Religious liberty threats rise?

Christians are by no means the only ones targeted by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Agence France-Presse informs readers that an imam and his son were recently convicted under the law:

A Pakistan court has jailed a Muslim prayer leader and his 20-year-old son for life on controversial blasphemy charges in the rural centre of the country, court officials said Tuesday.

The case follows the killing of Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer by his bodyguard last Tuesday, after the outspoken politician called for reform of the law that was recently used to sentence a Christian woman to death.

Mohammad Shafi, 45, and his son Mohammad Aslam, 20, were arrested in April last year for removing a poster outside their grocery shop advertising an Islamic event in a nearby village which allegedly contained Koranic verses.

Why did they remove the poster? Why is that punishable? The story doesn’t consider the answers to such questions important, I guess. We are told that the law is sometimes used to settle personal scores and “encourages Islamist extremism.” But this case was about interfaith (or is that intrafaith?) rivalries, defense attorney Arif Gurmani says:

“Both are Muslims. The case is the result of differences between Deobandi and Barelvi sects of Sunni Muslims,” he said.

So which side is which? We’re not told. Let me make it clear that I’m only able to criticize this piece because it’s one of the few that were even written about the sentencing. It’s much worse to not even report on this fact.

Still, the story has other problems. It mentions that nobody has been executed under this law but fails to mention how frequently those prosecuted under this law are killed by mobs upon their release. It’s probably not much comfort to their families that such killings aren’t officially done by the state. The other problem is that it says only “right-wing” religious clerics have praised the assassin of Taseer. In fact, there’s been widespread support. Just because that is difficult for non-Pakistani audiences to comprehend does not mean it should be obscured.

In related news, Pope Benedict XVI has called on Pakistan to abrogate its blasphemy law. That probably won’t get as much coverage as his call to give Christian children Christian names, understandably, but it’s still newsworthy.

His words are also part of a clear attempt to support religious liberty throughout the world. It was the theme of his address to the diplomatic corps and is provoking something of a firestorm. The BBC reports that Egypt recalled its diplomat to the Vatican.

This seems like a very good time to devote coverage to broader religious liberty questions. I hope to see just that in the weeks to come.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Sometimes you can get more needed background facts from columnists than from published news stories.
    According to Jonah Goldberg’s column in our local Boston Sunday Herald (Jan. 9) “a group of more than 500 leading Muslim scholars representing what the Associated Press describes a ‘moderate school of Islam’ and the British Guardian calls the ‘mainstream religious organizations’ in Pakistan, not only celebrated the murder [of Taseer], but warned that no Muslim should mourn Taseer’s murder or pray for him.”
    It is interesting that because of Vatican II the pope has become an international voice for religious freedom. However, I doubt he will get much positive coverage or attention.
    It’s sort of like how Pope John Paul II led or clearly supported non-violent movements for democracy and freedom in Poland and Eastern Europe and the Phillipines (along with Cardinal Sin).
    But do you ever see Pope John Paul II listed on academic and media lists of favorite heros of non-violent struggles for freedom such as Ghandi, King, or even Thoreau.

  • joye

    The call to “give children Christian names” is straight-up nonsense. The Pope never said word one of the kind.

    The Baby Name Wizard has a fascinating post on how this particular lie got around the world, and how the truth, as usual, is still struggling with a shoelace.

    The GetReligionistas ought to do a piece on this one. Honestly, somehow these kinds of errors make me so angry, angrier than perhaps they should, because if you journalists don’t care enough for the facts and the primary sources for these silly stories that don’t matter, why in God’s precious name should I believe ANYTHING you report about serious matters?

    I’m actually seriously considering doing another news-media fast. I did it before for a few months (didn’t read the newspaper, didn’t watch the news on tv, didn’t check Google News) and it was wonderful.

    I dread to think how many lies I’ve swallowed. I hate to offend you, GetReligionistas, because I know you all take your responsibilities seriously, but some of your colleagues make me sick.

  • Jerry

    The good Deacon brings up an important point. We and the media tend to categorize people as either good or evil and fail to recognize that we can agree with someone in one area but disagree in another. I do agree with the Deacon here that many of the Pope’s laudable words and actions are ignored because they don’t fit in with the pigeonhole in which he’s been placed.

  • Mollie
  • Ray Ingles

    In related news, Pope Benedict XVI has called on Pakistan to abrogate its blasphemy law.

    Y’know, a good story would be to cover how the Church’s policies have evolved on that point, from the Syllabus of Errors to now.