Tag Archives: religious tolerance

Sec. Clinton Celebrates Eid-ul-Fitr

Sec. Clinton welcomed diplomats and esteemed guests for a belated celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr at the State Department on Thursday night. While Eid is a joyous occasion, this year’s State Department event was held under the shadow of grief resulting from attacks on embassies across the world, including an attack on the US Embassy in Libya which took the lives of several diplomats there including the American Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Libya’s Ambassador to the US, Ali Aujali, gave a moving speech at the event:

Thank you very much, Secretary Clinton. Standing beside you here in the Department of State, it shows the world how much the Americans are standing by the Libyans and the Libya revolution. You do support us during the war, but you have to support us during the peace. We are going through a very difficult time, and we need the help of friends.

It is a very sad day for me, since I learned of the death of my dear friend and colleague, Ambassador Chris Stevens. I knew Chris for the last six years. We play tennis together, we drive in one car, and we had some traditional Libyan food in my house. I must tell you, Madam Secretary, and tell the American people, that Chris is a hero. He is a real hero. He’s the man who believes in the Libyans and the Libyan ability that they will achieve democracy after 42 years of the dictatorship.

Now we are facing a serious problem, and we have to maintain and we have to – we need security and stability in our country. The government, unfortunately, faces a serious problem, personnel and equipment. And the support of you and the friends who support us during the war is very important.

I want to show you and to show the American people how much it was – we were shocked by the death of four American diplomats. It is a very sad story to tell. But I am sure that it is our responsibility, and the responsibility of the Libyan people, that we have to protect our people, we have to protect the Americans in the first place and have to protect all the diplomatic missions who are serving in our country. I am sure that without the help, we will not be able to do it.

I hope that this sad incident which happened, this terrorist attack which took place against the American consulate in Libya, it will tell us how much we have to work closely. Our religion, our culture, never tells us that this is the way to express your view. It is – in fact (inaudible) a terrorist act. This is condemned by all the world and by all the Libyans at the top level of the Libyan authority.

Please, Madam Secretary, accept our apology and accept our condolence for the loss of the four Americans, innocent people. They lost their lives in the Libyan territory. Chris, he loves Benghazi, he loves the people, he talks to them, he eats with them, and he committed — and unfortunately lost his life because of this commitment.

Madam Secretary, thank you very much indeed. (Applause.)

Secretary Clinton followed Ambassador Aujali’s remarks by reiterating that the United States unquestioningly rejects the content of the inflammatory film that sparked this week’s attacks, and called on people of all faiths to spread tolerance and speak out against attempts to denigrate any religion, and to demonstrate the strength of their faith by restraining from violence.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws: Can they be enforced in a just manner?

As the story of an 11-year-old girl in Pakistan charged with the capital crime of blasphemy continues to make headlines around the world, Al Jazeera’s Folly Bah Thibault spoke with Ayesha Tammy Haq, a barrister-at-law and civil rights activist; Khalid Rahman, the director general of the Institute for Policy Studies, specialising in domestic and regional politics; and Aasim Sajjad, a professor of political economy at Quaid-i-Azam University, and a member of the central committee of the Worker’s Party, about the history of the laws and whether they can be enforced in a just manner, or whether they should be repealed.

Blasphemous Rumors

stop discrimination against religious minoritiesThe blasphemy case against a young Pakistani girl known as Rimsha increasingly appears to be less about the alleged acts of a young girl than it is about a larger struggle for power in defining the future of Pakistan.

Rimsha’s arrest made international headlines almost immediately following reports that the accused was “a mentally disabled 11-year-old girl.” The case appeared to be following a disturbing path of injustice when subsequent news reports indicated that the accused was denied meetings with her lawyer.  An independent medical board determined that the girl’s age is between 13 and 14, and that her mental state did not correspond with her age, but that she is not mentally ill. The Pakistani court hearing the case has postponed a decision on whether or not to grant the girl bail in order to review the report.

Questions about the girl’s age and intellectual capabilities, though, may be the wrong questions.

Pakistani journalist and Member of Parliament (PML-N), Ayaz Amir, traveled to the scene of the alleged incident to get the facts. What he found, is troubling.

What is this case about? Groping for an answer I went into the maze of rundown streets which is the old locality of Mehra Jaffer just outside Islamabad where this supposed blasphemy occurred, and there met Amad the complainant in this case. In my mind I had imagined the glittering eye of the fanatic. What I found was a friendly guy slightly confused at the sudden attention he was getting. I asked him his education and he said he had studied up to class five, could read a bit but knew not how to write.

Amad runs a CNG car-fitting shop in the G-11 Market. In a room upstairs I sat with him and a few other car mechanics and put a few questions. Amad said he had spotted Rimsha carrying a few burnt pages in a plastic shopping bag which on closer inspection turned out to be pages from the Nurani Qaida, a helpful primer for mastering the Arabic alphabet, preparatory to reading the Quran…pages not from the Quran then, and spotted by a person who could not read.

Forget for a moment the technicalities of what was burnt, I said. Did he think the girl Rimsha had any quarrel with Islam? No, he said, the others too nodding their heads in agreement. So what was all the fuss about and how was the glory of Islam affected? They all looked pretty blank. Had Rimsha meant to hurt anyone’s sentiments? Again silence. Amad looked a well-meaning person but clearly out of his depth.

If the complainant in the case could not read the texts alleged to be from the Quran and did not believe the accused to have any quarrel with religion, how did Rimsha end up jailed under suspicion of blasphemy? This is what Ayaz Amir found.

The imam held a council of war and Rimsha’s family was told to leave the locality within an hour. The police were also informed. Mercifully, no announcement was made on the mosque loudspeaker but matters took an ugly turn when news of the supposed outrage spread to the nearby bazaar. From most accounts it was Muhammad Amir Kazmi, an Urdu-speaking migrant from Karachi who runs his small Mashallah General Store, who was in the forefront of the agitation. After repeated announcements from the local mosque, a crowd gathered and the road was blocked. The crowd then marched to the Ramna police station where, discretion triumphing over valour, a blasphemy case on Amad’s complaint was registered against Rimsha and she was arrested.

While the Imam, Hafiz Chishti, denies instigating the incident, he openly accuses the local Christian community of conspiring against Islam and readily accepts that he has encouraged his followers to strike back.

Despite backtracking from his earlier stance, Hafiz Chishti was still scathing of the alleged blasphemy committed by Rimsha Masih, saying what she did was a “conspiracy” to insult Muslims.

He told AFP that “The girl who burnt the Holy Quran has no mental illness and is a normal girl. She did it knowingly; this is a conspiracy and not a mistake. She confessed what she did.”

Chishti claimed that the local Christian community had previously caused antagonism by playing music in services at their makeshift church during Muslim prayer time and said burning the pages was deliberate.

“They committed this crime to insult us further. This happened because we did not stop their anti-Islam activities before,” he said.

“Last Christmas, they played musical instruments and there was vulgarity in the streets during our prayers time. I warned them but they did not stop.”

During his sermon at Friday prayers, Chishti told worshippers it was “time for Muslims to wake up” and protect the Holy Quran.

Hafiz Chishti’s position, however, is by no means representative of the Muslim community. Earlier this week, Pakistan’s leading body of Muslim clerics, the All Pakistan Ulema Council urged protection of the Christian community and demanded an impartial investigation and accountability for anyone making false allegations under the blasphemy law. Still, this might be small comfort for local Christians who face the threat of vigilante violence regardless of the outcome of the case.

Rao Abdur Raheem, the lawyer representing Rimsha’s accuser, threatened on Thursday that if the girl is not convicted, Muslims could “take the law into their own hands,” and made reference to Mumtaz Qadri, the man who murdered Salmaan Taseer for supporting reforms to the blasphemy laws, and locals have reportedly “constituted a committee to expel Christians from the area.”

Supporters of the accused girl point to her age and the possibility of deficiencies in her intellect as reasons why she should be granted clemency in the case. But the few facts that have been reported suggest that this is missing the larger context of the case. There are some in Pakistan who believe the country needs to be “cleansed” – and not just of non-Muslims, but anyone considered the wrong type of Muslim including Ahmadis,  Shias, and Sufis.

Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, Chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, warned this week that religious violence threatens the very existence of Pakistan and urged the government to crack down on militant religious groups. Viewed in this context, the blasphemy charges against Rimsha are but the latest battle in a larger war over whether Pakistan will be a tolerant and inclusive nation.

Pakistani Legislator Stands Up to Extremists

Last night’s PBS NewsHour featured a segment on Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) parliamentarian Sherry Rehman whose support for reforming the nation’s blasphemy laws has made her the target of threats from extremists. In the clip below, she talks to NewsHour’s Margaret Warner about the rising tide of pro-democracy moderates in Pakistan.

President Zardari Addresses Parliament

President Asif Ali Zardari today addressed a joint session of parliament today and laid out the state of the nation in 2011. The president began by recognizing the sacrifices of Pakistan’s religious minorities in the fight against extremism and intolerance, described the progress Pakistan has made in both political and economic reforms since 2008’s democratic elections, and the nation’s continued commitment to democracy, justice, and “defeating the mindset that preaches violence and hatred.”

Pakistani ‘Citizens for Democracy’ Demand Justice

Citizens for Democracy letter writing campaign

Citizens for Democracy (CFD), a coalition of Pakistani professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and individuals outraged by the consistent misuse and abuse of the ‘blasphemy laws’ and religion in politics, recently held a letter writing campaign in Karachi during which 15,000 letters were posted demanding an end to vigilante violence and justice for the late Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and Governor Salmaan Taseer.

At a camp set up in front of Jahangir Kothari Parade, opposite Park Towers, Clifton, Karachi, people signed and posted letters addressed to the president, prime minister, interior minister, chief justice of Pakistan, and Chief Ministers, for interfaith harmony and action against calls for violence and vigilante justice. The letter demands that notice and action be taken against the rampant lawlessness in Pakistan, in an atmosphere “in which extremist and militant forces are operating with impunity, and where calls to murder and violence are publicly made, celebrated and rewarded”.

Referring to the murder of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti and governor Salmaan Taseer, the letter urges the government and its functionaries to swiftly apprehend, charge, try and punish their murderers. It urges political parties, parliamentarians and government functionaries “to take a clear stand” on the blasphemy issue: “no citizen has the right to cast aspersions on the faith and beliefs of any other citizen or to term someone a ‘blasphemer,’ ‘kafir,’ or ‘non-Muslim’.”

The campaign aimed to dissipate the atmosphere of intimidation, draw people out of their homes and enable them to speak up and voice their concerns by directing them to the relevant authorities. The signature campaign will be taken to other parts of the city including North Nazimabad, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Boulton Market etc., as well as to other cities of Pakistan.

Anti-democratic groups in Pakistan such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Jamaat-ud-Dawa may be able to materialize large street protests at short notice, but their nuisance factor is far larger than their actual influence among the public. Most hard working Pakistani families have neither the time nor the inclination to make their voice heard through burning tires and chanting slogans in the streets. Unfortunately, this is too often used to claim that there is no popular support for democracy, justice, and tolerance in Pakistan. Nothing could be further from the truth.

By organizing a family-friendly event where ordinary Pakistani citizens could come out and peacefully express their desire for democracy, justice, and tolerance, ‘Citizens for Democracy’ was able to demonstrate that, despite the often dour headlines, the people of Pakistan have not given up on Jinnah’s vision of a Pakistan “where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another,” a Pakistan based on “this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”

Pakistan Embassy Hosts Memorial for Fallen Minister

Pakistan’s Embassy in Washington hosted a memorial for fallen Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti on Wednesday. Pakistan’s Ambassador, Husain Haqqani, was joined by American officials including US Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero in calling for increased religious tolerance the world over.

Husain Haqqani speaking at a memorial for Shahbaz BhattiHusain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, said he decided to hold a service for Bhatti at the embassy as there was an “unconscionable silence” by many Pakistanis who in their hearts are respectful of other faiths.

“When Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered and we remain silent, some of us have died with him,” Haqqani told the service attended by US officials and Pakistani expatriates.

“If we are silent, we allow evil to win,” Haqqani said. “It is unacceptable, it is un-Islamic, it is not what Pakistan was founded for, it is not what Pakistanis living abroad can be proud of as Pakistanis and — if I may use a term that has been abused in Pakistan — it is blasphemy.”