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Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan

Currently We Are Trying to Steer Clear from Blogs on Blasphemy

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Last month an editor from The Express Tribune asked me if I wanted to write a blog on United Airlines barring two girls wearing leggings from boarding. I responded:


This article is interesting, and it seems just absurd that an airline would ban anyone for wearing leggings, however I’m not sure if I’m the right person for it, I’m much more interested in writing about a different topic. The #HangAyazNizami hashtag is exploding ever since he was arrested. Blasphemy is one of the more important issues in Pakistan, and the extremists are pulling down the entire country with their ideology. I also realize how sensitive the issue is, and would be respectful both of Islam and its followers in the context of speaking against judicial executions. This goes back to the dialectic between fundamentalists and Salmeen Taseer for his support of Asia Bibi. I would examine compulsion in religion and how this contradicts punishment for blasphemy. Let me know if you’re interested.



But The Express Tribune responded thus:

“Currently, we are trying to steer clear from blogs on blasphemy.”

We know the danger, as the BBC reports, “At least 65 people have been murdered in Pakistan after being accused of blasphemy since 1990.” This goes back to Rushdie and Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, who wrote on topic:

“No blasphemy harms Islam and Muslims so much as the call for murdering a writer.”

Then Pakistan then experienced another tragedy. A young student, Mashal Khan, was murdered on campus.

“Students beat classmate to death while screaming ‘Allahu Akbar'”

PEW reports that 64% of those in Pakistan support capital punishment for those who blaspheme, and section 295C of the Penal Code also mandates the penalty. So it’s not mere cowardice to avoid polemics if you are on the ground in Pakistan.

We fight those who support blasphemy laws, for they are at the forefront of the dialectic between benevolent humanity and the evils of religious chauvinism. We also fight those who obfuscate in their condemnation, out of cowardice, ignorance, or complicity. Many in Pakistan and the West are guilty (a tangent that runs too deep for a short blog).

Therefore, those who have freedom of speech, non-Muslims and Muslims alike, must challenge the evil of blasphemy laws and recognize many “blasphemies” are actually not evil at all, but calls for tolerance.

To double down on the above, just like I have no desire to burn the American flag, use racial slurs, or mock the religious, I also claim my right to criticize the United States, culture, and religion. Those who criticize are often falsely accused of being unpatriotic, racist, and blasphemous when in fact they are pushing ideas that will help humanity progress. That’s why not enough can be written in support of free speech and against blasphemy, whether secular or religious.

Such evil ideology can only flourish in a vacuum of speech. From Mao’s China to North Korea, those who control speech control society. And right now, in Pakistan, evil is flourishing.

Pakistan, we realize the danger you face and we support you, but please write about blasphemy. Be convincing, be strong, be courageous, spread the risk. We who have speech support you.


Written by Caleb Powell

April 15, 2017 at 10:01 am

Judging Aasia Bibi, Judging Islam

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State Sanctioned Murder:  The Pakistani courts, after a lengthy trial, verdict, sentencing, and appeals regarding Aasia (Asia) Bibi’s alleged blasphemy, ruled in support of “Judicial Murder.” The accused will not be the only one to receive judgment. My take at the Express Tribune:

“Aasia Bibi, mother of five, sits in prison hoping one last appeal will save her from death row. If she is executed, as with the lynching of Shahzad and Shama Masih and the assassination of Salman Taseer, Islam will be judged…” Will Islam be judged if Aasia Bibi is executed?

Further Thoughts:  The injustice with blasphemy cases are two fold. First, they often are flimsy, the guilt of the accused is dubious, and the accusers often are settling scores. Second, even if the accused is guilty, the accused should not face capital punishment, not to mention that any penalty can seem absurd from the outside. More later.

Related:  Pakistan’s blasphemy laws legitimize intolerance – The Economist

Pakistani Woman Facing Death – The Guardian

Blasphemy Law Highlights Pakistan’s Hypocrisy – The Daily Beast

Written by Caleb Powell

December 4, 2014 at 4:46 pm

A Conversation with a Pakistani Feminist

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“We need to focus on the more progressive areas of Islam.” – Saadia Haq

Saadia Haq was born in Karachi and has worked in development and media with Church World Service-Pakistan/Afghanistan, Internews Pakistan, FM radio, peace-building and lobbying the UN on the rights of women and religious minorities. She has traveled and worked in Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Caleb Powell:  Tell us about your experience with Westerners.

Saadia Haq:  Respecting cultural diversity as a female journalist granted me opportunities to find the unknown stories. During my developmental career I worked with various Westerners; including several American journalists, male, during their stints in Pakistan on floods and quake issues. I found them to be very fair, professional and good humored.

However working with Western women is mixed. Basically they’re obsessed about hijab as opposed to other topics like economic, educational rights and how to their provide assistance. Western men didn’t care whether I wore jeans and T-shirt during desk work which is the usual attire for most of us, or national dress in the rural conservative settings where I’d wear a chadoor; it’s our version of covering.

Although this might be off-track, in September, 2010 UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador Ms. Angelina Jolie visited flood struck Pakistan. She was modestly dressed and offered compassion to people by sitting in dirt, debris – offering handshakes to rural people who didn’t even know she’s a global sensation. She respected our cause and thus is appreciated by all Pakistanis.

But most Western women showed annoyance when they’d be forced to wear it during their visits in villages/conservative areas. They’d insist that I am self-contradictory for both wearing Pakistani dresses and jeans. However I’m south Asian and very proud of it, there is “indirectness and distance in our culture” and I can appreciate and criticize its finer and not so fine parts.

I don’t think my body is a mannequin to be viewed, admired, and touched by all and sundry and I don’t require lessons from Western women teaching or belittling me.

Powell:  How did they belittle you?

Haq:  Well, it’s like why push your totally opposite values in someone else’s country? My feminist coworkers tried entering the Shah Faisal mosque, a tourist attraction, in very revealing clothes in our Europeanized capital Islamabad. That is an insult to not only religion, Islam, but also shows superiority or worse off ignorance. I feel that women in West, however concerned they are for counter-parts in less free places, must also realize that radical protests and campaigns against hijab won’t really work.

Bra burning topless women protestors might work in Western countries, but these stunts won’t really do any good for women rights debates in the less-women friendly countries including Muslim countries. One cannot impose ideology, this creates an East-West divide.

Caleb, probably you have been in Pakistan or Iran, do you think this will work?

Powell:  I’ve been to Karachi but not Iran, but I think it wouldn’t work in both places. And I think protests like FEMEN might work to a degree in the West, especially to bring attention to certain problems, but they risk losing followers at the same time, especially with conservatives, who need reform the most.

Haq:  Although I’m not a hijab user, I was extremely disturbed that FEMEN activists in France said things like “better naked than the burqa.” They use the removal of clothes in public to promote women’s rights. This reinforces racist discourse and causes damage rather than supports the struggles of the women they call their sisters. Thanks to such public stunts the good that Muslim women feminists could do and already are trying to do gets undone, because the message becomes, like…see, Western women are naked and they want our women to also become naked. In red light districts in Amsterdam or Copenhagen there are all these pictures of naked women and rampant prostitution. Sex trafficking is a global problem. Why not fight that?

Hilariously, I had a strange conversation with a German female coworker who said, “Well, if we want to prostitute ourselves we will as we are free.” I am totally in agreement, but this doesn’t work in Pakistan where women are forced into the prostitution industry.

I am the first one to criticize violence against women within my country, which is getting more and more dangerous with Islamist takeovers. I think feminist groups from East and West have to sit down to debate a middle ground for supporting women in countries like Tunisia, Pakistan, Jordan, etc etc.

Islam has not yet undergone a revolution like Christianity. It would be useful if, globally, feminists united to develop innovative measures of using both Islam as religion and Eastern tradition for women’s rights, instead of rejecting Islam completely. Economic rights  in Islam like inheritance from father/husband, even if lesser share for daughters is advocated, is better than nothing and its better than killing daughters in their sleep like what is happening in many parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Right to education and also right to choose partner are equal for both Muslim men and women, but distorted versions of Sharia and gender inequality are promoted and taught by radical Islamists. To undo the harm we need to focus on the more progressive areas of Islam. If we are able to do that many Muslim feminists will not hesitate to stand with feminists from the West; we need a relationship with trust and respect.

It is hard to be rejected and belittled and face intimidation in our own home countries, because most Muslim feminists stand at a middle point. We are targeted by our own culture for NON CONFORMING and targeted in the West for not doing enough.

Written by Caleb Powell

January 28, 2014 at 9:17 am

Posted in Humanitarianism, Islam

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