Pakistan is among those countries which have large number of cases of blasphemy, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government advisory panel. Prosecution in the name of blasphemy law in our region can be traced back to the British rule when, in 1927, British rulers introduced a law prohibiting “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religious belief”. As time passed, it took the shape of a more strict law and during the era of Zia-ul-Haq, several rigid amendments were introduced into it. Since then, it has become such a contentious and sensitive issue that even the legislators dare not to speak about it as they fear the same fate as former Governor Punjab Salman Taseer did. Although, Taseer had not committed blasphemy, he just proposed reforming the law to fix its errors.
The once vibrant debate on reforming this law has been disappearing from the mainstream media and as a result it has become a powerful and easy tool for personal vendetta. Whoever holds different religious views, whether an individual or whole community, now and then falls prey to this law. Joseph Colony incident epitomized the misuse of religion and blasphemy law when as a result of alleged charges of blasphemy, a mob burned down more than 100 houses in Lahore on 9th March, 2013. Another recent incident in Jhang hints at the bleak situation when 68 lawyers were charged with blasphemy for protesting against a police officer named Umer Daraz. Police lodged an FIR by giving the reason that the protesters raised slogans against ‘Umar’ – the second righteous Caliph of Islam.
Misuse of blasphemy laws has reached another level recently when different media channels are leveling such charges against each other. The background to this episode lays the recent clash between Geo TV and the ISI as a result of which a more aggressive corporate rivalry among media houses has ensued. Other media groups are trying to get leverage over Geo by maligning the latter. Most specifically, ARY group has become the champion of patriotism and has taken the sole responsibility of holding Geo accountable. The way media rivalries are unleashing blasphemy charges against each other will have a drastic impact on our social fabric of the society which is already in a terrible state, as evident by the abovementioned events.
It all started when Mubasher Lucman, an ARY News program host, showed a video clip of Geo’s morning show in one of his programs. According to Lucman, Geo network has committed blasphemy by playing manqabat in an unacceptable and immoral way.
While a number of questions can be raised against Lucman’s allegations, I would just like to argue that if this is blasphemy then what should we call this?
Continuing in this fashion, there would be a Pandora’s Box of perceived blasphemies. In my personal opinion we need to realize that this is a conflict between two media houses for their own corporate benefits and we should be very cautious in taking any side. Moreover we need to realize where such a trend would lead us.
Our society is already plagued with intolerance and religious extremism. Moreover, misuse of blasphemy laws has already cost hundreds of lives and imprisoned dozens of people. In this situation, the cheap tactics of media houses especially ARY network will succeed in doing nothing except escalate the sentiments of religious bigotry and intolerance. Moreover, the already weaker cause of reforming the blasphemy laws might further be jeopardized. Media houses need to realize that freedom does not come without responsibility.