Pakistan: Paranoid as ever.
The issue of blasphemy lies at the heart of political developments in Pakistan over the past two weeks. The most crucial of these developments has been the Pakistani government’s decision last week to ban Tahreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), Pakistan’s most prominent far-right Islamist political party.
The enactment of the ban and arrest of the party’s leader, Saad Hussain Rizvi, triggered violent protests across Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. In addition to major traffic back-ups, the protests resulted in clashes with the police which left at least five dead and nearly a thousand wounded. Later the same week it was reported that the then-outlawed TLP had taken nearly a dozen police officers hostage.
The TLP holds amongst its upmost priorities the punishment of blasphemy according to Islamic Law. Consequently, upon the announcement of its hostages, the TLP reissued the Pakistani government an ultimatum demanding that the French ambassador be expelled by Tuesday, April 20th. TLP leader Rizvi had previously threatened violent anti-blasphemy protests if this demand was not met, resulting in his arrest.
The TLP’s demands were made in light of French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent stand against religious censorship, which incensed Islamic institutions worldwide. Pakistan had consistently reacted to blasphemy, whether at home and abroad, with unequaled paranoia. In just August of 2020, Pakistan saw 42 blasphemy cases registered. Last week, a Christian nurse was charged with blasphemy for removing a Quranic sticker from a locker she was cleaning. In Pakistan, those charged with blasphemy can face the death penalty.
Earlier this week, President Imran Khan’s administration signed a deal with the TLP promising to vote on the expulsion of the French envoy. In response, the TLP released the officers it had taken hostage and canceled its planned anti-blasphemy protests. The TLP’s other demands include the release of their leader, the release of more than a thousand workers, lifting the ban on the group, and the removal of Pakistan’s interior minister.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s acquiescence to the TLP and call on Monday for the international criminalization of blasphemy against Islam bode ill for both the cause of free speech and Pakistan’s governmental authority. In his address, Khan promised to lead an international campaign, backed by boycotts against Western countries, to “convince” the world that insulting Muhammad is no different from denying the Holocaust.
America: fool me once, fool me twice.
Last Thursday, the Taliban declared victory against America in light of the negotiated withdrawal of U.S. forces set to reach completion in coming months. “We have won the war, America has lost”, said one Afghan leader, “We want an Islamic government ruled by the Sharia . . . it is worship. We don’t do it for power but for Allah and His law.”
Whether one is for or against intervention in Afghanistan, it is painfully evident that the U.S. has failed to save the country from a future of Islamic tyranny. One also suspects that the Taliban (and history) will construe this American failure as a Jihadist victory akin to that of the Mujahideen against the USSR in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has itself succeeded in moving one step closer to theocratic rule. This Sunday, North Dakota’s Republican governor Doug Burgum signed into law a bill that permits public schools to post the Ten Commandments in their buildings.
Covid bathes in the Ganges.
Over the past few weeks, India has skyrocketed to a daily Covid contagion rate of well over 300,000 per day, finally surpassing the record-setting rates witnessed in the United States in early January.
In spite of the outbreak, some 650,000 Hindus took it upon themselves to bathe in the Ganges river last Wednesday (with millions more attending on the banks). This event fulfilled the previous major bathing day of the weeks-long Hindu festival known as the Kumbh Mela. According to Reuters, there was little evidence of basic safety protocols, such as social distancing or mask-wearing.
This Wednesday featured the latest installment of the collective bath but saw considerably fewer participants – only 82,000. The next and final such bath will be taking place on Tuesday, April 27th. Already, thousands of Covid cases have been attributed to the festival, which has been designated a ‘super-spreader’ by government officials. Needless to say, no god(s) will be held responsible.
Female knees: Iran’s greatest weakness.
In the spirit of Iran’s recent promulgation requiring cartoon characters to observe hijab laws, Iranian state TV made the decision to censor the recent Tottenham-Manchester United soccer match more than 100 times. The reason? Massey-Ellis, the 35-year-old assistant referee, had failed to cover her knees – a violation of Islamic law.
This madness is, however, nothing new. In 2019, Iranian state TV canceled the planned broadcast of the Bayern-Augsburg soccer match for the reason that the game referee, Bibiana Steinhaus, was a woman.
Algeria imprisons intellectual.
This week, Algerian writer Said Djabelkhir was handed a three-year sentence for blaspheming Islam.
Author of two books on Islam, Djabelkhir had argued, among other things, that many of the tales found in the Quran could not be literally true, that the Islamic festival of animal sacrifice (known as Eid) derived from a pre-Islamic pagan ritual, and that child marriage was probably not a great idea. Djabelkhir was arrested for these outrageous ideas upon the complaint of seven lawyers and an academic peer.
The latest on women in Afghanistan.
The completion of the Taliban takeover
In Afghanistan, where the Taliban had gained rapid ground in the wake of Western forces’ withdrawal, the U.S.-backed government has fallen. The stunning collapse came after only a few weeks of Taliban fighters capturing provincial capitals in succession, in the process leaving a trail of blood in their wake. In this atmosphere, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and relinquished control to the Taliban, who now occupy Kabul and have declared the war over.