These are nothing less than “lawfare,” the abuse of laws and judicial systems to achieve strategic military or political ends. The blasphemy laws are a volte face from Jinnah’s ideals. Speaking to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly just days before Pakistan’s 1947 independence from Britain, Jinnah emphasized religious tolerance as the bedrock of the new state.
“Every one of you,” he said, “is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations.” He went on: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
Not only do these ideals now ring hollow, but few Pakistani newspaper editors dare publish anything that reflects such values. The notorious Islamist blasphemy laws have ensured a silencing not only of Pakistani minorities but also of free speech in Pakistan.
But Pakistan’s Islamist lawfare has a far wider reach. While over 40 percent of all arrests under the blasphemy laws have been of Ahmadi Muslims, Christians also fall victim.
This past spring I traveled to Pakistan as a physician on business, and also to see relatives. I spoke with Father Edward Joseph at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest Catholic diocese. As he showed me the damage to his cathedral, still unrepaired from a 1998 bombing by a Pakistani Muslim jihadist just after mass, I asked him how he guided his congregation in such a hostile climate. His reply was philosophic:
“Just as Christ had his cross to bear, so, too, do we.” Not a trace of anger inflected his voice.
“So you mean the blasphemy laws are the ‘cross’ Pakistani Christians must bear?” I clarified.
“Yes,” he answered simply.