Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

This past Monday, CHUP posted a contribution by Nabiha Meher Sheikh who argued why she was for the recent burqa ban in France. Below, Sahar Khan, a doctoral student in political science at University of California-Irvine, argues why she is against the ban:

On April 11, 2011, France became the first European country to ban the burqa. If a woman in France is found wearing a burqa or covering her face, she will be fined 150 euros or will have to take special citizenship classes (“How To Be French For Dummies”?). There are certain challenges to enforcing the ban though: it is not clear if women found in violation will be jailed or not. Furthermore, people found to be forcing women to wear a burqa will be fined 30,000 euros and perhaps twice as much if the girl is a minor. All in all only about 2000 women will be affected— a pretty small population. So why are we all talking about it?

Personally, the ban made me dwell on was the concept of citizenship itself. According to Christian Joppke in his book Citizenship and Immigration, mass migration has caused tensions between universal human rights and the concept of citizenship since the end of World War II. According Article 15 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Yet, states have a right to decline someone nationality if they wish, which sounds reasonable enough when considering that citizenship can be exclusivist and actually quite undemocratic because one is born into citizenship (unless you’re an Arab Bedouin but I digress).

In line with that logic, a state has an obligation to protect its citizens from external and internal threats. In France’s case then, does the state have the right to ban a certain group from dressing as it pleases in the name of protecting its national identity and security? Isn’t this ban a violation of the liberal norms of free speech and expression? The answers to both of these are complex but it should be made clear that there is a fine line between protection and authoritarianism, and France has just stepped to the latter.

France is a unique country and its secularism is dominated by laïcité, a concept from the Enlightenment that aims to force religion out of politics. By banning the burqa, however, France has brought it into politics. I think the ban will actually make France more insecure for two reasons. First, it seems that France is not just intolerant of its religious minority population but is in fact intolerant of all religion. This is problematic because religion is a dominant force in modern politics, just as secularism is. Trying to make one of these disappear is somewhat impossible. Second, this will create bigger challenges for France with respect to immigration. Most immigrants feel isolated, alienated, and hence disloyal. A ban like this will only deepen these feelings, which will have negative consequences in the long run.

The burqa has issues of its own. First, it is not a requirement in Islam. The only requirement is for women to dress modestly, which can be interpreted in numerous ways. Second, the burqa hides one’s identity, which is obviously a security issue. Third, it is an apparent health risk and many women wearing the veil have been diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiencies, (seriously). Fourth, it is certainly used as a tool to suppress women. However, on the state level, Saudi Arabia is the ONLY country that REQUIRES its women to wear it. By banning the veil, France has become the national counterpart to the kingdom, and I am not sure that was a position France wanted to be in.

This ban disappointed me in the same way the minaret ban in Switzerland did. No doubt, numerous Muslim countries are intolerant and openly prejudice against their ethnic and/or religious minorities, prohibiting Hindu temples and Bohri and Ahmadi mosques from being built. Instead of exhibiting tolerance, Switzerland acted just like these countries by banning the minaret in the name of secularism. And now France has done the same. Banning is also not historically the best solution.

I am not brainwashed nor uninformed nor uneducated. I am, however, a critical observer and feel that laws like these do not solve anything but create even more problems.

 The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Source: Illume Mag

Beginning on April 11, France began enforcing the controversial burqa ban, fining and arresting women who fail to comply and continue to wear the burqa or the niqab – the full face veil. The country is now the first European Union nation to enforce the ban, and the law as well as the corresponding debate have ignited supporters and critics on either side. Below, Nabiha Meher Sheikh, a freelance writer based in Lahore, explains why she supports the ban:

I support the burqa ban. There, I said it. As someone from a Muslim family that banned any sex segregation or dress code four generations ago, this ban is a positive development. Allow me to use my own family’s example to explain why.

My grandmother belonged to an ancient Muslim family, known as the Mian family of Bhagbanpura, who claim they arrived here in the 8th century. They were also known as the Mad Mians due to their eccentricity and the fact that the birth of a baby girl was at times celebrated with more gusto than a boy. The family has been called “matriarchal” because of the overwhelming amount of strong women who cannot be told what to do. It is shocking for those who have never seen a family where women are not secondary to the men, where even inheritance is divided equally and not according to patriarchal norms.

According to sources, the Mians settled in Lahore over a thousand years ago and until today, are all buried in an ancient graveyard behind the Shalimar gardens in Bhagbanpura. I’ve always admired them because they have never been afraid to evolve and adapt. Moreover, unlike relatively recent converts, the Mians never felt the need to “prove” how Muslim they were. They were, and still are, safe and secure in their identity.

However, this wasn’t always the case. The Mians, like most Punjabi families, were once deeply patriarchal. The women were kept in the home, married off very young and were expected to be breeding machines for the clan. They were silent, hidden away, and voiceless. In contrast, the Mian women today aren’t faced with the same pressures of marriage and children. We are educated, empowered, and highly independent. The men in the family do not believe they have the right to control us or tell us what to do.

All this changed because of one simple broken tradition: banning the veil. In my opinion, the veil is a symbol of patriarchy, of male dominance and is based on the principle that women’s God given bodies are not meant to be seen for they will lead to chaos. The presence of women in the public sphere threatens patriarchal symbols and patriarchal norms. The easiest way to oppress us is to lock us away or make us invisible under burqas if we dare invade that space.

Begum Iffat Ara, Nabihas Dadi (paternal grandmother)

My grandmother had as many rights as the men in her family. In the 1940s, she married a man she chose, one who treated her as his equal and not his subordinate. She was also more educated than the vast majority of women in India at the time. She was fierce, strong and independent, riding horses in breeches, sword in hand. She had the freedom to do things that arguably many in burqa do not. They do not get to feel the wind in their hair. They are faceless objects of patriarchy’s triumph over women.

The burqa, in my opinion, is indoctrination and not a choice. Someone who is brainwashed to believe that it is a choice will always maintain that it is. I say this because it’s not an Islamic requirement. As a Muslim feminist, I believe that in order to get ahead, we have to constantly reinterpret for ourselves. The re-emergence of the burqa should be condemned in the loudest possible terms. We should not let anyone take us back to where we become objects to be concealed instead of active citizens. While I know my views may be controversial, I believe that encouraging the burqa drags us back into the past.

France is a secular democracy. The people have spoken, Islamophobic or not, and their message is loud and clear. It is not the “we don’t like your kind” message propagated by those with a persecution complex, but a plea to assimilate and become part of French culture instead of living in isolated bubbles. The world is tired of our persecution complex and I don’t blame them. I have to go through demeaning visa processes in order to prove my innocence thanks to these privileged Muslims, citizens of the first world, who can travel where they please.

Am I saying that Islamophobia doesn’t exist? Of course not. But I can also guarantee that in France, if you act like someone who is receptive to their culture, you will be treated quite well by the vast majority of the population. But if you choose to walk around in a tent, which even to me represents oppression, then you will in effect further perpetuate Islamophobia.

What is the burqa but a symbol of indoctrination? Islamic history is full of strong women who defied the patriarchal norms, but sadly, all this information has been suppressed & hidden from history. By examining Muslims herstory over history, we can clearly see that veiling isn’t an essential practise; it is a choice.

So what is my problem with choice then? I realize it is anti-feminist to judge a woman based on her dress. However, I echo commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown when she said, “Why should society be tolerant of a mark that women are evil temptresses or packages whose sexuality has to be controlled?… There is self-segregation going on and this garment is a symbol of that.” I know I will be judged as “illiberal” but the woman who dons a burqa also looks down on the woman who is “immorally” dressed. She judges me for living in “male” clothes. She thinks, and sometimes says, that I’m destined for hell. Pray tell me why I should respect such a woman? Pray tell me why I should be tolerant of the intolerant?

 The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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AP: A Nation Burning.

Late last year, Aasia Bibi became the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. The events that have unfolded since then – the tragic assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the escalated street protests – highlight not only how sensitive this issue has become, but also how polarized. Many people, particularly minorities, have been persecuted under these laws, and while it would now be unproductive to get rid of the law completely, a proper dialogue and potential reform must occur. Below, Sahar Khan, a doctoral student in political science at University of California-Irvine, delves into a discussion on the law and how it’s been misused over the years:

According to the 2010 Freedom House Policing Belief on Pakistan, 695 people have been charged with blasphemy from 1986 till April 2006, while Dawn reported that 964 people have been charged with blasphemy out of the 5000 cases that have been registered from 1984 to 2004. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, that documents blasphemy cases, reports that majority of the cases involve Muslims, followed by Ahmadis. Yet, according to legal scholars, from 1960–2007, 41 cases have fallen under Section 295-C. Out of these, the religious profile was as follows: Ahmadis: 15; Christians: 5; Muslims: 20. This indicates that a little less than 50 percent of the cases involved Muslim violators of the law but when considering the minute size of the Ahmadi and Christian communities, the 15 and 5 cases represent a huge proportion.

Religious minorities have called on the judiciary to protect their constitutional rights—rights that they have been stripped off—but have mostly failed. In 1985, in Mujibur Rahman v. Government of Pakistan, the Federal Shariat Court upheld the constitutionality and validity of Ordinance XX [barring Ahmadis from associating themselves with Islam] and stated that the Parliament had acted wholly within its authority when declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslim.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan made a similar decision in Zaheeruddin v. State, and stated that restricting the religious practices of Ahmadis was constitutional for two reasons: 1) by declaring themselves as Muslims and simultaneously not believing Mohammad to be the last prophet essentially means they are committing fraud and are misrepresenting themselves while aggravating the majority Sunni population, and 2) by publically using Islamic epithets as non-Muslims, they would potentially be violating company and trademark laws, and so they should try to “coin their own epithets.” By doing so, the Supreme Court created a legal parallel between trade and religion despite obvious differences between the two. The decision was not only self-serving and dishonest but showed the judiciary surrendering before the ascendant forces of religious reaction and abdicating judicial protection of religious minorities.

In addition to judicial reluctance to overturn the laws, they suffer from four major design flaws. First, they are designed to only protect Islam and no other religion, which is clearly discriminatory. There have been calls to increase the scope of Section 295-C to include other prophets but theoretically it would only protect Abrahamic religions, and not others like Buddhism or Hinduism. Realistically, it is more likely to increase the potential for further persecution of minorities. Second, the requirement of a deliberate or malicious intent is missing from Section 295-C and except for a few exceptions in which the courts say that intention is absent and have granted bail, they mostly remain silent, which basically results in the laws being interpreted like strict liability offenses. Also, the lack of specificity of Section 295-C, and the explicit targeting of Ahmadis in Section 298-C makes their scope and applicability virtually limitless. Third, there are no exceptions for any person who is charged with blasphemy. Hence, the mentally ill and imbalanced can be charged and jailed for years.

In 1996, Zaibunnisa, a woman declared mentally ill, was charged and jailed for 14 years after being wrongly charged with blasphemy. Cases like these highlight the abuse that follows from a lack of intent requirement but also the insensitivity of the courts—especially the lower courts that deal with these cases more—regarding sick individuals. And finally, even though Section 295-C calls for punishment by death, hard evidence is not required to successfully indict someone. This is mainly due to the fact that lawyers and judges—and on occasion even their families— who demand hard evidence are often harassed, threatened, and even killed.

The laws also violate numerous international conventions. First, they are in conflict with Articles 7 (on equality before the law and protection against discrimination), 18 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion), and 19 (freedom of expression) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This is sad and ironic, considering Pakistan was a staunch advocate of UDHR during its early years and is a signatory. Second, even though Pakistan is not a signatory, it is important to note that the laws violate Articles 18, 19, 20, and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) because Pakistani jurists consider the ICCPR as an affirmed international norm that Pakistan should follow and have used it in judicial opinions. Third, they violate Articles 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 of the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief. Fourth, they violate Articles 2 and 4 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. And finally, the death penalty for blasphemy violates the first clause of the UN Economic and Social Council that has provided safeguards for the rights of those facing capital punishment and states that: “capital punishment may be imposed only for the most serious crimes, it being understood that their scope should not go beyond intentional crimes, with lethal or other extremely grave consequences.” Pakistan is one of the few remaining countries to retain it along with China, Iran, and the United States.

Judicial reform is not only important but necessary. The laws are usually misused at the lower court level because the local judges fear reprisal. While some decisions have gotten overturned at the appeals level, majority of the cases do not get reported, and of those that do, very few actually make it to the appeals stage. Furthermore, even if they do and the accused are acquitted, religious mobs drive them out of their homes and/or villages and even on occasion the country itself. As more are charged under the blasphemy laws, the clearer it becomes that the judiciary has actually endorsed these laws and increased their legitimacy. Parliament also needs to make amends and reform or eliminate the laws. Strong and vocal voices of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti unfortunately have been silenced. But instead of being afraid, legislators should use their assassinations as a calling for reform that cannot wait any longer. Sherry Rahman is such a voice—others should and must join her in her quest to reform or even eliminate the laws. Reforming or eliminating discriminatory laws will not magically reduce the violence within Pakistan but it will eliminate a tool that has been used too often to target minorities.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Viva La Veena Malik

Veena Malik knows what Veena Malik is thinking.

Unless you live under a rock, you are undoubtedly following news of the increasingly intensified protests in Egypt today (my recommendation is to watch Al Jazeera English and/or to follow the #jan25 on Twitter), as citizens continue to rally and challenge the autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak. The demonstrations sparked not long after protests in Tunisia toppled the state’s leader “and encouraged protesters [across the Arab world] to overcome deep-rooted fears of their autocratic leaders and take to the streets,” reported the NY Times.

However, if you do need a break from the news, I have a little Friday treat for you. DJ Shahrukh has remixed the greatness that was Veena Malik‘s debate with Mufti Abdul on Express News’ Frontline show. If you missed that show, here is a link to the entire debate, in which both Mufti and the host Kamran Shahid attempt to malign Malik’s character and reputation based on her stint on the Indian reality competition, Big Boss, insisting she brought shame to Islam, Pakistan, and our culture, [also see Sana Saleem’s blog post on the issue].

Veena Malik impressed us all with her responses on the show, rightly calling out the mullah for slandering her instead of focusing his attention on the politicians, terrorists, and others who are guilty of much more, who have actually harmed the country. In a more recent Frontline, she also took on Lollywood director Syed Noor, challenging sexist and narrow definitions of “culture” in Pakistani society.

Hats off to Veena Malik. She may refer to herself in third person, but she is fearless. This remix has been making the rounds in the blogosphere/Facebook news feeds, but it’s catchy and highlights the awesomeness of the debate. Mufti Sahib, you got served. And, in case you wondered whether this CHUP blogger could relate Veena to the Egypt developments, Twitter friend @humaimtiaz did it for me when she said, “What Egypt needs: Veena Malik saying “Mubarak sahib, yeh kia baat hui.”

Mufti sahib!:

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The WTF List of 2010

LOL Cat's like, 2010. WTF.

It’s New Years Eve today, and what a year it’s been. 2010 has been littered with many a Pakistan-related WTF moment, and I thought it best to go beyond the “Top Philosophical Things You Should Be Doing With Your Life” type lists (mainly because they make me feel bloody inadequate) and give you a list of the developments, quotes, and fuzziness that really made me go, “What the EFF,” [for the first WTF-related CHUP post, see here]:

WTF #1: Politicians. They iz catty mean girls. Ok. We knew this already. But certain moments made this year seem particularly ridiculous, from MQM’s Waseem Akhtar calling PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar “Mr. Bean” this week (via @desmukh) to the Facebook comeback kid Pervez Musharraf calling Nawaz Sharifbrainless” (while making a dig at his hair plugs), there were no shortage of name-calling and cattiness. Back in June, there was even a physical cat fight, when two female legislators from the PPP had an all-out brawl before a budget session. Rawr. (That was my cat noise.) Let’s not even get started on the Wikileaks’ release and the comments made by foreign dignitaries about each other. I mean, really. Who needs trashy reality shows when we have this for entertainment?

WTF #2: Corruption. They all haz it. Corruption is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. God no. But according to Transparency International, perceptions are worse than last year (The CPI ranked Pakistan 143 in the world), arguably meaning that we increasingly view this as a problematic issue. According to a Pew poll released in July, 74% of Pakistanis polled say corrupt political leaders “are a very big problem,” compared to 71% last year, 64% in 2007, and 58% in 2002. However, if you’re PPP’s Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi, you’d contend that corruption is every politician’s “political right.” Because that’s what politicians are elected for, apparently. To plunder the country. Just call them political pirates, arrr. WTF, matey. [thanks to Twitter friends for the Jatoi reminder.]

WTF #3: Integrity. Not many haz it. This year, scandal erupted over the shocking number of fake degrees claimed by Pakistani parliamentarians. Over the summer, “Up to 160 elected officials [were] accused of faking their degrees in order to meet a requirement for holding office,” reported Al Jazeera English. Regardless whether the education requirement first put in place caused this onslaught of fake degrees, [another debate entirely] the scandal caused some pretty justifiable WTF outrage, particularly when politicians like Aisam Rabbani told reporters, “a degree is a degree whether it’s authentic or fake,” or when the ever-charming Jamshed Dasti, with a fake Masters in  Islamic Studies, couldn’t even multiply 4 times 2 (let alone name the first 15 suras of the Quran). CHUP contributor Usman Zafar used a choice quote from Aesop in his op-ed on the topic, “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.”

WTF #4: Cricketz. They no haz it either. Where to even start with the Pakistan cricket team? In August, The News of the World broke a spot-fixing scandal, implicating seven players on the team, particularly Salman Butt (Captain) Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. The development further highlighted a long history of fixing in Pakistani cricket, but also the inefficiencies of the systematically corrupt Pakistan Cricket Board and the strong presence of the gambling syndicates [see Shaheryar Mirza’s contribution here]. Couple that development with ball-biting a la Shahid Afridi, steroids galore, and more than a few disappointing losses, and you get one, giant, WTF. [Also see Five Rupees for this great piece, “Why It’s Really Hard to Care About Cricket Right Now.”] All I have to say is, thank GOD for tennis player Aisam Qureshi. I hearts him.



WTF #5: Gary Faulkner iz Jack Bauer iz Chuck Norris. I mean. How could we not dole out a big, jovial, WTF to the Bin Laden Hunter? Faulkner was recently found near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border this summer, claiming he was searching for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It was his eighth trip to Pakistan, and the police who found him (who originally thought him “mentally deranged”), said he was carrying a pistol, a dagger, a sword, and night-vision goggles. This man is my hero. Favorite Gary Faulkner joke? Gary Faulkner destroyed the periodic table, because Gary Faulkner only recognizes the element of surprise. Boo yah.

WTF #6: Blasphemy laws & mob mentality. No LOLz. Since their introduction in the 1980s, the blasphemy laws have been arbitrarily used to legitimize the violence and persecution of Pakistan’s minorities. This year, the case of Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, sparked outrage and media headlines, further illustrating how often our legislators cow tow to the cacaphony of the religiously ignorant. There was increasing violence as well, [see this piece I wrote for the AfPak Channel], when more than 70 people were killed when gunmen launched attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. Just last month, police gave credence to intolerance and prejudice over reason and sensitivity, forcing an Ahmadi family to exhume a relative’s body from a graveyard. The Aasia Bibi and the Ahmadi graveyard examples further illustrate not only the ugliness of ignorance, but also how often mob mentality overruns reason. This was also evident when two brothers were brutally tortured and beaten to death in public in Sialkot back in August.

(Bravo to politicians and figures that did stand up against the blasphemy laws, like Asma Jehangir, Sherry Rehman, and Salmaan Taseer, to name a few.)

WTF #7: Mushy likez Facebook. LHC no likez it. Former President Pervez Musharraf announced his return to politics this year with the formation of his political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) and saying his (nearly 372,000) Facebook fans “wanted him to come back to Pakistan.” Status messages were abound with, “OMGZ. APML Foreva! Lulz” as Mushy played Farmville with fans and “liked” his own link uploads and photos (before APML fans start creating a Facebook application where users throw darts at my face, just remember I’m joking. Musharraf doesn’t even like Farmville). The Lahore High Court, on the other hand, was the Debbie Downer of the Facebook world, when, in response to the South Park controversy (when an episode was censored for featuring the Prophet Muhammad, and sparked an ‘Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!’) and numerous protests, they ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to block Facebook across Pakistan temporarily. So, Comedy Central censorship ultimately led to more censorship. An ironic WTF.

WTF #8: The floods this summer in Pakistan affected over 20 million people in the country, and rehabilitation and recovery will take years. Many argue that the government was ineffective in its response to the disaster, paying lip service and shedding crocodile tears, rather than truly attending to the millions whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed, [PM Gilani even visited a fake relief camp in August].

I realize that this list could be endless, and I have undoubtedly missed many choice WTF’s of the year, so I invite you, dear readers to add your own in the comment section. [Also check out these great lists by Blue Rickshaw and Huma Imtiaz at Dawn.] Happy New Year all!

For your entertainment, and to end the year with a laugh, here is a brilliant video of our favorite right-wing red beret Zaid Hamid showing off his karate skills in 1985 [via @kaalakawaa]:

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The Tragic Case of Aasia Bibi

Reuters Image

Last Friday, a Christian woman was sentenced to death by a court in Sheikhupura, near Lahore, “after prosecutors accused her of insulting the Prophet Mohamed and promoting her own faith,” reported The UK Independent. According to reports, though, this is what actually transpired – In June 2009, Aasia Bibi had reportedly been asked to fetch water while working in the fields  near Nankana Sahib, in Punjab province. Some Muslim women laborers reportedly refused to drink the water, claiming it was “unclean” because she, a Christian, had touched it, subsequently “sparking a row.” You see, Aasia Bibi felt it was in her right to speak out against this brazen prejudice that has plagued our society for decades.

According to the Telegraph, “The incident was forgotten until a few days later when Mrs. Bibi said she was set upon by a mob. The police were called and took her to a police station for her own safety.” Shahzad Kamran, of the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan, told the news agency, “The police were under pressure from this Muslim mob, including clerics, asking for Aasia to be killed because she had spoken ill of the Prophet Mohammed. So after the police saved her life they then registered a blasphemy case against her.”

So here we are, more than a year after Aasia Bibi, a 45 year old mother of five, was held for a crime based on hearsay, prejudice, and intolerance, and she has just become “the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy.”

I am not sure what’s worse – that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws [sections 295 and 298 of the Penal Code] are still in effect and arbitrarily used to persecute the country’s minorities, or that Aasia Bibi’s case is only really garnering headlines now, not a year ago, when this case first transpired.

On Monday, Ali Dayan Hasan from Human Rights Watch echoed my sentiments exactly when he wrote for Dawn,

Aasia Bibi’s case is so unremarkable, so commonplace, so routine in its casually callous violation of basic rights that it did not even register in the public consciousness. And, of course, it is no secret that the belief that Christians, and non-Muslims in general, are ‘unclean’, though not propagated by any known school of Islamic thought, has widespread currency, particularly in Punjab. In all likelihood, the police felt the mob was justified. There is a thin line between faith-based lack of hygiene and blasphemy goes this logic. And it is crossed if you refuse to view your faith as filth.

The most tragic part of Aasia Bibi’s case is that it was not the first of its kind and it’s by no means the last. Last April, more than 50 houses were set on fire by an angry mob in Gojra, again in Punjab province, burning at least seven Christians alive. Much like the Ahmadi case a few weeks ago, when authorities bowed to the hysteria of a mob and made a grieving family exhume the body of their relative, the police in these situations cower to the masses. Because, you see, intolerance and prejudice in Pakistan are encased by the pristine cowardice of law. And that, over all reason and rationale, reigns supreme.

There are currently petitions circulating to free Aasia Bibi. By all means sign them. But also consider the root causes behind such a case in the first place, and why, over and over again, such laws are arbitrarily wielded to justify the persecution of Pakistan’s dwindling minorities. Contemplate why our justice system delivers no such justice. Our police do not police. Our politicians cry crocodile tears in the aftermath of such incidents, and yet do nothing to challenge the law that allowed it to happen in the first place. We turn a blind eye to prejudice because even we do not realize how entrenched it is in the very fabric of this society. Aasia Bibi has a face today because the news deemed it so, giving her case well-deserved attention. But she was faceless a year before that, when the injustice first occurred, as are the many victims of similar atrocities committed on a daily basis in Pakistan.

Sign a petition to free Aasia Bibi. But for God’s sake, also decry the laws that allowed her to be imprisoned in the first place. Where’s the petition for that?

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According to columnist Andrew Alexander, the Washington Post’s editors recently pulled a Non Sequitor comic strip by Wiley Miller, because they were “concerned it might offend and provoke some Post readers, especially Muslims,” (thanks for the link @joshuafoust). Alexander wrote,

Miller is known for social satire. But at first glance, the single-panel cartoon he drew for last Sunday seems benign. It is a bucolic scene imitating the best-selling children’s book “Where’s Waldo?” A grassy park is jammed with activity. Animals frolic. Children buy ice cream. Adults stroll and sunbathe. A caption reads: “Where’s Muhammad?

Here’s the key part – Miller didn’t actually depict Prophet Muhammad in the cartoon, [which you can see here]. That was the point of his satire, though the Post’s editors still felt the cartoon seemed like “a deliberate provocation without a clear message.” Miller reportedly responded angrily, telling Alexander it was a commentary on “the insanity of an entire group of people rioting and putting out a hit list over cartoons,” as well as “media cowering in fear of printing any cartoon that contains the word ‘Muhammad.’ ” He added, “The wonderful irony [is that] great newspapers like The Washington Post, that took on Nixon . . . run in fear of this very tame cartoon, thus validating the accuracy of the satire.”

A few people have since weighed in on the Post’s decision. Reason Magazine wrote,

If the Post‘s new standard for comics is to make jokes “immediately clear,” then it might be time to kill the comics page altogether. No, Martel/Brauchli, you pulled the cartoon because your fear of Muslims outweighs your commitment to free expression, period.

According to the LA Times’ James Rainey (the LA Times also yanked the cartoon), fear was not the reason the editors’ decided not to publish the cartoon, it was instead a matter of “expediency.” He noted that The Boston Globe had a similar complaint. Deputy managing editor Christine Chinlund noted,

When a cartoon takes on a sensitive subject, especially religion, it has an obligation to be clear. The ‘Where’s Muhammad’ cartoon did not meet that test. It leaves the reader searching for clues, staring at a busy drawing, trying to discern a likeness, wondering if the outhouse at the top of the drawing is significant — in other words, perplexed.

I’ve written extensively about the South Park cartoon controversy as well as the controversial “Draw Muhammad Day!” which spurred indignation, hate-mongering on both sides, and even resulted in the Lahore High Court banning Facebook back in May. There is a fine line between freedom of expression and needless provocation, and the Danish cartoon controversy and subsequent events have made that line even finer.

But the recent censorship of Wiley Miller seems to signify just how thin that line has become, and how overly sensitive and politically correct the world feels it has to be to avoid backlash, and let’s be honest, death threats and fatwas. By pulling the plug on relatively mild pieces, they are intensifying the sensitivity on the issue, to the point where we are equating Islamophobic cartoons that are genuinely insulting to satirical pieces that editors fear will “perplex” Muslim readers. Not all Muslims need to be treated with kid gloves, and the more hypersensitive we become on that issue, the more it validates cartoonists like Miller’s point.

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We Didn’t Start the Fire

AP Image. Ridiculous muchie.

In a discussion earlier today on Islam in America, my friend said to me, “I’m happy about the number of senior officials and figures who have condemned ‘Burn the Quran Day,’ but the drawback is that we end up giving the fringe group exactly what they want – our undivided attention.”

It’s true isn’t it? Terry Jones, pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida has been calling for an “International Burn the Quran Day” to take place on September 11 since last month. For many, the event was audacious and despicable but it remained just as the movement did – on the periphery. But fast forward to this past week, days before the aforementioned burning, and there have been countless headlines, interviews, reactions, and condemnations. And just like that,  an event by a fringe movement dying for air time has grabbed the world’s attention.

General Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, commented on the event, telling NBC News,

We’re concerned that the images from the burning of a Quran would be used in the same way that extremists used images from Abu Ghraib — that they would in a sense be indelible. They would be used by those who wish us ill, to incite violence and to inflame public opinion against us and against our mission here in Afghanistan, as well as our missions undoubtedly around the world.

Following the statement, CNN interviewed the Florida pastor, who said, “We have firmly made up our mind, but at the same time, we are definitely praying about it.”

I’m sorry, Pastor. But what exactly are you praying for? For some iota of sanity? For tolerance, which is preached in both the Bible and the Quran? For a razor to shave off your ridiculous mustache?

VOA: 1-2-3-4! Tolerance! Break!

The answer: none of the above. Even a press conference with leaders of different faith backgrounds calling for an end to this “atmosphere of fear and intolerance” toward Islam would fall on deaf ears. Because Pastor Jones thinks he’s sending a message to “radical Islam.” And he thinks the only way to do that is to burn a book that would ostracize and offend all Muslims. What he fails to comprehend is that the ramifications won’t just be negative for U.S. interests abroad, but also for Muslims living in America, who are just as much American as they are Muslim, and who feel increasingly marginalized within this xenophobic debate.

Much like the Park 51 “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, the Florida church paints the “Muslim world” – a farcical and imagined term – with a monolithic brush. And the consequences of such actions are dire and severe. But, at the same time, the more unequivocal media attention we give to Pastor Jones and his Church, the more their stocks rise, and the more likely this debate about Islamophobia in America will rage on. It is a seemingly unending and disastrous cycle.

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America, the Islamophobic?

Cover of TIME Magazine

On Tuesday night, a NYC cab driver was stabbed several times by Michael Enright, a reportedly “intoxicated” passenger. Enright allegedly stabbed Ahmed H. Sharif after Enright asked him whether or not he was Muslim. According to USA Today,

In a statement Wednesday the from New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Sharif warned his fellow cabbies. “Right now the public sentiment is very serious” because of the ground zero mosque debate, he said. “All drivers should be more careful…I have been here more than 25 years. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before,” he said.

The incident sparked immediate debate among pundits, bloggers, and blogger-pundits alike, as many tried to analyze whether the stabbing was not only a hate crime but a reflection of growing Islamophobia in America (Max Fisher over at The Atlantic Wire has a good run-down of the commentary). Juan Cole didn’t blame Enright (who apparently works for Intersections International, a New York-based “global initiative dedicated to promoting justice, reconciliation and peace across lines of faith…and other boundaries that divide humanity,” which had recently announced their support for Park 51, previously known as the Cordoba House, more famously dubbed as the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’.). Cole blamed the Republican National Committee. He wrote:

I have said for some time that the American Right’s scapegoating of ordinary American Muslims– Muslims who serve in the US military, die for our country, invest in our cities, find cures for diseases, save our children’s lives in hospitals– would eventually cause pogroms and get people killed. A New York cabbie came close to dying for the sake of the G.O.P. Tuesday night.

So what ultimately drove Enright to stab this cab driver? Was it the messaging of the RNC, as Cole suggests, that incited violence? Or was this an isolated incident that shouldn’t be taken as a reflection of a larger phenomenon?

It’s a tough question. Taking the stabbing as a reflection of growing Islamaphobia in America would ultimately be the same thing as buying into the notion that Faisal Shahzad, the wannabe Time Square bomber, was a reflection of homegrown extremism, wouldn’t it? At the same time, at what point do isolated incidents – Pastor Terry Jones calling for a bonfire of Qurans on September 11th in Florida, protests and fear-mongering over Park 51, and a stabbing – all motivated by a fear/hatred/intolerance of Islam – become part of a wider trend? Moreover, if the media didn’t disproportionately cover these issues within the Islamaphobia context, would we be having this conversation?

Update: (via @alexlobov and @venkatananth) Another day, another drunken anti-Islam incident. This time, “an intoxicated man entered a mosque in Queens on Wednesday evening and proceeded to urinate on prayer rugs,” reported MSNBC. In Fresno, California, there have been a spate of hate crimes committed against a mosque. The imam walked into the Madera Islamic Center today to find a pair of menacing signs, including one that read, “Wake up America, the enemy is here.

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The WTF List of the Week

LOL Cat says WTF.

TGIF! Here is my round-up of events/developments this week that really had me screeching, “WTF” [What the eff], mainly at my computer screen, television, or to no one in particular:

WTF #1: What is up with the U.S.’s unhealthy obsession with President Obama’s religion?! I just don’t understand. Remember when he had to distance himself from his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright once upon a time? Let’s break it down. Pastor = Christian. Obama went to Pastor’s sermons. Obama = Christian. How is this hard to comprehend? Why do nearly one-in-five Americans believe that the President is a Muslim? And, more importantly, why does it matter?!

WTF#2: As an addendum to the first WTF, please observe this Washington Times piece by Jeffrey Kuhner, entitled, “Obama’s Islamic Agenda.” He wrote,

Mr. Obama openly bragged about his “Muslim background” and that his family had “followers of Islam.” He spoke of his youth in Indonesia, his study of the Koran and the call to Islamic prayer. In short, he discovered his inner Muslim in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the Arab street.

God forbid we all get in touch with our “inner Muslim” by being tolerant, worldly, and developing some form of cultural understanding. To drive home his point – that Obama loves the Muslim World more than Amuuurrica, here was the accompanying photo:

Greg Groesch for The Washington Times

See everyone! Underneath Obama’s makeup, he is a Muslim in disguise! He even has a tatoo on his cheek to prove it! Alert the media! We have a Hajji in our midst!


WTF#3: American news channels, politicians, and figures – can we please stop with the coverage about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque“?! It’s not a mosque. It’s not at Ground Zero. Let’s reach a compromise and move on. Sarah Palin, I know the withdrawal symptoms from Twitter bashing (“twashing”) may be tough at first, but you’ll get over it. There are far more important things we should be talking about, which leads me to…

WTF#4: The U.S. media’s concentration on Obama’s religion and Park 51 (aka, the “Ground Zero Mosque”) means there’s been relatively little coverage of an enormous humanitarian disaster – the floods in Pakistan. And we wonder why many Americans aren’t that aware of the devastation of this disaster, which is ongoing. Also, when the Western media does cover the floods, it’s often done through a negative lens, and the human loss and impact of this disaster gets lost in the process. Can we please, for the love of God, recognize the millions suffering without bringing Zardari’s spending habits into the equation or the Islamist issue? Cover the disaster in a way that does justice to the families who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, to the many who don’t give a damn about politics or “strategic interests.” They care about surviving and they care about the day-to-day. Remember that.

WTF#5: Dear Pakistani government, your response to the disaster in Pakistan has been atrocious. As a Pakistani citizen, one who is peddling like mad to drum up funds to send back home, I am disgusted with your political pot shots, your disinterest in your own people, and your lip service to something unfolding in front of your eyes. Everyone has pledged aid – even Afghanistan – who barely has anything right now. If every leader who defaulted on their loans or didn’t pay taxes actually dug into their pockets, maybe the rest of the world wouldn’t be calling us selfish beggars.

WTF#6: India offered aid to Pakistan when the floods began. What do our illustrious leaders do? They considered it. They refused to offer visas to 400 Indian doctors ready to come across the border and help flood victims. Even if Pakistan “accepted” the aid, why on earth did it take so long?! You might as well have taken that good will and thrown it out the window.

WTF#7: Via Huma Imtiaz (and an Express Tribune report):

The government and local clerics refused to shelter around 500 flood-affected families belonging to the Ahmadiya community in South Punjab’s relief camps. Not only that, the government also did not send relief goods to the flood-hit areas belonging to the Ahmadiya community, The Express Tribune has learnt during a visit to the devastated Punjab districts of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur.

Are you kidding me with this crap? Aid should be colorblind, because disasters are indiscriminate with who they impact. Your response, dear clerics (or whoever was behind this), should not be contingent on your prejudices. It should embrace every single family suffering because of this disaster. WTF.

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