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An 11-year-old mentally disabled Christian girl has been sent to a Pakistani prison over allegations she committed blasphemy, just the latest act of bruising intolerance being perpetrated by Muslims against Pakistan’s besieged Christian minority group.
Rimsha Masih, who is afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, was arrested in early August at her home in the capital of Islamabad after she had been accused by her Muslim neighbors of burning 10 pages of the Koran.
Rimsha’s alleged heretical act offended local Muslim sensibilities enough to spark an angry mob of over 600 to gather outside her home, threatening to burn down Christian homes in the neighborhood if the police did not immediately arrest the young girl.
However, according to Farrukh Saif, head of the Pakistan-based human rights group, World Vision in Progress (WVIP), Rimsha, who works as a maid, denied any blasphemous wrongdoing, claiming she was simply burning garbage and “did not know a Koranic book was among the papers because she cannot read.”
Nevertheless, Pakistani police quickly brought Rimsha into custody, persuaded less by her illiteracy and mental impairment and more by a swelling Muslim mob bent on torching an entire Christian community, a rabble of thousands reportedly “already burning tires and ready to attack the Christians.”
To that end, over a thousand Christians in the area, including Rimsha’s parents and relatives, were forced to flee their homes, seeking shelter in church compounds or sleeping outdoors, a move Farrukh Saif said was “the largest reallocation of Christians from any area of Pakistan.”
While Muslims thirsted for Islamic retribution, others urged restraint, such as Pakistan’s Minister for National Harmony, Paul Bhatti, who said it was unlikely Rimsha “purposefully desecrated the Koran” given her mental disorder.
Of course, when it comes to issues of blasphemy, a number of Muslims are unwilling to let a blasphemer’s mental competence serve as a mitigating factor to ease their fury.
That moral stance was on display in July in the case of Ghulam Abbas, a 40-year-old mentally impaired Muslim man, accused of burning a copy of the Koran in public. Yet while in custody in the central Pakistani city of Bahawalpur, police said Abbas “had no idea what was going on…he kept laughing and chanting.”
Nevertheless, local Muslim religious leaders incited a mob numbering in the thousands to storm the police station where Abbas was being held. There, the horde dragged Abbas to the spot where he purportedly desecrated the Koran, poured gasoline over him, and then burned him to death as he screamed for help.
However, for Pakistan’s “tolerated minorities,” such as Christians and Hindus, that type of barbaric treatment is all-too commonplace for those unfortunate enough to run afoul of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws.
Those statutes, which earn sentences of death or life in prison if found guilty of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad or desecrating its holy book, the Koran, are exceedingly popular among most of Pakistan’s 180 million Muslim populace.
In fact, recent efforts by Pakistani political leaders to repeal the blasphemy laws have produced some deadly results: in January 2011 Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, the only Christian minister in Pakistan’s Cabinet, was shot and killed by one of his own guards; two months later Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minority Affairs, was gunned down by Islamists.
Perhaps part of Pakistan’s enchantment with its blasphemy laws stems from the fact that many Pakistani Muslims believe killing a blasphemous person earns a heavenly reward, a holy perk that may help explain why at least 30 Christians accused of blasphemy since 2009 have been killed by mobs of Islamist vigilantes.
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