Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Repealing the Blasphemy Law

In other news, Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti told Dawn that the government was working on a bill to reverse the discriminatory laws enacted by Zia. Can this tantalizingly vague remark be construed as a promise to repeal the blasphemy law? Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's earlier but equally vague statement about reviewing laws "detrimental to religious harmony" seems to lend some credence to this conjecture. It would certainly be a very appropriate move after all the criticism the blasphemy law has attracted post-Gojra.

But already the right-wing spin doctors have declared Gojra to be a meticulously orchestrated conspiracy against the blasphemy law by unnamed sources who are set on undermining Islam. The rhetoric is appalling in its bald-facedness but is also quite familiar. The downer is that the Pakistani public too seems in synch with the right on this issue. A recent Pew Institute poll found that 78% Pakistanis support the death penalty for apostasy. While there were no questions on blasphemy, the apostasy question should serve as a gauge for Pakistani opinion on the issue. The survey was conducted before Gojra though and perhaps opinions have shifted thereafter.

Nonetheless, repealing the blasphemy law seems to be a politically tricky task. But a few years earlier, the Hudood Ordinance seemed just as much of a sacred cow. The right was certainly fulminating with more venom back then but the amendment still went through. Then again, the Hudood Ordinance was amended by a dictator who at that time at least was somewhat impervious to public opinion. The only hope that I see is in the Pakistan Peoples Party's commitment to human rights. It did put aside its differences with Musharraf to support the Hudood Ordinance amendment. It also recently passed a law against domestic violence. But it still hasn't followed through on its promise to abolish the death penalty. So overall, the PPP's record is a bit mixed. But maybe, just maybe, now too it will take a politically risky move and rid Pakistan of the blasphemy law. One can only wait and see, I suppose.

1 comment:

Rabia said...

the 78% figure is unbelievably depressing.