In 2010 a Pakistani Christian Woman named Asia Bibi was involved in a verbal altercation with some Muslim women who objected to her drinking water from the same mug as them on the grounds that her religion rendered her “unclean”. She reportedly reacted to this bigotry by making a mildly derogatory remark about the Prophet of Islam and was promptly reported to the Pakistani authorities for blasphemy, whereby she was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. A petition was filed against Bibi’s execution by a leading Pakistani politician named Salmaan Taseer, who also criticised his country’s noxious and archaic blasphemy laws. As a retaliation to this presumably offensive display of progressivism, one of Mr Taseer’s own bodyguards – Mumtaz Qadri – shot him to death with an AK-47, a crime for which Qadri was eventually hanged this week.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. You’ve gotta love it.
On the back of this barking insanity, Labour Party activist Mohammed Shafiq took to Facebook yesterday to outline his position on blasphemy law. He did this because he’s recently made some pretty dubious comments about it and because people have been pointing out that it’s not at all clear what his position on the matter actually is. His Facebook post did approximately nothing to clear this up – except maybe to reinforce my strongly held suspicions that he’s a deeply unpleasant ideologue.
Shafiq has something of a reputation for making controversial, reckless, irresponsible and generally stupid remarks on the subject of blasphemy. Here he is last week making a suspiciously approving comment about Mr Taseer’s assassin:
And again in response to a question:
Here he is asserting his support for one of the authors of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri (no relation) :
Here he is in 2014 using an Urdu expression to accuse Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz of being a Defamer of the Prophet – a charge which carries the death penalty in Nawaz’s country of origin and one which he threatened to spread around the Muslim world.
Here he is denouncing the decision to award a Knighthood to the godfather of blasphemy, Salman Rushdie, and somewhat arbitrarily suggesting it should have gone to Ian Botham instead.
Are you beginning to see a pattern forming here yet?
Here he is announcing his participation in a discussion recently on the special interest Sky Channel Ummah TV to address the question Mumtaz Qadri – Hero or Villian.
Sadly I didn’t catch the show, but unless it consisted of Shafiq exclaiming “Qadri is a murdering fascist bastard, end of fucking debate!” and walking off, I probably would have been left unimpressed.
Shafiq seems not to have noticed that his apparent support for blasphemy law is directly at odds with his demands that his own freedom of expression be unimpeded. Here he is un-ironically bemoaning what he considers to be some kind of infringement of his rights by people asking for clarification of his views.
It’s worth remembering that he’s not lamenting the loss of free speech suffered by people murdered for supporting it, or people sentenced to death for exercising it, but of his own right to offer veiled expressions of approval for a man whose fundamental opposition to free speech was spelt out with a Kalashnikov and a dead politician.
I urge you to read his semi-literate Facebook statement if you can stomach it. It’s overflowing with highly selective language, caginess and nauseating victimhood. Here’s a few excerpts as an example of the overall tone:
“If Salman Taseer was guilty of blasphemy then he had the right to defend himself in a court of law, this was not afforded to him. I am not defending his actions, nor what type of lifestyle he led but regardless of this he had the right to be heard in the court of law. Mumtaz Qadri decided he was guilty and therefore decided he was going to kill him – this action was wrong.”
Blurrrgh! Could you imagine a more tepid, piss-weak condemnation of a man convicted of murdering someone for thought crime? Shafiq’s objection to the whole grotesque fiasco is merely a general opposition to capital punishment and to people taking the law into their own hands. If he does object to the concept of blasphemy as a crime, then he goes out of his way to forget mentioning it. However, he does remember to berate the truly liberal Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam organisation who do regularly speak out against blasphemy law. It’s important to get your priorities straight you see.
“Maajid Nawaz and the Quillium Foundation have zero credibility in the Muslim community, their alliances with right wing nutters like Sam Harris, The Gatestone Institute to name just a few have been exposed. Their agenda is to marginalise Islam and as a result, their atheist supporters have had a field day denigrating our faith and way of life. We reject the poisonous ideology of terrorism and extremism and we reject the ideology of Maajid and his cronies. When is comes to speaking for or defending Muslims Maajid and his cronies are on the other side supporting the other side.”
For me the most interesting part of Shafiq’s statement is his bewilderment that the actions of the Charlie Hebdo murderers seem to be essentially indistinguishable from those of Mumtaz Qadri.
“There is one other aspect I have struggled to reconcile with this past week. The ISIS terrorists who carried out the atrocity in the name of defending the honour of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris were condemned by all mainstream Sunni scholars and leaders, we made clear that the actions of these evil men had nothing to do with Islam and it was forbidden. So the question I have struggled to answer is what is the difference with what Mumtaz Qadri did and what these terrorists did?”
He maintains that the murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff were nothing to do with Islam and therefore can’t quite understand Qadri’s motivations. Rather than come to the rather obvious conclusion that both acts were religiously inspired, Shafiq decides to give this supposed conundrum no more thought. Ignorance is bliss after all.
Worryingly, Shafiq is what the media like to refer to as a “moderate Muslim spokesperson”. He’s also the chairman of The Ramadan Foundation, an organisation whose entire membership seems to consist solely of him and his brother. I can’t be sure if Mo’s shady and sinister views on blasphemy are representative of his organisation, but it’s probably a safe bet since his ‘foundation’ apparently has less active participants than some marriages.
But the doublespeak employed by Shafiq, and many other ‘moderate’ Muslim spokespeople is widespread, and it’s the predictable result of claiming to embrace two conflicting value systems at once. When 7th century barbarism clashes with modern liberalism, people like Shafiq are left stuck between a rock and a hard place. Trapped between a desire to demonstrate that they’re both legitimately Muslim and legitimately moderate, they risk accomplishing neither.
But, whilst Mo uses deliberate obfuscation in an attempt to straddle this line between maintaining validity amongst the Sunni Muslim community and maintaining his title of moderate amongst everyone else, others feel no such compulsion to be viewed as halfway decent human beings and instead wear their admiration for Qadri on their sleeves.
More than 300 lawyers offered to represent him in court free of charge. 100’s of people held impromptu demonstrations of support for Qadri, showering him with rose petals and gifts. Upon his execution, protests erupted all over Pakistan. 14 people were killed in a suicide attack carried out as retribution for Qadri’s hanging. Over 100,000 turned up at his funeral. The son of Qadri’s victim was kidnapped and a spokesperson for a group representing Pakistan’s majority sect of Islam made the following proclamation:
”The supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy.”
That’s clearly not to say that all Muslims feel this way. But the issue here – and it’s an issue so monumentally, glaringly obvious it seems almost condescending to point it out – is that no other religion in the 21st Century is still debating whether people should be put to death for blasphemy. And people like Mohammed Shafiq who accuse others of denigrating Islam and unfairly singling it out for criticism, need to spend some serious time reflecting on this fact – especially when they’re desperately unable to sum up their own views on blasphemy law in a single sentence.