I have been railing about the menace of blasphemy laws and once again Pakistan’s infamous laws have revealed that, in addition to being an outrageous infringement of people’s rights of free speech and discriminatory against religious minorities, they also serve as a way for people to settle private grudges and advance their own agendas at the expense of others. The charges can carry the death penalty.
The latest episode comes after two supposed friends, one Christian and the other a Muslim, got into an argument after a drinking session. Later the Muslim accused the Christian of having made a blasphemous comment. As a result, Muslims went on a rampage in a Christian area, destroying an entire community of 150 homes. Fortunately the residents had already left in fear so there were no casualties.
Laws such as these are often easy to pass because they pander shamelessly to the religious sentiments of the dominant group. You can be sure that a Christian cannot bring blasphemy charges against a Muslim for saying something derogatory about Jesus. But repealing them, as human rights activists have urged, is hard because no one wants to take the lead. Two prominent politicians have already been assassinated for merely urging reforms of the law.
The only sliver of a silver lining is that Pakistan’s terrible experience with blasphemy laws, which make that country look like a relic of medieval times, may give pause to other countries that are considering introducing similar laws. The catch is that such measures are often introduced using the bland language of combating ‘religious tolerance’ (after all, who could oppose that?) and that ‘respect for religion’ should take the form of not allowing people to say anything bad about religion.