Friday, January 21, 2011

In Prison Air, Ctd

Declan Walsh reports from Islamabad on the growing acceptance of theocratic tyranny in Pakistan, and on the exile of a scholar who dared stand against the blasphemy law:
"The blasphemy laws have no justification in Islam. These ulema [council of clerics] are just telling lies to the people," said Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a reformist scholar and popular television preacher." 
But they have become stronger, because they have street power behind them, and the liberal forces are weak and divided. If it continues like this it could result in the destruction of Pakistan." 
Ghamidi, 59, is the only religious scholar to publicly oppose the blasphemy laws since the assassination of the Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, on 4 January. He speaks out at considerable personal risk.
Ghamidi spoke to the Guardian from Malaysia, where he fled with his wife and daughters last year after police foiled a plot to bomb their Lahore home. 
"It became impossible to live there," he said. Their fears were well founded: within months Taliban gunmen assassinated Dr Farooq Khan, a Ghamidi ally also famous for speaking out, at his clinic in the north-western city of Mardan. 
The scholar's troubles highlight the shrinking space for debate in Pakistan, where Taseer's death has emboldened the religious right, prompting mass street rallies in favour of his killer, Mumtaz Qadri.

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