The latest human rights outrage in Pakistan, a country that produces so many of them, concerns the recent arrest in Islamabad of an 11-year-old Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, who reportedly has Down's Syndrome. Masih is accused of having violated Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law, which carries the death penalty. The girl, according to the New York Times, had allegedly burned pages of a “religious textbook used to teach the Koran to children” and was imprisoned with her mother for this unproven allegation. The usual Muslim mob then gathered outside the jail she was in, demanding that Masih be charged, while her Christian neighbors fled their homes, fearing attacks by those same mobs.
The whole farcical incident started when Masih's landlord’s nephew apparently saw her carrying the offending pages that contained verses from the Koran. She intended to use the paper for cooking. The nephew then informed one of those tolerant, compassionate Muslim Pakistani clerics the world is now accustomed to reading about who then incited people to take action. The nephew’s uncle said few people cared about the matter until the cleric got involved, which is reminiscent of the Danish cartoon affair that was instigated by a Danish imam who flew to the Middle East to inflame passions there.
“He (the cleric) tried to shame people by saying, ‘What good are your prayers if the Koran is being burnt,” the uncle said.
The uncle also stated he was the one responsible for having the girl imprisoned, but for her own safety. Even in prison, however, Masih may not be secure, since others who have run afoul of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in the past have been killed while behind bars by frenzied religious mobs storming the jails. Only last month, a rabble seized a mentally unstable man accused of blasphemy from a police station and burned him alive.
If Masih was in possession of the burnt pages, it may have occurred during the course of her duties as a street sweeper, a job usually performed by poor Christians in Pakistan. Whatever the facts are, “senior leaders agreed…the accusations…were baseless” and the case “would ultimately be dropped.” This admission, however, has not stopped foreign governments from wading into the affair. The French government has called on “Pakistani authorities to free this young girl,” while the US State Department has called the arrest “deeply disturbing.”
Such foreign pressure may not have been in vain and may have helped goad Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari into action. Possibly embarrassed by Western criticism, Zardari has called for a report about the affair from the interior ministry. Western nations have always harshly condemned Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are often used simply as a tool of personal revenge or to persecute religious minorities who compromise about 5 percent of the country’s 160 million people. But even if foreign pressure does help get Masih released, she probably will never be able to return home due to waiting religious fanatics.
Besides Christians, Pakistan’s Hindu community is another religious minority under fire from majority Muslim hardliners. Persecution of Hindus has reached such proportions in Pakistan that long-time Hindu residents are now leaving for India. They know the government will not, and probably can’t, protect them. As a result, Pakistan, meaning "Land of the Pure," may soon become just that. A country purified of all other religions.
On top of religious discrimination, Pakistani Hindus are tired of the extortion, kidnappings, ransoms, as well as forced conversions and marriages to Muslims of their teenaged daughters after their abduction. One such unfortunate Hindu victim, only a teenager, gave a heartbreaking and tragic account in the English-language Pakistani newspaper Dawn of her kidnapping and forced marriage to a Muslim after being told her family would be harmed if she did not co-operate. She recognized her abductor. He was a Muslim guard at the Hindu temple.
But how can non-Muslim religious minorities in Pakistan expect protection and justice from authorities in this land of hatred when even non-Muslim minorities are not protected? The Ahmadis and Shiites are also targeted by Sunni extremists for death. Just recently, armed Sunni terrorists wearing army uniforms stopped a bus and after examining the passengers’ papers executed 20 people –all Shiites. In the past six months, two similar incidents involving the murder of bus-travelling Shiites have also occurred. These latest 20 victims now join the more than 1,000 Shiites murdered each year in Pakistan, some of them by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a terrorist group dedicated to killing Shiites.
Homicidal hatred is, however, not just the preserve of minority religious groups in Pakistan. In Karachi, deadly ethnic and political violence between Pakistan’s four main ethnic groups – Punjabs, Sindhs, Pashtuns and Mohajirs (Muslim immigrants from India who came to Pakistan at the time of the 1947 partition) – has been going on for several decades, making the city one of the most dangerous and violent in the world. Riots and killings have occurred with such frequency in Karachi that the police have sometimes lost control and the army has had to be called in to restore order.
And the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) also contributes to the country’s rising tide of chaos, violence and death by attacking anyone and anything opposing the establishment of an Islamist state. It was reported that last November alone saw 1,700 people killed in terrorist or insurgent attacks. And that was a good month. It seems that at least once a week Pakistani newspapers report a TTP suicide bomber slaughtering men, women and children, often indiscriminately and often in a mosque. Even more disturbing is that the bomber is often just a child recruited by the TTP death cult.
But at the top of the list of those who suffer the most in Pakistan’s hate-filled society are women. Besides having schools for girls blown up in the tribal areas, the prevailing misogyny subjects them to honor murders, forced marriages, marital violence, and mutilations and rapes as part of a family, clan or tribal revenge code. They are sometimes regarded as having such little worth that they are used as commodities to settle clan feuds and even gambling debts.
“It is near impossible to comprehend the level of hatred that rules the minds of those people who are terrorising Pakistan today,” a Dawn editorial reads.
And that, perhaps, sums up best the fragmented state of present-day Pakistani society, an unfeeling incubator of terror that contains little, if any, concept of humanity.
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