By Waleed Tariq:
Khushwant Singh once wrote that the worst enemy of any religion is the fanatic who professes to follow it and tries to impose views of his faith on others. Today, unfortunately, Islam is not judged by the teachings of the Quran or the sayings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), but by the doings of fundamentalists in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, among others.
As Newsline puts it, while governor of Punjab Salman Taseer was gunned down by a fundamentalist in 2011 for criticising the blasphemy law, in 2015, the madness has grown to the point where defending a person accused of this charge has become a capital offence; an act of blasphemy in its own right.
Last year in May, Rashid Rehman, a human rights defender working with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in Multan, was shot dead for daring to step forward to defend a university lecturer accused of blasphemy. “You will not be here at the next hearing because you will not exist anymore,” were the exact words of the threat made to him inside a courtroom. The HRCP expressed its concern with the Punjab government, but to no avail.
Over the last decade, intolerance of other peoples’ views has been increasing. In fact, many Pakistanis lack the patience of listening to others. We just want to get our ideas across, and get them implemented at any cost – a phenomenon not just limited to religious fanatics: politicians and establishment are equally culpable.
When a party president spoke against his leadership and differed from their decision to ‘storm’ the Parliament, he was kicked out.
When a journalist exposed the corrupt practices of high-ranking government officials, and wrote stories criticising the army and intelligence agencies, he was thrashed, stripped naked, and tortured with a whip and wooden rod. Another outspoken journalist was attacked by “unknown assailants” while travelling in a car in Lahore, resulting in his driver’s death on the spot. He is now living in the United States.
Transmission of television channels has also been suspended several times, which moved beyond the ‘prescribed’ agenda of the high-ups.
When a former president did not like a business tycoon’s memoir, which lampooned him as a ‘playboy’; he got the book removed from major bookstores in Karachi. When asked if the book was banned, the answer was, “No! It’s sold out”. On the other hand, those who had a copy were selling it for as high as Rs 2,500. An online delivery service by the author also began but no action was taken against the book’s ‘unofficial ban’.
Some topics are considered ‘taboo’ in our society. Once during a discussion on one of the many such topics on Twitter, a friend messaged not to “cross red lines. Let the sorts of … to question…” Similarly, just recently, a talk on Balochistan at a University in Lahore was ‘forcibly’ cancelled; whereas when it was scheduled at another venue in Karachi, the organiser, Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead just minutes after the session ended.
While YouTube and a number of websites are already blocked in Pakistan, the Cyber Crime Bill 2015 has also been referred to Parliament, which can “criminalise political expression in the form of blogs, analysis, commentary and caricatures”.
The message is clear for those who want to raise their voice against injustice: there is no room for them to speak. They have to mute themselves or face the consequence.