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Misinterpretation of Islam pushing Pakistan to insanity

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Is it insanity or being loyal? A teenager in Pakistan, just to punish himself, slashed off his own hand as he thought he had committed a blunder on the name of religion. Have Pakistanis “really been driven to the edge of insanity in our subservience to the maulavis and mullahs,” an editorial in a leading daily wondered on Monday after such an incident.

The editorial “‘Accidental’ blasphemy” in the Daily Times said that in a country where religious fundamentalism has so vehemently branded itself onto the psyche of the common man, one call on a mosque’s loudspeaker is enough to send hordes running to kill the unfortunate person accused – something that is hardly surprising anymore.

“However, recently an appalling incident has surfaced in which a boy, 15-years old, cut off his own hand to punish himself for the blasphemy he believed he had committed,” it said.

The issue originated at a gathering at a local mosque, located in the town of Hujra Shah Muqeem, a small village near Lahore, where the cleric after telling the listeners that those who love Prophet Mohammad always say their prayers, followed by inquiring who of them had stopped praying.

According to accounts, Mohammed Anwar, ostensibly mishearing the question, raised his hand, after which the crowd instantly moved to accuse him of committing blasphemy.

“After this, he went back home and cut off the hand he had raised, put it on a plate and presented it to the cleric. On being asked during the interview if this was painful for him, he responded with an unequivocal no.”

The editorial said that while the “insanity of the brutal act is completely lost on the young boy, the rest of his community including his own family has since come together to celebrate and revere the boy for his act. Latest reports say the cleric has been arrested on the charge of instigating the chopping off.”

It added that the daunting realization that extremism and fanaticism, rampant within all facets of society, dominate the way religion is understood confronts us time and time again, and this incident too is a clear reflection of it.

“However, the sheer savagery of this act compels one to ask: have we really been driven to the edge of insanity in our subservience to the maulvis and mullahs that we now chop off our limbs in order to acquire the status of a believer who has been indoctrinated by their parochial and dogmatic interpretations?”

The daily went on to say that the “black and white mindset has coloured religious interpretation in such a way that people have turned religion, in its essence a potent force driven by rationality and reason, enjoining a way of being that is humane, merciful, and tolerant, into a convoluted version that constantly demands violent retribution from others and from one’s own self.”

“The fear that is evident in the boy, who is unable to trust his own conscience, is also what has led us to close the doors to any debate or open discourse on matters even remotely related to religion. These beliefs are left to stew in the absence of any counter-narrative from the government, media, or any other institution, which has allowed more harmful attitudes to emerge,” it said and added: “Unless this fear that is driving society towards insanity is dealt with, there appears little chance of overcoming its apparent manifestations.” (IANS)

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Post Anything Against Islam (Blasphemy) and You Will be in trouble in Pakistan

In yet another repressive step, Pakistani government has announced formation of a Regulatory Body to monitor Online Blasphemous Content

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In yet another repressive step, Pakistan government has announced formation of a Regulatory Body to monitor Online Blasphemous Content
Pakistani students of Islamic seminaries chant slogans during a rally in support of blasphemy laws, in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 8, 2017. Hundreds of students rallied in the Pakistani capital, urging the government to remove blasphemous content from social media and take stern action against those who posted blasphemous content on social media. VOA

Pakistan’s government has formed a regulatory body to monitor and block blasphemous content online in an effort to further extend the enforcement of the country’s controversial anti-blasphemy law into cyberspace.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the government-run communications regulatory agency, has created a 25-member group tasked with cracking down on websites, social media accounts and online pages that they consider offensive to Islam.

“The committee, being constituted by the Ministry of Interior, will include representatives from PTA, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and the ministry,” Ismail Shah, PTA’s chairman, told the standing committee on information technology of Pakistan’s upper house of parliament recently.

FILE - Pakistani journalists protest to condemn an attack on their colleague, Ahmed Noorani, in photo, in Karachi, Pakistan, Oct. 30, 2017.
FILE – Pakistani journalists protest to condemn an attack on their colleague, Ahmed Noorani, in photo, in Karachi, Pakistan, Oct. 30, 2017. VOA

Earlier in May, PTA had sent text messages to millions of cellphone users in the country and warned them not to post or share any blasphemous content online.

Controversial issue

Blasphemy remains a controversial issue in the Muslim-majority country where anyone labeled as “blasphemous” faces dangerous consequences: The law states anyone found guilty of insulting Islam will receive a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty.

As government is committed to scrutinizing online contents, some rights activists charge that monitoring the internet will be a slippery slope.

FILE - Members of a Pakistani civil society demonstrate April 22, 2017, in Karachi, Pakistan, against the killing of Mashal Khan, a student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan.
FILE – Members of a Pakistani civil society demonstrate April 22, 2017, in Karachi, Pakistan, against the killing of Mashal Khan, a student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan. VOA

“The monitoring of social media for blasphemous content is a dangerous precedent in Pakistan. The law has often been misused in the past and now a crackdown on internet will further complicate the situation,” Zohra Yusuf, a Pakistani human rights activist, told VOA.

Silencing dissent

Critics worry the state is using religion and national security as a pretext to discourage dissent on the internet, where people can express their opinions on topics such as politics, the military, social issues, women’s rights, religious freedom and human rights.

“In any democracy, such controls cannot be termed legal. Selective controls, targeted crackdown and culture of impunity only brings unrest in the society, especially for minorities and marginalized segments of the society,” Shahzad Ahmad, Pakistan director of the digital rights advocacy group Bytes for All, told VOA.

Lawmakers of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party, however, vowing transparency in the enforcement of the law, defends the government’s action and considers it legal.

“PTA follows a process and blocks a blasphemous link after complete scrutiny. Similarly, the regulatory body completely investigates before anyone is apprehended or taken into the court under blasphemy charges,” parliament member Zahra Wadood Fatimi told VOA.

Threat to freedom

Despite assurances from the government, rights activists worry formation of the group could be considered a Trojan horse, which will lead to people losing the relative freedom of expression they enjoy in cyberspace.

“It will be another tool for the state and people to settle down personal scores and vendettas. Do we even remember the secular bloggers abducted earlier this year and returned as ‘blasphemers?’”Zohra Yusuf asked.

In January 2017, five secular social media activists went missing from different cities in Pakistan. The activists reappeared after a few weeks with a label of “bloggers who committed blasphemy,” local media reported.

The bloggers were critical of the country’s powerful military, the existing political system and human rights violations committed by different factions, according to reports, which said the bloggers, fearing for their lives, sought refuge abroad.

Harsh punishment

The state’s punishment is harsh for those found guilty of committing blasphemy. In some cases, when courts have not charged suspects, Pakistanis have taken the matter into their own hands.

A simple accusation that someone has committed blasphemy can lead to threats against the suspect. Other times, it could mean death.

In May, a Hindu man was rescued by police from a mob in Hub, Baluchistan. The man was accused of posting blasphemous content on social media.

In March, Mashaal Khan, 23, a journalism student of Abdul Wali Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was beaten to death by fellow students. He had been accused of posting blasphemous content online.

Earlier this year, Islamabad’s High Court issued directives to the Ministry of Interior to take prompt action when it saw content it deemed blasphemous on the internet, even if it meant blocking social media websites in the country.

A few days later, Pakistan’s then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared online blasphemous content on social media a “nefarious conspiracy.” He directed his government to take strict actions against those involved in such activities. He also ordered officials to discuss the matter with international social media companies.

With the formation of PTA’s regulatory body on monitoring blasphemous contents online, there will likely be more restrictions in cyberspace and more scrutiny of those who talk out against religion online.

Reported by Madeeha Anwar of VOA.