by Samuel Mellish
It is undoubted that in attempting to build any society, notions of tolerance and respect must be established. Yet, not just for efficiency and cohesion, but so as to allow a society to inaugurate new philosophies and theologies, as perspectives mix and learn from one another. These provide cultures, excitement, and inevitably identity. On this basis, society, at its core, is the mixture of differing beliefs and often-competing theologies. Despite the rhetoric of nationalists and racists of all guises, a single people, with a single orientation, do not found societies. Societies are therefore melting pots for divergence and with that brilliance. The recent events in Charlottesville, as covered by my colleague, have further intensified the reflection upon this melting pot. This was an event in which one value system, wished to undermine multiculturalism, and proclaim its supremacy, utilising a weaponised theology. However, it is important for us look beyond the American context, and reflect upon this phenomenon globally.
I am increasingly appalled by the presence and use of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The most recent victim of this practice is an 18-year-old Christian, who was detained, following accusations that he had burnt a Qur’an. Due to section 295-B of the Pakistani penal code, if found guilty, the punishment is death. I am overwhelmed with the number of issues this brings to my mind. As I have said, society must be built upon notions of respect, but laws such as these take this notion beyond comprehension. The concept that death is appropriate for insulting another religion is utter lunacy (though, if true, it is obviously not acceptable to damage another religion’s holy book). It unnecessarily ring fences a particular theological position, which consequently becomes untouchable, and is blindly followed. But it is even more than that; it is a weapon, which can be fired almost without hesitation, with the power residing with those who determine the precepts of such a ‘theology’. In this way, it becomes a tool to oppress minorities, and manipulate the uneducated. It has undoubtedly not passed you by that this teenager is a Christian in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and that such an action, considering the consequences, seems incredibly unlikely, and equally difficult to prove. This appears to be the narrative that emerges whenever Pakistan’s blasphemy law is utilised, as noted in a 2016 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan:
“A majority of blasphemy cases were based on false accusations, stemming from property disputes or other personal or family vendettas”
It is also worth underlining that the codification of a law legitimises its principles. If violence or at least severe punishment is the acceptable recourse for the perception of blasphemy, within a legal system, then it is unsurprising that at Abdul Wali Khan University, in April, a student was lynched by a mob of his peers, and that a 10-year-old in May was killed as a group attempted to murder a Hindu on the pretext of blasphemy.
Hate-crimes must be met with punishment, in the UK, and further abroad. Despite the need to allow society freedom to debate and mix culturally, it is not acceptable to target or hurt any individual for their religion, sexual orientation or skin colour. However, here we are talking about something else. In Pakistan a culture of theological predominance has emerged, allowing for the development of brutal legislation, which ensures individuals are faced with abhorrent punishment, for a spectrum of actions, which in part, are included in acceptable discourse in the UK. Certainly, the student killed in April would find many outspoken contemporaries among undergraduates in Britain.
The best advice I have heard given to Christian students is that if you hold the ultimate truth, no argument or provocation can undermine that, and as a consequence, it is only the insecure that react disproportionately. If Pakistan is confident in its Islamic faith then it should not fear the freedom, within reason, to debate and discuss. It must not weaponise theology, and develop laws that only target the weakest and most vulnerable.
Theology cannot be allowed to be usurped by those who wish to inflict harm on their neighbours, spinning tales to eliminate their rivals.
“Anti- Pakistani Blasphemy Law Protest – Central Bradford” by Mtaylor848 is licensed under CC by SA 4.0