In Islam, the penalty for apostasy is death. Thus, in the Muslim world, it is commonly held that those who leave or criticise Islam must be killed. In recent years, with increasing numbers of Muslims leaving the faith, there has been an accordant surge in the killing of atheists, blasphemers and other sceptics, not least 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 and the police. Here are three examples of this disturbing trend:
Regarding the government, 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 and the police, witness their 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. The Constitution of Pakistan designates Islam as the state religion, with Article 2 stating simply: “Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan.” This has acted as the foundation for the many harsh penalties for blasphemy introduced over the decades. One example of this would be Article §295C – ‘Mandatory Death for defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad’. Others can be found in the table below:
The Pakistani state is rooted in religious imperialism; it was explicitly founded to drive a wedge between Muslims and Hindus living in India. Since that time, Pakistan and India have engaged in four wars – including one undeclared war – as well as many border skirmishes and military stand-offs. These conflicts have claimed the lives of tens of thousands and displaced many more. Until Pakistan is dissolved, there is every reason to expect a fifth war in the near-future. To finish with a quote from the late Christopher Hitchens, who expertly deconstructs Pakistan as artifice for Islamic separatism:
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 for alleged blasphemy.