PENSIEVE: How to earn riyals —Farrukh Khan Pitafi - Thursday, December 02, 2010

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Let me congratulate Ms Sherry Rehman for introducing an enlightened move to bring sanity back to our legal discourse. Understanding that it is impossible to find support for the total repeal of the laws, she has introduced the ‘Amendments to the Blasphemy Laws Act 2010’ in parliament

WikiLeaks’ Cablegate dump indeed has brought some very interesting facts to light, which people like yours truly have been trying to highlight for a considerable time. And I am not talking about the Saudi King’s characterisation of President Zardari. While the king’s purported desire to see Iran defanged through a US assault and installing chips on the Gitmo detainees is noteworthy, I am not even talking about that. My chief concern is the report that al Qaeda is being financially supported by Saudi nationals. This is such a serious concern that I keep wondering why such questions are not given any serious thought. We all know that al Qaeda’s financial support is instrumental in the terror attacks that kill Pakistanis on a regular basis. Not only that, while our Arab brethren enjoy total freedom to do whatever is needed, arm-twisting of Pakistan never stops.

But who are we kidding? We all know that the Saudi empire and its ruling elite had a critical role in the radicalisation of our country. Be it the proxy war against the Soviet Union or the Shia-Sunni sectarian violence of the 1990s, our brethren were there to support the radical forces. And, of course, do not forget all the negative obscurantist influences on the Pakistani constitution during the days of Ziaul Haq. Many think they too were sponsored by that very empire. And even after Zia, who in any case should be remembered as an international mercenary (considering his role in the Jordanian Black September), we see the process of radicalisation of law continuing unabated. There of course was a time when Nawaz Sharif was ready to impose a shariah rule meant to make him the Amir-ul-Momineen.

I am indulging in all this history because I want to come back to the topic of the last week — the blasphemy laws. We all know that the blasphemy laws were given their current horrible shape in 1984, 1986, and then under the Sharif rule. Recently, the Aasia Bibi case has made the cause of those who support these laws impossible to defend. And the champions of intolerance have become so churlish that they have resorted to the crudest methods in the book. On one side they use McCarthyism as a tool, on the other they either declare you enemy of (at times the conspirator against) your faith or else end up threatening you with imminent repercussions if you do not stop.

A friend recently drew my attention towards an opinion piece by a senior journalist who until recently used to fashion himself as the champion of judicial independence, due process of law and human rights. The piece is called ‘Akhir dollar bhi to kamanay hain’ (After all, dollars too have to be earned). As evident from the title, the author after a long albeit confused narration of the historical facts (confused because any rational interpretation of those facts was lost on me), alleges that the ‘liberal fascists’ are talking of the repeal of the blasphemy laws because they are being paid in dollars by the foreign conspirators. And pray who are these foreign conspirators? Essentially some western minded folks who have figured out that the best way to finish Islam off is repealing the blasphemy laws. Instead of laughing out loud, please pay attention to the merits (if any) of the argument. Let us do one thing. Let those of us who advocate the repeal declare our total assets and sources of income on live television and request the accuser to do the same. I seriously doubt that we will get a response in the affirmative. After all, many who accuse their chosen opponents of receiving dollars often end up earning some riyals too.

As for the term liberal fascist, hah, it is the product of the very same parochial study of history that comes not from books but mirrors. Liberals, I mean those who advocate the cause of civil liberties for all, by definition cannot be fascists. I wish those who use this term knew something about fascism too. But, like always, that goes beyond the scope of our discussion today. What, however, astounds me is the fact that countless people, some of them quite logical ones, without as much as gazing at her case file are baying for Aasia Bibi’s blood. As if hanging her will solve everything. Not quite. And as for the author of the above-mentioned piece, was it not the same man who justified the flogging of a poor, helpless woman by the Taliban in Swat on live television? And was it not the same man who started spreading disillusionment about the current democratic set-up the moment the prime minister won the vote of confidence in parliament, that too on live television? Oh, why do I forget the Saudi King does not like Asif Ali Zardari and he sure has lots and lots of riyals?

Before concluding, let me congratulate Ms Sherry Rehman for introducing an enlightened move to bring sanity back to our legal discourse. Understanding that it is impossible to find support for the total repeal of the laws, she has introduced the ‘Amendments to the Blasphemy Laws Act 2010’ in parliament. The proposed bill not only invites some minor but realistic amendments to 295-A, B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code but also proposes a new subsection called 203A in the PPC and amendments to sections 190, 193, 201, 202 and Schedule II of the Criminal Procedure Code. While the rule of law implies that a man is innocent until proven guilty, the blasphemy laws as they stand today deem the accused guilty until proven innocent. With any luck, the aforementioned amendments will change that to how things should be. One hopes that other parliamentarians will give up opportunist compromises and give this law their full attention. Apart from that there should be some laws to avoid the over-sensationalisation of the blasphemy cases by the media since it concerns precious human lives. As for the gentleman (nay cynic) mentioned above, let him earn a few more Saudi riyals. We are not jealous of anyone’s affluence after all.

The writer is an independent columnist and a talk show host. He can be reached at

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