How Blasphemy Laws Kill

There were three incidents in Pakistan recently that I thought at first were the same story, they were so similar.

  • Thursday, August 6th. A shopkeeper in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province claims that a 60-year-old muslim woman “disrespectfully flung about pages of the Koran at his shop”, according to the BBC. The woman claims “it wasn’t the Koran she flung to the ground but a register in which the shopkeeper had listed her credit”. A crowd of people gathered at the woman’s house and threw rocks at it until police broke it up.
  • Two days earlier, Tuesday, August 4th. The owner of a leather factory in Punjab province takes an old calendar down from the wall. Unfortunately for him, a lot of calendars contain verses from the Koran. A factory supervisor got incensed and stirred up the workers and local residents. The owner and one other person were killed in the ensuing violence.
  • Three days before that, Saturday, August 1. A week after three christian youths in Gojra, eastern Pakistan are accused of burning a copy of the Koran, clerics call for their deaths. Fanatics stream in from surrounding districts. 40 houses belonging to christians are burned down, killing at least eight people, and possibly dozens.

So what’s happening here? According to local officials, none of the allegations were credible. But the BBC reports that there is “recurring evidence” that people are using Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and, in the case of the 40 christian houses, the government’s indifference to the rights of non-muslims, to settle personal scores by falsely accusing people of blasphemy. A shopkeeper and a customer have a dispute over accounts, and so the shopkeeper intimidates the customer by having people throw rocks at her house. Factory workers have a beef about their wages, so they incite violence and kill their boss. People don’t like having 50,000 christians in their town so they send thousands of them running for their lives.

This is what happens when governments pander to religious nuts. This is what happens when a government takes a stance that says “this portion of our population is better than the rest.” The saner religious folks are fine, but by and large they condone the extremists and people die. Whether it’s Najeeb Zafar in the Pakistani leather factory, or George Tiller in a Kansas church, or any number of genocides and “ethnic cleansings” around the world, or Aqsa Parvez right here in Toronto, religion kills.

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