Mr Arshad Butt is an insightful observer of the political events in Pakistan. Even though the hallmark of Pakistani political developments and shabby deals defy any common sense, but I admire people like him for their attempts to bring some coherence to a fluid and ambivalent situation in their country whether they live in or outside Pakistan as he does.
In an Urdu article (Faizabad ka dharna aur Sulaimaani quwwateen, Karwan.no, November 26, 2017), he strikes the right chord and comes up with some views to uncover the hidden hands behind the present precarious situation, when the rabidly reactionary Islamists have been running amok in the country in defiance of all norms of civility, disregard for all law and order, and thus to have kept Islamabad and other places under terror and siege using the ridiculous pretext of saving the honour of the Prophet and the finality of his Prophethood, which in any case was not and has never been in any danger in this Islamic country.
Since Pakistan was turned into a den of morbid religious fanatics, it is the last place where some metaphysical questions in theology, like the role of the Prophet or his status as the Last Prophet of Allah, can ever become an open moot point in any serious discussions or anywhere else in the public sphere of this country. All such things and avenues are strictly closed. The self-styled 'protectors' and 'guardians' of the finality for the Prophet's mission, Islamic religious parties, and the indoctrinated Mullahs who are a product of seminaries and madrassas, make sure no one can discuss such things freely without incurring the legal and mob wrath.
The introduction of the blasphemy laws in the Pakistan Penal Code in the 1970s and 1980s gave a big boost to the sectarian religious parties, mostly belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam, and to the militant extremists who have been hell-bent on imposing political Islam as a way of life over the country. As a result, now they were free to assert their power and influence over the state and the civil society in a way and to the extent that was not seen before in the shaky history of this country.
Thus, a coercive brand of Islamism replaced an old, tolerant, and an all-inclusive brand of the Sufi Islam that was the traditional faith of the people of this vast region of the Indian Subcontinent before 1947, but which gradually came under increased pressure by the politicizing of an anti-egalitarian, anti-socialist and anti-democratic Islam by the Jamaat-e-Islami and its founder, Maulana Maududi, who was a renowned and influential ideologue of a totalitarian 'Islamic ideology', or Islamism.
In Maududi's hidebound, conservative version of political Islam, there was no room for any western democratic and humanist traditions that were to form a basis of a modern democratic state, allowing basic democratic freedoms of civil society (read all Muslim sects, an all religious minorities), or any space for an open and free educational system that was not subordinated to the Islamic doctrines and beliefs.
It is also important to keep in mind that the role of Maududi was not only confined to Pakistan; his influence had reached to many parts of the conservative Muslim countries of the Middle East and South Asia. The seeds Maududi sowed became the plants that sapped all progressive ideas and pushed people into a rigid conformity with his brand of 'Islamic ideology'. The introduction of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan was a natural result of the process of Islamization that Maududi and other right-wing religious parties had set in motion. They had found the fertile ground for their agenda.
In case, any unfortunate Pakistani official or layman who is accused by any Pakistani ‘Muslim’ for having transgressed the limits of the majoritarian Sunni beliefs, he or she is in big trouble. Any such allegation, even without any substantive ground before the judicial bodies, is used as amounting to a breach of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, which both the hard-line Islamist parties and also the major liberal and populist parties support for their own political motives.
How can a falsely accused person show that he has not committed any offence when the allegations by a ‘Muslim’ accuser are accepted as ipso facto true by the police and the courts of law, to start with? However, such is the sad state of affairs in a country that is being traumatized under the burden of religious fanaticism, obscurantism and infantile world-views. The people living in democratic countries, where the rule of law and basic human freedoms are taken for granted, will never be able to understand that such things are taking place in Pakistan in this century.
As a result, any charge of violation of the blasphemy laws is sufficient to set in motion the prosecution process of an alleged offender. Many people have fallen victims in this vicious trap, which even the tormentors of the medieval ages would not have willingly acceded to.
What is even more mind-boggling is the fact that any alleged offenders of blasphemy laws should show that they did not do what they are charged with! In fact, this happens in cases where such an allegation in itself is seen as a substantial proof of the guilt. Here the accused is not regarded as innocent before being proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a blasphemer is guilty in the eyes of the law of the offence whenever there is such a charge or accusation.
Contrary to the universal conventions and legal norms covering the application of the rules of criminal law in the civilized countries, a Pakistani accused of blasphemy has to prove his or her innocence, instead. Such victims are doomed, either they will get life in prison, or be given a hangman’s noose on their neck. But that is not all. Then, there is also the danger of mob violence and retributions. Ordinary Muslims, mostly Sunnis, instigated by their Mullahs and preachers will take the law in their hands and target anyone suspected of blasphemy. Those who are accused of blasphemy are subject to harassment, threats and physical molestation. The police officials, judges, lawyers who dare to show concern for any innocent victim are also subject to threats and intimidation. In this way, the public authorities and judges are not allowed to function freely and independently of the pressure that extremists exert.
The major disruptions of civic and public life that started a few weeks ago brought the metropolis of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Islamabad, to its knees. That shows how things have a reached a low ebb in the affairs of the state and society. The law minster of Pakistan, Mr. Zahid Hamid, became the latest target of the religious militant parties, which have gained enormous political leverage within the country. They demanded the resignation of the law minister. Faced with such a stand-off in a huge show of force by the fundamentalists, the government gave in to the unreasonable demands, and thereby the siege of the city also came to an end. However, this backing down by the government is also seen by the extremists as their major victory. So, the road to Islamization continues to broaden its parameters while the mandate of the government and public authorities shrinks.
It is obvious that religious extremist parties and groups have become emboldened enough to defy the law and order authorities with impunity. They have gained enormous street power; they can call always appeal to the ordinary citizens and pull big crowds to disrupt the civic life of this hapless country and its people. All this in the name of defending the honour and the final status of the Prophet, or Allah and Islam!
And weak Pakistani governments that most of the time remain deeply mired in their shabby deals and economic exploitation of the people also play the Islam card as and when they want to prolong their survival and make compromises with the Islamist extremist parties and groups. Pakistani ruling elite know how the Panama investment functions, how Swiss banks can hide their ill-gotten millions of dollars and pounds, how European countries can provide them safety and thus saving them from any real investigations into their economic or political affairs.
Now, turning back to the question of the blasphemy law once again, we may ask: Has the honour or the name of Prophet ever been under any real threat or abuse at the hands of any people in Pakistan? Pakistan is a traditional, conservative Islamic country, where around 97% people are Muslims. Why would anyone use vulgar abuse against the Prophet, who is so profoundly venerated in Pakistan and in other Islamic countries? In my view, there is no rationale for doing any such there.
The main aim of the religious parties and the religious lobby was and still is to fight against democratic system and neutralize any educational process that opens up the avenues for rational thinking and openness, as we witness in democratic societies in the world. The theocratic rule and the Sharia laws have become the most loved notions around which are woven the hopes and expectations of the birth of a new world in Pakistan. The Islamists also believe their services to protect the Prophet are bringing the new world closer to the doors of Pakistanis.
We can also justifiably ask: Over the last few weeks, from where did so many Islamist fanatics and militants suddenly appear without any coordinated plan or encouragement by some hidden hands? This is a valid point, and we hope some Pakistani writers and political analysts will expose and explore this melange for us.
In fact, it is no hidden secret to any reasonable person in Pakistan that for the Pakistani politicians and leaders playing the Islam card had been their favourite political tool. A conservative and ignorant population was an easy target, and the elite took full advantage of such a 'concrete' state of the affairs for their selfish ends, and so did the religious parties that had their own agendas. The results are before our eyes. In this way, a monster was created by the opportunistic rulers, political leaders and political parties that in the end was to become a fully grown Hydra with nine-heads as in Greek mythology. It was said about this serpent-like monster that if you cut off one hydra head, two more grow back! Now, Pakistan and its people have the Hydra hovering on their heads. But they would not be able to see it or fear it.
In fact, the whole scenario of religious fanaticism is so deeply preposterous and primitive; it is an expression of total mental and spiritual paralysis and mayhem that has gripped the people for the last seven decades. In the beginning, to play the Islamic card, such ‘Islam in danger,’ was used to strengthen the hands of the anti-democratic and religious reactionary forces. The opportunistic and manipulating political leaders and political elites had discovered early that the music of the Islamic card worked like magic on the people, who at he same time were enthralled by the rich rewards of the Paradise and its abundant delights that were reserved only for the male Muslim 'believers' when the clerics inculcated such images on the minds of vast congregations.
To sum up, what the ruling elite and exploiters of Pakistanis did, they did not realise or understand they were creating a big monster that none would be able to control. That is exactly what happened. The recent show of force in Islamabad by these disruptive and rowdy fanatics shows that such wild eruptions were not mere incidental, but also had strong backings by the power centres in the country. Perhaps, such a situation may also scare those who patronised and unleashed fanatic fundamentalists for their short-term objectives. That was not a prudent course to follow. In any case, one thing is certain: The monster is not going to disappear. It is there, and it will play havoc with the helpless, ordinary people of this country. They have nowhere to go or turn to seek help.