RIAZ Ahmed, 34, and Ijaz Ahmed, 38, residents of Haroonabad in the Gujrat district of Pakistan claimed in 2011 that they had “seen God”.
The devotees of Chaman Sarkar, of whom we know nothing, offended one Qari Muhammad Ahmed, 27, who reported the pair to the authorities, and accused them of encouraging others to join them in “a union with God” through Chaman Sarkar.
Anywhere else, this sort of behaviour would be regarded as merely sillyor eccentric; one cannot see things that don’t exist.
But this being Pakistan, a hotbed of Islamic lunacy, the two were arrested and brought before Additional Sessions Judge Chaudhry Zafar Iqbal on Saturday, who convicted them of blasphemy and handed down death sentences. He also fined them 100,000 rupees (about £1,000) each.
Malik Ghulam Qasim, the defence lawyer, vowed would continue to fight against a law that could be easily misused to victimise innocent people.
I tried my best to defend them. We seriously need to reconsider the blasphemy law and its enforcement.
The sentencing of the pair coincided with a conference in Pakistan held in Bhurban to discuss the hijacking of the media in Pakistan by religious zealots. Around 100 people attending the South Asian Free Media Association’s sixth national conference – organised in collaboration with the South Asian Women’s Network – heard that far too many media commentators have adopted “extremist narratives”.
Farzana Ali, Aaj TV’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa bureau chief, said the extremist narrative adopted by most of her colleagues on their social media accounts disturbed her.
Their Facebook walls are full of such persistently negative and radical stances that are very disconcerting.
Farzana Ali, who wrote a while back about “honour killings” that regular occur in Pakistan, said extremists had always wanted to control media content directly or indirectly. She spoke of how she received calls from extremists trying to dictate how and where she should run news about them.
They even know the [subliminal] meanings of the colours of tickers we run. They are never happy with blue or green. They want them in red to create an alarm.
The speakers condemned the fact that at least 50 out of the 365 days in a year were dedicated to religious broadcasts and televangelists.
The Express Tribune Executive Editor Muhammad Ziauddin said the Pakistani nation was in a state of denial, adding that there was a need to understand what triggered extremist narratives. Some schools of thoughts, he said, blamed the reinvention of jihad, while others traced it to the very genesis of Pakistan.
I have my own theory. I trace its origin to Pakistan becoming a security state very early in the day.
Safma General Secretary Imtiaz Alam said the extremists’ ideology resisted all activities that would allow arts and culture, literature and freedom of speech. He said extremists had created such ideologies that had declared a substantial number of Muslims as non-believers.
Islamabad-based writer Harris Khalique said religiosity triggered extremism. He said extremists took advantage of the fact that there was lack of resistance from the liberal society. Quoting the rise of the Taliban in Swat in 2009 as an example, he said extremists wanted to create a state within a state in the name of faith.
Later, during the question hour, Imtiaz Alam criticised television anchors for trying to become messiahs and pretending to know everything. He said while anchors commented freely on all aspects of society, over 80 per cent of the journalists didn’t know what the frequently-derided terms “liberalism” and “fascism” meant. He said 90 percent of media persons were conservative and backed the extremist agenda.
The speakers stressed the need for giving moderate thinkers adequate air time and page space, which, they said, had mostly been taken by those with extremist views – both right and left. They urged producers and editors to create an environment where intellectual liberalism nurtured in a space where people valued tolerance and agreed to disagree.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn (blasphemy report)