COMMENT: Of law and justice —Abbas Rashid - Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Source :

Something has to be done about the phenomenon of frequent and unchecked incitement to violence that threatens to overwhelm us. And here the higher judiciary too must play its role. Incitement to violence, on whatever grounds, must be dealt with under the law of the land

The tragic murder of the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, in broad daylight in Pakistan’s capital is testimony to the profound crisis that envelops us now both as state as well as society. Murder in cold blood by a guard who thought that in doing so he was serving the cause of Islam is also indicative of the ways in which many of us have come to believe that Islam is best served. The governor’s reservations over the law on blasphemy had to do with its frequent misuse to settle personal scores. He supported a poor woman, Aasia Bibi, in the belief that she was innocent, not because he valued the sanctity of the Prophet (PBUH) any less than anyone else. While the victims of the misuse of the law have often been minorities, not infrequently they have been Muslims. In any case, if he was wrong about the misuse of the law or in his presumption of her innocence, the matter would have been dealt with by the courts. Leaders of politico-religious parties, who participate in elections and are ostensibly committed to democratic principles, could have certainly done better than justifying the act. Some sections of the media and the legal fraternity have also gone out of their way to, in effect, condone the murder and lionise the killer. So much for the crucial role of the former in educating the people and of the latter in upholding the rule of law! And, yet again, the mainstream parties, not least the PPP, is found lacking.

Obviously the objective of ensuring the sanctity of the Prophet (PBUH) is a major and common concern for Muslims wherever they live. But the means or laws put in place to ensure this may differ. The laws meant to prevent blasphemy in different Muslim countries are not necessarily the same as ours. Even in the subcontinent the law has developed over time. One can go back to relevant provisions in the 1860 British Penal Code but it was in 1927 that India’s British rulers made it a criminal offence to commit “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religious belief”. During Ziaul Haq’s time the law was not only changed, it was changed more than once. Many now have come to believe that it has always existed in its current form. Regardless, we are bound to ensure that, even more than in the case of any other law, this one in particular is not misused for political or personal gain. Unfortunately, those who have sought to do so in growing numbers since the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq have taken advantage of the fact that under the law, as it stands, they do not have to establish motive on the part of anyone they may accuse. So that anything said or done, even inadvertently, can also be construed as breach of sanctity and comes within the ambit of the law and is punishable by death. And, in the given circumstances, lower courts are much more likely to presume guilt rather than innocence on the part of the accused.

In any case, the government has made it clear that it has no intention of changing the law so the agitation on this issue should come to an end. But how its misuse can be prevented remains a matter of concern for obvious reasons and should be appropriately addressed in the pursuit of justice. Meanwhile, something has to be done about the phenomenon of frequent and unchecked incitement to violence that threatens to overwhelm us. And here the higher judiciary too must play its role. Incitement to violence, on whatever grounds, must be dealt with under the law of the land. In that context, the threats being made against MNA Sherry Rehman must be strongly condemned by political and religious leaders and taken note of by the courts. The relevant provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) can be used to prosecute those who create an environment that encourages violence or by word and deed promote hatred among different groups. It is for all concerned to enforce the constitutional provision under Article 9: “No person shall be deprived of life or liberty, save in accordance with law.”

It is a sign of the times that even a scholar of Islam such as Allama Javed Ahmed Ghamidi apparently felt constrained to leave Pakistan for another Muslim country. It might be worth reflecting here on the fact that even the more liberal sections of society had little to offer him by way of support and encouragement for his enlightened views. Nearly half a century ago another enlightened scholar of Islam, Dr Fazlur Rehman, found himself bereft of support and left Pakistan under pressure from those unwilling to countenance debate on how the cause of Islam in contemporary conditions is best served. One should add here that those who seek a more just and equitable society in Pakistan need to focus elsewhere as well. The liberal creed of the majority of the people is evidenced not least by the very small percentage of the vote consistently garnered by the politico-religious parties in successive elections. Meanwhile, however, between regular bouts of military rule, through the unchecked — if not encouraged — rise of extremism and elite-capture in the name of democracy, we have managed to create one of the most inequitable societies on the face of the planet. One way or the other, this will result in the radicalisation of large sections of society with its inevitable consequences. Among other things, unless our elite/establishment is able to read the writing on the wall and in its own enlightened self-interest is willing to dispense with some of the multiple subsidies that it continues to award itself, the crisis of society and the state is only set to deepen.

The writer lives in Lahore and can be contacted at

No comments:

Post a Comment