Alliance of Former Muslims (Ireland) wishes to express its support for sceptics in Pakistan, who live in constant fear of death for exercising their right to free speech. We salute these warriors, and present this short note in solidarity with all those who choose reason over dogma.
In recent times, there has been a dramatic surge in the killing of atheists, humanists and other sceptics in Pakistan. These murders, fuelled by the rabid certainty of religious conviction, have been enabled by the increasing fanaticism of the Pakistani government, as well as the tacit approval of the mainstream media.
Regarding the former, in March 2017, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared blasphemy to be an “unpardonable sin”. Although he stopped short of calling for blasphemers to be executed, this is nonetheless an annihilatory judgement. In terms of the media, witness the widespread response to the lynching of Mashal Khan: not to condemn the act, but to deny that he had blasphemed at all. The implication here, of course, is that if he was a blasphemer, then he deserved to be killed. In this indirect manner, the Pakistani media lends its support to the mob’s crusade against free-thinkers.
While no judicial execution for blasphemy has ever occurred in Pakistan, the mere charge of blasphemy is often sufficient as a death sentence. Indeed, from 1990 to 2014, over sixty people accused of blasphemy were murdered before their respective trials had concluded. Given the makeup of the Pakistani state, the perpetrators of these extra-judicial killings are rarely ever brought to justice. Prominent online activists against the blasphemy laws have also been detained, including the blogger Ayaz Nizami, vice-president of Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan, who joins the list of over 1,300 accused from 1987 to 2014.
The oppression of free-thinkers in Pakistan is a powerful argument for secularism: for just as it is with race, when religion is made the basis for a state, the persecution of minorities is inevitable. This is reflected in the constitution of Pakistan, which not only designates Islam as the state religion (Article 2), but from day one, has proscribed harsh penalties for blasphemy. This point was taken up by the late Christopher Hitchens, who outlined the imperial nature of Pakistan in very clear terms:
The very name Pakistan inscribes the nature of the problem. It is not a real country or nation but an acronym devised in the 1930s by a Muslim propagandist for partition named Chaudhary Rahmat Ali. It stands for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, and Indus-Sind. The stan suffix merely means “land”. In the Urdu language, the resulting acronym means “land of the pure”. It can be easily seen that this very name expresses expansionist tendencies and also conceals discriminatory ones. Kashmir, for example, is part of India. Interestingly, too, there is no B in this cobbled-together name, despite the fact that the country originally included the eastern part of Bengal (now Bangladesh, after fighting a war of independence against genocidal Pakistani repression) and still includes Baluchistan, a restive and neglected province that has been fighting a low-level secessionist struggle for decades. The P comes first only because Pakistan is essentially the property of the Punjabi military caste (which hated Benazir Bhutto, for example, because she came from Sind). As I once wrote, the country’s name “might as easily be rendered as ‘Akpistan’ or ‘Kapistan’, depending on whether the battle to take over Afghanistan or Kashmir is to the fore.”
University student Mashal Khan, brutally slain in April 2017 by his fellow students.