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Blasphemy, Islam and the Law: part two

Freedom of thought is of the utmost importance to man's economic, social, and political development. Without absolute freedom for the mind, man is only a miserable slave and a cringing, fawning, hypocritical coward.

Saturday, May 31, 2008By Adrian Morgan


Two faces of Islam

Is Islam indeed a religion of peace? By reading the Koran and commentaries, one can easily be confused by contradictions in the text as well as statements of terrorist such as Osama Bin Laden.

North America

World Jewish Congress calls for inter-faith dialog

In a meeting in Ohio, leaders of the World Jewish Congress said that it is the duty of all religions to restore respect for humanity.Article 295-A states: "Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting Its religion or religious beliefs:

"Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the 'religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both."

Zia ul-Haq, spurred on by the Islamists of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, introduced Article 295-B in 1982. This outlawed any desecration of the Koran. "Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur'an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.

In 1984, Article 295-C of the PPC was introduced. This outlawed any derogatory speech about Mohammed, founder of Islam. This law gave an option of life imprisonment or the death penalty as prescribed punishment, wit an additional fine. In October 1990, this was increased by the Federal Shariat Court so that the death penalty became mandatory.

In the same year, amendments to the PPC (Articles 298-B and 298-C) placed restrictions on the Ahmadi sect, preventing them from defining themselves as Muslims or proselytizing for their faith.

The blasphemy laws have been used to deliberately attack Christians, Ahmadis and other religious minorities in Pakistan. Often the laws are used to settle personal scores. Once accused of blasphemy a person runs the risk of being lynched.

The first Hindu to be lynched to death for alleged blasphemy was 22-year old Jagdeesh Kumar. He worked at a garment factory in Karachi. On April 28 this year, he was murdered by his co-workers while policeman looked on and did nothing. Jagdeesh Kumar's body was mutilated beyond recognition. His eyes had been gouged out.

Abuses Under The Law

The number of Christians and Ahmadis who are charged with blasphemy offenses far outweighs their proportion of the Pakistani population. The first Muslim to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan was Ghulam Akbar, who was convicted in September 1998.

Merely to be accused of blasphemy means a person is kept in jail until trial. In some cases, people wait in jail for years before their cases are heard. As lynchings and riots ensue so easily from accusations of blasphemy, a climate of fear exists.

In September 2005 in Punjab province, 40-year old Christian Younis Masih made derisory comments about Mohammed, the so-called Prophet. The Christians who heard him beat him, hoping he would retract his comments.

A mob of Muslims attacked him. Even his wife was physically assaulted. He was taken into custody, while Muslims rioted, demanding that Masih be charged. In May 2007 Masih was sentenced to death. He appeared in court only on a video link, such was the fear that he would be lynched. His lawyer had also been threatened.

Bishop John Joseph shot himself in Punjab province on May 6, 1998, in protest at the blasphemy laws. At the time, no lawyer could be found to represent Ayyub Masih. Ayyub was a 25 year old Christian accused of blasphemy who had been sentenced to hang. In 2002, Ayyub was fortunate to have his death sentence revoked by the Supreme Court.

Only a few people have been acquitted and released after being convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan. Younes Shaikh, a Muslim doctor, was sentenced to death in 2001 for blasphemy. The case was highlighted in the international press, and many leading figures out pressure on Pakistan. As a result, Shaikh was released in 2003.

Sometimes, those who become victims of the blasphemy laws are from the most vulnerable sections of society. A young Muslim with mental health problems was sent to jail in June 2006 for allegedly desecrating a Koran. 38-year old Shehzad Saimullah of Karachi said: "I don't know what happened to me. I don't know why I did this. I felt like I was instigated by the Devil."

In 2004, a Christian man who had escaped from a psychiatric institution was jailed, after he was given a life sentence for desecrating the Koran. Shahbaz Masih had been arrested in June 2001 after a cleric - who had thrashed him - handed him to police. After being in jail for nearly six years, he was finally acquitted on January 19, 2007.

Ranjah MasihIn October 2006, two Christian men were arrested and placed in custody, on suspicion of burning pages of the Koran. James Masih and Buta Masih are both Catholic, and were both aged 70. They are also illiterate. No evidence was produced against them. They were incarcerated merely on the basis of hearsay. A month later, the pair were both sentenced to 15 years in jail.

When vulnerable individuals are released after charges against them are found to be false, they still face risks of violence. 60-year old Yousaf Masih was arrested on June 28, 2005, accused of desecrating the Koran. Masih was a sweeper by trade, and a Christian.

He had been asked to burn some papers. He did as requested, not knowing what he was burning. Members of the Islamist six-party alliance, the MMA, were calling for his death. Yousaf was beaten by police, and though initially refused bail he was granted freedom on $4,200 bail on August 6 that year.

The bail was raised with the assistance of well-wishers. However, Shahbaz Bhatti of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) claimed that Masih, who also has learning difficulties and has a weak heart, was still at risk of attack after his release.

According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a total of 892 people have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since the laws were introducd. Between January and April 2008, a total of 15 people have been accused of blasphemy.

In June 2006, Shahbaz Bhatti made an appeal to Pakistan's chief justice to take note of the abuses of the blasphemy laws. He said: "Blasphemy law is used as a weapon to settle personal scores. Many innocent people are killed and incarcerated due to its misuse of blasphemy laws. Similarly, in the cases of blasphemy the families of the accused are also threatened and they faced harassment and victimization."

Community Violence

Earlier this month, questions were asked in the UK parliament about the case of Qamar David. On May 24, 2006, after Muslim outrages against Christians, David was arrested for sending text messages in which he committed blasphemy. He was arrested and detained in jail, even though no evidence was produced by police.

When Kim Howells, Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was asked what was being done on Daid's behalf, he answered: "We have not made specific representations in the case of Qamar David." Howells claimed to support those accused on grounds of their faith, but in practice his department supports and funds Islamists.

The incident which had upset Qamar David the most had been the attack upon the Christian community at Sangla Hill, near Lahore in Punjab province which took place on November 12, 2005. A Muslim mob ran riot through a Christian community, burning churches and other buildings. The rioting ensued after an alleged incident involving blasphemy. Yousaf Masih was falsely charged with burning pages of the Koran. His accusers were individuals who owed him money after losing gambling games.

On November 12, 2005 in Sangla Hill, a local mosque began inciting rioters. Calling out insults against non-Muslims, the mob of at least 1,000 attacked Christian churches, a convent, boarding house, medical center and school.

Father Samson Dilawar, a local priest, said: "I heard the mullahs had been telling people over loudspeakers, 'We are guardians of the Koran and it is our foremost duty to teach a lesson to those kafirs.' Then they came to my door." Father Dilawar's home was set on fire, and he had to flee through a window wearing a dressing gown.

A shaky peace deal between the Muslim and Christian communities was arranged a month later. However, within weeks, death threats had been received by Father Dilawar and other Christian priests. The threats had come from the Deobandi terror group Lashkar-e-Jhvangi, the group that had beheaded Daniel Pearl.

Finally, in February 2006, Younis Masih, the man falsely accused of burning Koran pages at Sangla Hill, was acquitted. 88 Muslims who had been among the hundreds who had attacked the Christian community of Sangla Hill were also acquitted. All those who were acquitted were released because of a lack of evidence.

The situation in Sangla Hill bore similarities to an incident that had taken place in February 1997 when - on a pretext of "blasphemy" - a Christian village was ransacked. The village of Shanti Nagar in Punjab province was attacked by Muslims, with more than 400 homes, as well as churches and schools burned down.

Two months before Sangla Hill was attacked, in Chungi Amer Sidhu on September 11 2005 a Christian named Younis Masih was arrested, accused of insulting the prophet of Islam in verse. Younis Masih had been charged after a group of 200 Muslims had surrounded the local police station and refused to move. As a result, he was charged and taken into custody. Masih's home was attacked and is wife physically assaulted. His arest was condemned by the Catholic Archbishop of Lahore, Lawrence Saldanha.

When the "blasphemy" of the Danish cartoons incited Muslims, the town of Sukkar in Sindh province was attacked on February 19, 2006. Two churches were subjected to arson attacks by a mob of about 400 Muslims.

What is disturbing is that Islamic countries rarely support the rights of non-Muslims, but have hoodwinked the UK to support its interpretation of blasphemy. In March 2007, the 57-nation OIC persuaded the Muslim-dominated United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution. 

This resolution, adopted by 24 votes against 14 - was to express "deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations" and encouraged nations to "take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement and religious hatred, hostility, or violence."

In March 2008, the same resolution was officially passed by the UN Human Rights Council.

Beyond Islam

The decision by the UN Human Rights Council can not be taken seriously, considering how Islamic countries treat non-Muslims. Saudi Arabia prevents members of other faiths from openly following their religion. No Bibles or crucifixes are allowed into the country.

On November 2, 2007 Mustapha Ibrahim, an Egyptian pharmacist, was beheaded in Riyadh. He was found guilty of witchcraft and also desecrating a Koran. In February 2008 it was revealed that a woman - Fawza Falih - was awaiting execution for witchcraft in Saudi Arabia.

AhmedIn 2007, when the UN Human Rights Council was discussing the issue of Darfur, no agreement was made because Sudan blocked discussion of the resolution. Sudan operates as an Islamofascist dictatorship, and has strict laws against blasphemy. In May 2005, the blasphemy trial of newspaper editor Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed was disrupted by Islamists, who were chanting for his death. On September 6, 2006, Ahmed was found on a dirt road, killed by Islamists. His hands had been tied behind his back and he had been beheaded.

On November 25, 2007 a British woman was arrested in Sudan. Gillian Gibbons was a teacher whose class of students had named a teddy bear "Mohammed", after one of their number. Ms Gibbons was accused of blasphemy. The British government protested, and eventually the woman was freed and deported.

As the LA Times noted, there was an element of hypocrisy on Britain's part - arguing against Sudan's blasphemy laws when it had blasphemy laws of its own.

In January 2008 a British politician from a minority party, Evan Harris, had introduced a bill which proposed the abolishing of Britain's blasphemy legislation. The bill passed through the House of Lords (the upper house of parliament) and received royal assent in May.

Even though Britain is no longer able to prosecute people for blasphemy against Christianity, this does not mean that blasphemy has disappeared. In its relentless pursuit of multiculturalism, the current Labour government could easily legislate to outlaw criticism of Islam. In 2005, it approved a bill that would have seen a person jailed for 7 years for "inciting religious hatred", even if the person had not intended any incitement. This bill was eviscerated by the House of Lords.

In November 2006 two individuals fro m the far-right British National Party were, for the second time, acquitted by a jury of charges of inciting racial hatred. Gordon Brown, who is now the unelected leader of the Labour Party, said then: "I think any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion in this country and I think we have got to do whatever we can to root it out from whatever quarter it comes. And if that means we have got to look at the laws again, we will have to do so."

Such thinking is downright dangerous and anti-democoratic. India has laws that protect religions from being maligned. On paper such legislation is not contentious. In practice, it means that Muslim politicians and imams can call for the murder of Danish cartoonists with impunity.

Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen sought refuge in Kolkata (Calcutta) in West Bengal, India. Local cleric Syed Noor-ur-Rehman Barkati announced in 2004 that her face could be blackened, or she could be garlanded with shoes (an extreme insult in India). He also offereod a financial inducement to this end. Two years later, he offered money to anyone who would blacken her face or drive her out of India.

In March 2007, another leading Indian Muslim, Taqi Raza Khan, said that Taslima had committed blasphemy in her writings, and could be decapitated. Neither Khan nor Barkati have been prosecuted. Even though Taslima has been victimized by Islamists, she herself has been charged in Hyderabad with having "anti-religious views". She was moved from Kolkata to an "undisclosed location". This was done by the authorities for her "security".

On March 13 this year I received a disturbing email from Taslima. She had become ill through stress, suffering from high blood pressure, hypertrophy and hypertensive hypertrophy. The Indian authorities would not let her stay in hospital for the required time, and later refused access to a doctor.

She wrote: "Even though they constantly pressured me mentally to leave the country, I refused to budge. I was determined I would not leave this country. When they saw it was pointless trying to destroy my mind, they attempted to destroy my body. In this they succeeded by ruining my health which leaves me with no other alternative but to leave this country."

India has no actual "blasphemy" laws, but it still manages to persecute those who are unofficially accused of blasphemy. Multiculturalism in the West is a dangerous ideology. It does not support the indigenous people, but forces them to accept almost all alien beliefs as "equal".

I wrote in January 2007 of a documentary produced by Hardcash Productions for British TV station Channel 4. This was called "Undercover Mosque" and exposed how Islamist extremists flourished in mosques across Britain. Some of these mosques are registered as charities. The documentary can be downloaded here.

Bilal Phillips, a Jamaican-born convert, was filmed in a Birmingham mosque saying that because the prophet Mohammed married a nine-year old girl (Aisha), others could do the same by marrying a pre-pubescent girl. He said "it wasn't abuse or exploitation, it was marriage". Other preachers poured scorn on Jews and Christians. Non-Muslims were described as "liars". Other clerics said Britain will be taken over by Muslims, and another celebrated the Islamists who killed a British Muslim soldier as a "Hero of Islam".

After the documentary was shown, the West Midlands Police asked for the original footage from Hardcash Productions. They came to the conclusion that, though preachers were shown calling for homosexuals to be killed, and advocating armed jihad against non-Muslims, no Muslims were to be prosecuted. Instead, they tried to prosecute the documentary makers for inciting religious hatred.

Though this was obviously a political action, it demonstrates what has become the new blasphemy. Criticize or question the new multiculturalism, and you commit a form of blasphemy against the prevailing dogma-of-the-day.

When advised that they could not prosecute the documentary-makers, West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service took unprecedented action. They wrote to Ofcom, the British broadcasting regulator, claiming the documentary was "misleading" and had "compleltely distrorted" the words of three Muslim preachers. West Midlands Police also issued an online statement claiming they had "referred the matter to the broadcasting regulators Ofcom as a formal complaint." Ofcom refused to uphold their complaints.

Hardcash and Channel Four decided to take both the Crown Prosecution Service and West Midlands Police to the High Court, accusing them of libel. On Thursday May 15 this year, the documentary-makers won their case. West Midlands Police and the CPS apologized in the HIgh Court, and paid the litigants £50,000 ($99,032) in damages and £50,000 in costs. The money is to be paid to a charity that supports the dependents of journalists killed or injured overseas.

The laws of blasphemy in countries like Pakistan do not lead to harmony between those of differing faiths. It has been argued that in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws have encouraged interfaith rivalry and fanaticism.

In the absence of theism, blasphemy can still continue in other forms. In Turkey since the country adopted secularism in 1923, Article 301 outlawed any criticism of "Turkishness". The law was widely abused, Though it has now been abandoned, it is still a crime in Turkey to slander Atatirk, founder of the secular state.

A democracy, in a free country, can only function at its best if it allows for pluralism. Even "secularism" can become a new religion, as can "multiculturalism". The cost of a true democracy is that we should always be forever vigilant, ready to oppose individuals or movements who would remove our freedoms. Freedom of speech, the freedom to criticize religious, political and social ideologies alike, is a fundamental freedom.

I would like to close this article with a quote from a child. Queen Silver was a child prodigy, a proponent of scientific rationalism. She became the model for Cecil B. de Mille's 1929 movie, the Godless Girl. I do not share Silver's socialist outlook, but agree with her on this point, made in a lecture in 1923, when she was just 12 years old:

"Freedom of thought is of the utmost importance to man's economic, social, and political development. Without absolute freedom for the mind, man is only a miserable slave and a cringing, fawning, hypocritical coward. Without freedom to express the thoughts of the mind in spoken or written words, all social progress becomes impossible. All the freedom which we now have is due to the pioneers of free thinking and free living who have given their lives to making that freedom possible. All the freedom which your children will have in the future will be due to the fact that you have conserved the freedom of the past, added to it and handed it on to them."

Adrian Morgan is a British bas

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News. 

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