Pakistan's Islam Imperils the Public Space

An angry Pakistani Muslim demonstrator shouts slogan beside burning Christian's belongings during a protest over a blasphemy
An angry Pakistani Muslim demonstrator shouts slogan beside burning Christian's belongings during a protest over a blasphemy row in a Christian neighborhood in Badami Bagh area of Lahore on March 9, 2013. Thousands of angry protestors on March 9 set ablaze more than 100 houses of Pakistani Christians over a blasphemy row in the eastern city of Lahore, officials said. Over 3,000 Muslim protestors turned violent over derogatory remarks allegedly made by a young Christian, Sawan Masih, 28 against Prophet Muhammad in a Christian neighboorhood in Badami Bagh area. AFP PHOTO/ ARIF ALI (Photo credit should read Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

The deliberate torching of 178 Christian homes in Joseph Colony, Lahore, in response to accusations of blasphemy posed to a single resident in that community is a stark example of the perils of a public space governed by an 'official' Islam. Today's Pakistan, originally founded to secure a religious minority and determined by its founder MA Jinnah to be a place where any religion was beyond the provenance of the State, has long abandoned its noble ideals. In present day Pakistan, the State gets to determine whose religion is valid, and whose is not and in doing so fuels the debased violence the world witnessed this week. Face it: Pakistan is a democracy abducted. Six decades after its formation, through one of the most sustained examples of wholesale civil "lawfare" -- the abuse of the law and legal systems for strategic political or military ends -- Pakistan has rightly become notorious for domestic and international Islamist extremism. Religious intolerance has become de facto a central component of Pakistani identity. This intolerance is legislated within Pakistan's constitution, rooted in a Presidential decree, no less, when Pakistan introduced new legal definitions defining Muslim identity. Zulfiqar Bhutto's administration oversaw the passage of Articles 260(3) (a) and (b), defining the Pakistani legal context for the term 'Muslim' while delineating the boundaries of 'non Muslim.' At that precise moment, quite unnoticed, Jinnah's vision of religion, caste or creed being beyond the provenance of the State died a legal and ideological death. Through this Islamist lawfare, the ground was now laid for a self-defined Muslim majority to disabuse any deemed 'not one of them.' Blasphemy had officially become a state-sponsored, legislated blood sport and would lead to the massacres Pakistan is now witnessing. Pakistan's 'democracy' has fueled extraordinary sectarianism inspired by the unopposed lawfare on its own citizens for decades without incurring significant domestic or any international opposition. Those Pakistanis who dare remind us of these lost ideals often pay the price for their bravery, and memory, in blood. Enshrined in Pakistan's legislature today, one finds the pitch-perfect template for a nation which acquits gang-rapists to uphold misogyny, bears false witness against the vulnerable and authorizes state-sanctioned religious persecution of both Muslim and non-Muslim minorities. Pakistan exacts a perfect trifecta of domination through such legal abuse: the use of law to first silence, then punish any speech deemed blasphemous (also known as libel lawfare) and an added component of Islamist lawfare which imposes intolerant elements of Sharia law on the framework of a westernized legal system, chiefly in determining who is adequately Muslim, and who is not. Lawfare in Pakistan has resulted in both the genesis and deeply unbalanced implementation of the Pakistan's blasphemy laws for which Governor Taseer and Minister Bhatti gave their lives. While claiming to be written as religion-neutral, since the Blasphemy Laws' 1984 enactment, they have never been applied to protect minorities but instead persecute them, empowering mob-driven vigilantism. Instead of a shelter for minorities, Pakistan has become their lawful executioner. Whether Joseph Colony in Lahore, Abbas Town in Karachi or Model Town in 2010 Lahore, Pakistan is a case in point: When a nation dismembers its own constitution beyond recognition, it can disembowel its own citizens with impunity. Today, Pakistani constitutional law is mere scaffolding for a corrupted Sharia. This ghoulish hybrid -- of Sharia interpreted by fanatics and hollow organs of western constitutional law -- is methodically uprooting justice, diversity and secularism, and, reduced to a rogue democracy, injects Pakistan's constitution with radical contemporary Islamist extremism. Until Pakistan is willing to examine its constitutional corruption and eradicate the rot at the core of its foundational fabrics which empowers men to segregate state-approved Muslims from all 'others,' there will be more Joseph Colonies, more Model Towns, more Abbas bombings, more politicians murdered, and Pakistan will spiral ever closer to the abyss of extremism which stands poised to devour it. Pakistan, by empowering Islamist intolerance, imperils all in the public space, including the mighty religion of Islam, through constitutionally legislated religious intolerance.