Let’s work for a world in which Pakistani ‘blasphemers’ will not be killed

Pakistani Blasphemy PR

Earlier this month, a mob broke into a police station in Punjab, Pakistan, dragged a man through the streets and beat him to death. Why? He was accused of “blasphemy.”

Muhammad Warris was being held on suspicion of blasphemy. In Pakistan, blasphemy can carry the death penalty. He was charged with supposedly tearing out several pages of the Quran.

Critics contend, however, that blasphemy allegations in Pakistan are used to discriminate against religious minorities and to settle personal vendettas. Human Rights Focus Pakistan Director Naveed Walter told The Observer, “A family member plotted to accuse Warris of blasphemy, provoking some religious fanatics.” Warris reportedly had lent money to a relative, who, instead of paying him back, fomented a blasphemy accusation and then the mobs that descended.

But what difference does it make? Had Warris torn out some pages of the Quran, so what? How horrifying that fealty to religious dogma — to a mere religious text — can turn a crowd into a murderous mob. It was reported that children as young as 10 were involved in the attack. Videos by the rioters were taken, even proud selfies, reminiscent of how white mobs acted when lynching Black people in America.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan published a recent report about the rise in blasphemy accusations, contending that more than 580 cases of blasphemy were registered by police in Pakistan, most occurring in the Punjab province.

Is it any surprise to see this rise when the Pakistani ruling elite has just strengthened anti-blasphemy laws? The new law criminalizes individuals who insult people simply connected to the Prophet Muhammad. If you’re convicted, for example, of insulting the prophet’s wives, you can face 10 years in prison, a sentence that could be extended to life, along with a fine of 1 million rupees. Bail is not allowed if you’re charged with blasphemy.

Pakistan is one of 71 countries with blasphemy laws, defined as “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reference for God.” That makes atheism, by definition, blasphemous. As Bertrand Russell has pointed out though, “Every great idea starts out as blasphemy.”

In a world governed by reason, by secular systems of justice, there would be no more such horrors, no blasphemy laws. Religious brutalities like this make the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s work to maintain the principle of separation between religion and government in the United States all the more important.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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