under the law. Nor is it important that this was really a case of Jamshed using the wrong example to illustrate what was a typically misogynistic screed. And as we know very well, merit, truth or sanity have little to do with the way blasphemy accused are treated, either by courts or by ever-ready murderers — be they single spies or battalions. What we will look at, however are some of the reactions, and what those reactions tell us.Sanity has little to do with the way blasphemy accused are treated. It was the Barelvi Sunni Tehreek that led the charge against Jamshed, who is a protégé of the religious personality Tariq Jameel from the Deobandi school. On one level this was then seen as the latest manifestation of the simmering feud between these two ideologies over control of the religious body politic of Pakistan, and a way for it to assert its strength. Of course, here we must also consider that while hardline Deobandi factions have made armed jihad and sectarianism their rallying cry, the hardline Barelvis have occupied the anti-blasphemy niche. The ST, for instance, was among the first to own, and rally in defence of Mumtaz Qadri, who also belonged to their school of thought. Thus, their stance is a blend of cynical positioning and also deeply held belief. Those two motivations, or a blend thereof, can also be found at the heart of just about every blasphemy accusation or blasphemy-related murder that takes place. After the outcry against Jamshed, Tariq Jameel quickly distanced himself from his pupil while another religious figure, following Jamshed’s apology, had grudging words of support. Again, this is not so much about love for holy personages as it is about clerics and pseudo-clerics with healthy appetites not wanting to share the steaming pot of halwa that is Pakistan while simultaneously being discomfited at seeing their own rhetoric being used against them. In the case of the alleged blasphemy committed by Shaista Lodhi and co, we even saw the PTI’s information secretary enter the fray, calling the episode an ‘anti-Islam act’. Again, this was less about conviction than about politically inspired spite. Why else was there no ‘Bring Back Junaid Jamshed’ (to serve trial) hashtag campaign, like there was for Mir Shakil? Even the MQM, in an apparent departure from their ‘secular’ norm, accused the PPP’s Khursheed Shah of blasphemy before being asked to desist by Altaf Hussain. Some of the reaction from those we dub ‘liberal’ (as loose as that term may be) was almost gloating and can be summed up in an internet meme: “Aap karain to ghalat fehmi, hum karain to blasphemy?” Coming from those who have seen their space brutally ripped away, their champions exiled and killed, this was understandable even if it was not appropriate. After all, how often do we get to see those who stand in constant judgment themselves be judged? Others, wedded to their principled opposition to such measures, stood firm and deserve a good deal of respect. Some also pointed out that no matter who wins this round, the ultimate losers would be those who wish to see sanity prevail. Others were cautiously sanguine, pointing to the possibilities that would arise if Jamshed’s apology was in fact accepted. Perhaps it would set a precedent, allowing similar measures for other, less outwardly pious personalities? This ignores a few crucial points; mainly that the danger in such cases is not just from the law and the courts, but from the many would-be Mumtaz Qadris that plague Pakistan. You’ve seen them ‘liking’ his fan pages on Facebook, ranting in his defence online and writing on walls, kissing and garlanding him outside courts. Sure, you can reassure yourself by saying they are a minority but that is cold comfort. Even if they are, and I disagree, they are far too many. Some are in madressahs, others in boardrooms. They are your friends, your neighbours, your family. They may even be you. And if only a few of them decide to use a gun to buy a cheap ticket to paradise, they will stamp their divine passport with a bullet right between your eyes. The other point is that even if Jamshed gets off the hook, the same will never happen for Junaid Hafeez or Asiya Bibi. Meanwhile, we bury our Rashid Rehmans and beatify our Qadris and all the while the oncoming train, its sirens blaring and its light blinding, bears down on us, knowing we will never muster the courage to change tracks.]]>

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