Pakistan’s deadly blasphemy-seeking vigilantes
Mustafa Qadri in The Guardian:
The murder of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer by his own guard has prompted an ever growing witch-hunt, driven by religious groups but controlled by no one. The threat of this uncontested vigilantism posing as Islamic empowerment should be taken as seriously as the Taliban.
There was a moment last weekend that juxtaposed beautifully with the latest crisis faced by Pakistan. As hundreds of thousands – Islamists and Marxists, centrists and otherwise apolitical working men and women – marched for democratic regime change in Egypt, 40,000 mostly men marched in Pakistan’s heartland city of Lahore to protest against changes to the country’s controversial blasphemy law regime. Protesters in Lahore threatened to cause greater anarchy if the blasphemy laws were changed – threats reminiscent of the Pakistan Taliban.
It is important to note that, as an instrument for protecting the honour of Islam, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been an abject failure. As rights groups point out, the laws are vaguely defined and do not require accusers to prove criminal intent. Police rarely investigate before arresting alleged blasphemers. Taseer’s murderer may say he killed him for committing blasphemy, but there is no evidence he ever did anything of the sort. Taseer’s only crime was to highlight the severe failings of the blasphemy laws, a point lost on many who endorsed his murder.