Watch What You Say in Pakistan : LUSENET : Unk's Troll-free Private Saloon : One Thread

Presented in contrast to our First Amendment Rights and the Pledge of Allegiance civil rights lawsuit:


NY Times Op-Ed 062102 For educational purposes

AWALPINDI, Pakistan Before recounting how President Clinton burned alive dozens of Christians (this feint is known in the column trade as baiting the right), let me offer a quick historical quiz: What religion were Muhammad's parents?

You might think that they, like most people in Arabia in the sixth century, probably worshiped tribal gods and idols. It might seem difficult for anyone to have been a Muslim before Muhammad.

If that's what you think, bite your tongue if you visit Pakistan.

Dr. Younus Shaikh, a teacher at a medical college, sits in a brick prison here, after being sentenced to death for blasphemy last year. I couldn't interview him because the warden caught me trying to slip into the prison as a visitor (I didn't look like a family member). But the issues are clear.

During a lecture, Dr. Shaikh digressed and allegedly speculated that Muhammad's parents may not have been Muslims, and that before receiving God's revelations at the age of 40, Muhammad might not have shaved his pubic hair.

That was a scandalous charge: pious Pakistani men shave their armpits and pubic hair but not their faces. As for the speculation about Muhammad's parents, that was held to be blasphemous because of Koranic verses suggesting that prophets like Abraham (and thus why not others?) could be considered Muslims, in the literal Arabic meaning of the word, which is people who submit to God.

Dr. Shaikh is one of several hundred people facing execution in Pakistan from this modern Islamic Inquisition. Many are religious minorities who sometimes are sentenced to death simply for using the standard greeting of the Islamic world, "as-salaam aleikum." That means "peace be with you," but militants say the phrase is reserved for Muslims.

The West is full of irresponsible vituperations about Islam being no more than a religion of violence and hatred. The vitriol amounts to an unrecognizable caricature to anyone who has lived in the Islamic world, enjoyed its hospitality and admired the dignity it confers on its humblest believers. Yet the bottom line is that nobody so distorts, denigrates and defames Islam as radical Muslims themselves, particularly the mullahs who try to have people executed for saying "peace be with you."

Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a thoughtful, well-educated imam in Islamabad, asked me why the fuss over Dr. Shaikh, one man, when America has killed thousands in Afghanistan. I replied that blasphemy raises a larger concern for Islam itself: like Christianity in the Middle Ages, the Islamic world today suffers from a stultifying closed-mindedness and intellectual rigidity that impoverishes Muslim countries and in some cases endangers their neighbors.

Fundamentally, Pakistan's biggest problem today is not India but this close-mindedness. Pakistan has an industrious and often entrepreneurial people, a well-educated elite, a modernizing leader who could be another Ataturk and mullahs who try to block discussion about emerging from the Middle Ages.

Most Pakistanis would like to see blasphemy laws repealed and seem aghast at the mullahs' effort to cripple the Pakistani economy by banning interest payments. But while the religious parties win less than 5 percent of the votes in elections, they command huge influence because few dare disagree with them publicly.

One of the few public figures who took on the fanatics is Moinuddin Haider, the interior minister. The radicals responded by shooting his brother to death. So while there are many sensible Pakistanis, few pipe up to counter the weird lies, conspiracy theories and claptrap that ensnare Dr. Shaikh and all of Pakistan.

That leads me to how I heard about President Clinton executing the Christians. One of the mullahs I interviewed, Abdul Wahid Qasmi, asked: Since America executes blasphemers, why shouldn't Pakistan?

After what happened to Daniel Pearl, journalists these days try not to be too impertinent when interviewing Pakistani clerics. But I politely suggested that he might search his belfry for bats.

Mr. Qasmi still insisted that America burns heretics. As evidence, he plucked an Urdu book and began reading aloud about the Clinton administration burning scores of Americans after they blasphemed Jesus.

"The leader of the heretics," he said, "was named David Koresh."

-- Aunt Bee (, June 30, 2002

Moderation questions? read the FAQ