Friday, August 24, 2012

Speak Out Against the Blasphemy Laws

Place of Remembrance Martin Niemöller
From Wikimedia Commons, Berkan
I just read a Huffington Post article by Mehdi Hasan entitled: "Not in My Name: Islam, Pakistan and the Blasphemy Laws", which discusses the horrific blasphemy charges brought against a Christian girl in Pakistan.

You could not make it up. An 11-year old Christian girl in Pakistan with Down's Syndrome is in police custody, and could face the death penalty, for allegedly burning pages from the Quran.
The girl, who has been identified as Rifta Masih, was arrested on blasphemy charges and is being held in Islamabad pending a court appearance later this month. She was detained by police after an angry mob turned up at her family's single-roomed home in a poor district on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital.
"About 500-600 people had gathered outside her house in Islamabad, and they were very emotional, angry, and they might have harmed her if we had not quickly reacted," Pakistani police officer Zabi Ullah told reporters.
"Harmed her"? Really? I mean, really? What on Allah's earth is wrong with so many self-professed Muslims in the self-styled Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Have they taken leave of their morals as well as their senses? It beggars belief that they should want to hurt or attack a child in the name of a religion based on mercy, compassion and justice.

The article makes some very important points that counter ridiculous assertions by people defending the Pakistani blasphemy laws or the actions of the authorities. These defenders claim that the girl in question may not be 11 but is instead 16 years old; or that she may not have Down syndrome.

Hasan correctly points out: "SO WHAT?" It does not matter how old she is or whether she has Down syndrome. Arresting and prosecuting a child or an adult for "blasphemy" is simply wrong. Hasan's article ends with a very important message:

Denial is not an option, nor is turning a blind eye. We have to speak out against hate, intolerance and the bullying of non-Muslim minorities - otherwise we risk becoming complicit in such crimes. "Not in my name" has to be more than just an anti-war slogan.

Muslims need to take a clear stand here against the persecution and bullying of non-Muslim minorities. It reminds me of a famous quote by the German pastor Martin Niemöller when speaking about the Third Reich:

„Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Kommunist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
Als sie mich holten, gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.“

In English:

"First the Nazis came for the Communists, and I did not speak out--Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Social Democrats, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Social Democrat.
Then they came for the trade unions, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a member of a trade union.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me."

There are many different versions of this quote and there is quite a bit of controversy as to how exactly Niemöller originally phrased it. However, the core message is pretty clear. Speak out for others and help protect their rights. Speak out as soon as possible, especially when they are being persecuted and you are not. Do not passively wait until you become the victim, because then it will be too late. 

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