When dealing with bloody events that take place in the Islamic world — such as the beheading of reporter Daniel Pearl — mainstream reporters often argue that these events are essentially political and, thus, have little or nothing to do with religion.
The problem, of course, is that there is no separation of the mosque and state in most understandings of Islam. There is no ultimate line between religion and politics. Even when Islamists speak religious words about their beliefs and motivations, we are told, they are actually talking about politics. When radical Muslims argue accuse other Muslims of blasphemy, for example, this is a political statement, not a religious statement. I would argue that it is both and journalists have to learn how to deal with that.
This past week, my Scripps Howard News Service column focused on the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minority affairs and the only Christian in this Muslim nation’s cabinet. Here is a piece of that column that focuses on what — at the time I wrote the piece — was one of the most interesting holes in the story.
Pakistan’s legislators observed a moment of silence for Bhatti, since it probably would have been fatal for anyone to offer a prayer in his honor.
After all, pamphlets left by those who killed Bhatti warned that they would keep fighting “all the world’s infidels, crusaders, Jews and their operatives within the Muslim brotherhood. … This is the fate of that cursed man. And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell, God willing.”
Apparently, many radicals in Pakistan have concluded — a perfect Catch-22 — that it is blasphemy to oppose the blasphemy laws.
As I said, at the time I wrote journalists did not know the full contents of that pamphlet left behind by the members of this death squad. Now we do, although it would be interesting to know if anyone has challenged the translation of the text. Meanwhile, if you follow links to the text, you may want to note that the stated motives of the killers appear to be of interest only to journalists linked to “conservative” and even “Christian” news media.
Why is this the case? I have a theory.
I would argue that this fact is rooted in the previously mentioned belief that the actions of the assassins were essentially political, since politics is the only reality that matters for many or most journalists. However, the fact that the words do not SOUND political — in fact, they sound highly religious — is a troubling complication. Thus, many journalists seem to think that if these words were printed it might lead to confusion among readers. Reading these words might lead news consumers to incorrectly think that the killing of Bhatti (who openly stated that his death would be caused by his public Christian faith) had something to do with religion, a statement that would also be affirmed by the killers (who publicly stated that their actions were rooted in their Muslim beliefs).
So what did this pamphlet actually say? Here is one translation of the text:
All praise is for none but Allah Most High, who bestows glory on believers and makes them victorious and humiliates the infidels and apostates May innumerable salutations and blessings be on the Leader of Mujahideen, the beloved of the Lord of the worlds, Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wa sallam.
To proceed: From the Mujahideen of Islam, this fitting lesson for the world of infidelity, the crusaders, the Jews and their aides who claim to be from the Ummah especially, the leader of the infidel government of Pakistan Zardari, his ministers and the employees of all the Organizations of this regime of falsehood.
Oh, enemies of Allah! Oh, infidels and apostates! Listen and understand whatever is being said. You have transgressed the limits in rebellion against Allah Most High. You legislate what is lawful and forbidden (besides Allah). Love of the Prophet Mohammad sallallahu alaihi wa sallam is our Iman. Our beloved Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam is more dearer to us than this world and whatever is in it. In defense of his honor, we will sacrifice even our lives. And we will never tolerate even a smallest irreverence (insult) in his greatness?inshaAllah. Allah Most High says.
The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves. (Al-Quran, 33:6)
In the Islamic Sharia, the ruling for one who insults the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam is nothing but death.
By Allah! Now only one of us will remain in this world. Your insolence against Allah has reached such a state that you make laws favoring a blasphemer, and make a Christian disbeliever, Shahbaz Bhatti, the cursed one, as the incharge of the committee? This is the fitting end of the accursed one which would serve as an example to others. And now with the blessing and aid of Allah, the mujahideen will send all of you, one by one to Hell — inshaAllah.
O Crusaders! Our war with you will continue until the religion of Allah and His Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam is victorious, and either disbelief and all the taghoot are destroyed, or we attain martyrdom, in the footsteps of Hamza and Musab may Allah be pleased with them.
And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not (Al-Quran, 12:21)
From the Martyrdom Seekers of Muhammed sallallahu alaihi wa sallam
Tanzeem Al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab
Religion? Politics? It’s certainly more than politics. Now, try to find any detailed discussion of this document in mainstream news coverage on this side of the Atlantic.