Monday, 5 January 2015

Pakistan needs laws against misogyny, not blasphemy

 The national narrative regarding blasphemy in Pakistan is that the offense is unpardonable: Once you utter words that disrespect the Prophet Muhammad, his companions or the Quran, only death or life imprisonment awaits you.
But earlier this month, Junaid Jamshed, an influential Islamic preacher, sought an alternative outcome. Accused of blasphemy by members of a different Islamic sect for remarks he made in a video posted on Facebook, Jamshed released a subsequent apology video, in which he pleaded ignorance and asked for forgiveness.
Jamshed’s case has attracted international attention and opened debate about whether blasphemy is pardonable. The week after the events, Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English newspaper, published a blog post outlining how Advocate Ismaeel Qureshi, the creator of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, has acknowledged the possibility that the regulation rests on an error in theological interpretation. Religious clerics and talk-show hosts on television devoted much airtime to discuss the blasphemy law and Jamshed’s apology video.
But one aspect of this episode ignored in the debate is the misogyny Jamshed displays in the alleged blasphemy video.
In the clip, Jamshed, speaking in front of a small group of men, tells them a story about how Ayesha, one of the wives of Muhammad, would often feign being ill to receive attention from him. The moral of the story, according to Jamshed, is that if Muhammad could not reform women’s crooked ways, then ordinary men do not stand a chance.
The message is simple: Even under the holiest of influences, women, by the simple virtue of being women, cannot be “fixed.”
Whether Jamshed committed blasphemy under Pakistani laws — and whether there is room for a pardon — is for the Pakistani courts to decide. But in this particular instance, Jamshed must be held accountable for more than the alleged blasphemy. And it is the moral responsibility of Pakistan’s media and civil society to call him out for imparting misogynist views to an unsuspecting audience.

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