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  1. Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws and the Failure of American Foreign Policy — 08/24/2012

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Aug 24 2012

Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws and the Failure of American Foreign Policy

This is my first diary here. I usually write on the Daily Kos, but wish to expand my horizons a little.

Pakistan has arrested an eleven year old Christian girl, last weekend on charges of blasphemy. It is alleged that the girl burnt pages which contained verses from the Koran.

Furthermore, the girl suffers from Down Syndrome and it is questionable whether or not this was an act of malice or merely an accident.

Even if the act were intentionally, I firmly believe that Blasphemy laws should not exist anywhere in the world because I concur with the message of Noam Chomsky:

If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.

Beyond the destruction of objects, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws target not just acts but rather thoughts. It makes thought crime a legitimate offense. For instance, a medical lecturer was targeted by the laws for expressing a mere opinion:

After one class in October he was accused by his students of saying that until the prophet Mohammed received his first message from God at the age of 40 he was not a Muslim and did not shave his armpits or pubic hair, and his parents were not Muslim. A group of 11 students complained to a group called the Organisation of the Finality of the Prophet, a self-appointed guardian of hardline Sunni Islam, which has brought dozens of blasphemy charges against religious minorities. A charge was lodged against the lecturer and he was immediately arrested, although he insisted that his words were misunderstood.…

Skepticism, intellectual inquiry and the expansion of curiosity are at the heart of a progressive society. Blasphemy laws hamper a mind’s ability to think and to doubt. It chains that mind to archaic religious texts, and cannot reconcile human progress and secular-humanistic principles too swiftly or too easily.

It was Salman Rushdie (himself a target of an anti-blasphemy sentiment extending overseas), who said this about censorship and it equally applies to blasphemy laws (since they are just another form of censorship):

“But the worst, most insidious effect of censorship is that in the end, it can deaden the imagination of the people. Where there is no debate, it is hard to go on remembering, everyday that there is a suppressed side to every argument.” (Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands, p. 39).

The Muslim world needs to return to a time, when free-thought and free-inquiry thrived in its lands. It needs to create the same atmosphere that created people like Abu Bakr al-Razi. In fact, as the Guardian notes:

In examining this chapter of Islamic history, regardless of the validity or otherwise of the views expressed, one cannot help feel amazed at the fact that the Islamic thinkers of the 10th century had the freedom to discuss and publish their “unorthodox” ideas, while the Islamic world now cannot, or will not, deal with any form of intellectual dissent.…

It probably will have a hard time doing this however, due to external interference in the guise of U.S. foreign policy.

We made a great blunder in our foreign policy as the philosopher Slavoj Zizek says, when we chose to side with Muslim fundamentalists against either secular-leftists or reformist movements. The very same ideas and people that now haunt us, we have either brought to power or sustained financially and militarily time and time again.

It has done wonders for the defense industry and perhaps that’s why such masochistic behavior is repetitive. The need for a perpetual and terrifying enemy is what fueled the Cold War and the arms trade, and racked in millions to disaster capitalism firms, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, another boogeyman has taken its place. As Naomi Klein’s blog notes about the invasion of Iraq (an extension of our war on terror):

“Disaster Capitalism” firms need wars to generate profits. And by sidestepping the draft, Iraq became a privatized war employing over 185,000 (20,000 more than the military), including truck drivers, PX clerks and mercenary soldiers. Blackwater was near bankruptcy before the war. Through secret no-bid contracts the U.S. pays for training centers which the companies now own. Peace does not generate disaster profits.…