United Nations Human Rights Council, 16th session, Geneva - 28 February 25 March 2011:
Agenda Item 8: General Debate on Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
Oral Statement by Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
On behalf of International Club for Peace Research
Even though The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action called for elimination of all kinds of human rights violations almost two decades ago, we find that in some areas the situation is only worsening. Article 15 asks us to work against xenophobia and article 19 calls upon governments to protect all human rights of minorities. But xenophobia, particularly in the form of Islamophobia, is growing in several European countries and partly feeds upon the flagrant violation of the human rights of religious minorities in several Muslim-majority countries.
Petrodollar Islam has injected the poison of Islam-supremacism in Muslim societies worldwide. Even exemplary moderate countries like Indonesia, Malaysia are now infected with this virus. But the worst case scenario is evolving in the only Muslim nuclear power, Pakistan. Jihadi vigilantes including members of security forces are hunting down and killing all those who oppose their version of Islam. The country is drowning in a sea of violence but civil society, media or elected parliamentarians dare not condemn the wanton killings in the name of Islam. The educated middle class regards these murderers as heroes. Many in the security apparatus support the Talibani goal of a takeover of Pakistan to be followed by that of other countries in the region and beyond. Their goals maybe insane, but their insanity is not unlike that of the Nazis and Fascists in early 20th century Europe.
Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere have to understand that the radical Islamists world over make use of emotive issues that would capture the imagination of Muslim masses and make them react irrationally, unthinkingly. In order to capture the minds of the Muslim masses, fanatical Mullahs are raising sensitive issues like those of members of other religious communities insulting Prophet Mohammad or the Holy Book, the Quran. The issue of blasphemy has been raised to such a high pitch, particularly in Pakistan, but also in other countries that the masses of Muslims are just not allowed to see reason. As in the case of Aasia Begum which has raised the present storm in Pakistan, there is not a shred of evidence, except the allegation of a woman with whom she had a personal fight earlier. But not many in Pakistan are demanding any evidence. Not many even want to know what if anything Aasia Bibi is supposed to have said or done. Mullahs are telling them in televised addresses that the Quran asks them not only to kill the blasphemers but also to kill them with relish. They present the picture of an extremely sadistic God and His prophet who relish torturing and killing and ask their followers to do so too. They do that while also referring to Allah as kind and compassionate and the prophet as a mercy to mankind, mind you mankind, the entire humanity, not just the Muslims, completely oblivious of the dire contradiction involved.
The result is a sort of free for all in the society. Any thinking Muslim can be a target. The latest case in point in the case of Pakistan is the Taliban latching on to the issue of blasphemy and making it appear as if the moderate elements among Muslims are either blasphemers themselves or support blasphemy. The result is the complete impunity with which they have been able to assassinate the only Christian minister of the Pakistani government and earlier the powerful governor of the state of Punjab in Pakistan.
These murders have taken place as these people were campaigning against the notorious blasphemy laws of Pakistan under which religious minorities like Hindus and Christians can be sentenced to death without even being told exactly what crime they have committed. This is what had happened recently in the case of Aasia Bibi. These two government leaders were killed because they were sympathetic to the hapless lady and were trying to get her death sentence reduced to life imprisonment as there is no evidence of any wrongdoing on her part. A mere allegation of blasphemy is enough to condemn members of religious minorities to death in Pakistan. No judge can dare impart real justice, even if he wants to, as he himself can get killed in the court room itself.
To get a little perspective one needs to recall the circumstances in which these laws were instituted. In 1984 the then military ruler General Zia ul-Haq, made it a criminal offence for members of the Ahmadi sect to claim that they were Muslims. Two years later he instituted in the existing laws the death penalty for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. These laws have since been widely used to victimize the now some five million strong Ahmadi sect as well as Hindu and Christian religious minorities.
Some statistics may help us understand the enormity of the problem. Almost half of the thousand people charged under this law since 1986 belonged to Ahmadi and Christian communities though together they do not account for more than five per cent of Pakistan’s population. Higher courts are known to have generally dismissed blasphemy charges, recognizing that they were false, arising mostly from disputes over land or family feuds. But the emotive value of the laws is such that 32 people who were freed by the courts were subsequently killed by Islamist radicals and so were two of the judges who freed them without any one launching much of a protest. Thus once a blasphemy charge is made, this could inevitably prove to be a death sentence. Not only can no government dare to repeal these laws, they cannot even condemn wholeheartedly the murders of even their own leaders committed in its name.
Even the Pakistani Parliament consisting of freely elected members has not been able to condemn either of these assassinations. The valiant civil society that has been campaigning against the blasphemy laws and demanding human rights for religious minorities for decades is now on the back foot. Its prominent members are saying publicly that they are just waiting to be assassinated. They are afraid because there is not a single institution in the country that is either not compromised or scared. Incitement against them is allowed to continue with complete impunity. All political parties are following a policy of appeasement of Jihadis. Assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer had got removed banners calling for death to members of civil society campaigning against extremism. But after his assassination, banners justifying his own murder and hailing his murderer have sprouted all across the state and there is no one left now to stop that. Large sections of the popular print and electronic media are part of this incitement against the civil society.
Different Islamic sects including those like the Barelwis who were once considered moderate have now come together on an extremist platform. The killer of Governor Salman Taseer belonged to the majority Barelwi sect; 500 clerics of his Jamaat Ahle Sunnat Pakistan (JASP) sect supported him in a joint statement. This statement is probably the height of blasphemy in itself as it paints Islam as a traditional religion of killers and God as a sadistic entity who would encourage killing of innocents merely on the accusation of blasphemy. While issuing a death threat to anyone who attended the funeral prayers of the slain governor, the clerics’ statement said: “The punishment for blasphemy against the Prophet can only be death, as per the Holy Book, the Sunnah, the consensus of Muslim opinion and explanations by the Ulema…This brave person (Qadri, the bodyguard-assassin) has maintained 1, 400 years of Muslim tradition, and has let the heads of 1.5 billion Muslims of the world be held high in pride.” This is extremely offensive to mainstream moderate Muslims as there is no statement in the Holy Quran, the e authoritative sayings of the Prophet or even Islamic jurisprudence prescribing death penalty for the blasphemer. But after the clerics’ intervention in his support, this dastardly killer of the very person he was being paid to safeguard has now become a popular hero and is being lionised even by the educated middle class. The interior minister of Pakistan who is supposed to maintain the rule of law in his country said that he would have personally killed the blasphemer, of course, without waiting for a trial. He continues to hold his post even after making such an offensive statement.
The few liberal voices that continued to be heard even after the assassination of the governor are now falling silent, particularly after the killing of cabinet minister for minority affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, another crusader for moderation. As human rights defender Tahira Abdullah pointed out the vigils human rights bodies organised after the murder of Salman Taseer didn’t attract more than 100 or 200 people in the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, which has a population of one million highly educated people and they got only about 500 people to come to those organised in Karachi, the largest Pakistani city with a population of 18 million.
Barring a few pockets, moderates are losing the war within Islam everywhere. The massive injection of petrodollar-funding to radicals throughout the world since 1974 has virtually changed the nature of the religion. Islam-supremacism is now the rule not only in the Muslim majority countries but also in countries where Muslims live as a minority. Millions of Muslims now look down upon people of other faiths and consider them permanently hell-bound.
According to the Holy Quran and Islamic traditions, we Muslims must believe in all the 124, 000 prophets who have spread the divine message to humanity in different parts of the world and must treat them all as equal to prophet Mohammad in status. We have to treat the followers of all these prophets as People of the Book [Ahl-e-Kitab] with whom close social including marital relations are allowed in Islam. But the concept of Ahl-e-Kitab has now been rendered completely meaningless. Instead Muslim children in religious seminaries [madrasas everywhere] as well as in government-run schools [in the case of Pakistan and some other Muslim countries] are now being taught to look down upon other religious communities. Many of us already have developed contempt for followers of other religions. The so-called religious scholars tell us that people of other religions may be ahl-e-kitab but they are nevertheless kafir (non-believers, infidels). They never explain how they hold and reconcile these two contradictory positions in one breath. Any community holding others in contempt is apparently not likely to be able to live peacefully in an increasingly globalised multi-cultural world.
Even if we Muslims constitute a simple majority in a country, we want to impose man-made Sharia laws calling them of divine origin which they are not. Now even in countries where Muslims are a minority they want to be governed by the Sharia laws. Apart from India, no other country allows this and no society is prepared to do so. This is leading to avoidable tensions and increasing Islamophobia in some societies.
When the term Islamofascism was used for the first time, many of us in the civil society considered it a vast exaggeration. But that no longer looks like the case. Islamofascism is even more dangerous because it is sustaining and encouraging a wave of Islamophobia, creating dangers for the religious minorities in several countries of Europe.
This makes it imperative for the world community to urgently work out a strategy to fight this growing menace. It also makes it incumbent on the moderate elements in the Muslim community to take the ideological war within Islam more seriously. Let us remind ourselves of the last sermon Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in which he said:
“All of mankind is from Adam and Eve (Hawwa), an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black nor does a black have any superiority over a white, EXCEPT BY PIETY AND GOOD DEEDS. Do not therefore do injustice to yourselves. Remember one day you will meet Allah and answer for your deeds. So beware: do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.”
As one can see, the Prophet did not say a Muslim has any superiority over a non-Muslim. For him superiority was entirely a matter of “Piety and good deeds”. That is all. Let us remember that and fight the growing power of the pernicious ideology of Islam-supremacism which renders us unfit to live as a worthy component of the present-day globalised multicultural world as a peaceful community that we mainstream Muslims have always been.
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