jan 19, 2021

Blasphemy Murders, From State and Vigilante

An Indian man has been murdered in Gujarat over a Facebook post allegedly blasphemous to Islam. Also: a slew of new blasphemy incidents in Pakistan.


Slaying in India

An Indian’s Facebook post allegedly insulting to Islam first led to something par for the course: the filing of a blasphemy case. Kishan Bolia was reported to police by “some members of the Muslim community,” according to reporting, after making the post in question. This in itself should never have happened, but blasphemy convictions in India cannot result in penalties quite as severe as those in, say, neighboring Pakistan. Some vigilantes were not content with this.

On January 25, two “bike-borne” attackers shot and killed Kishan while he himself rode on a motorcycle in the city of Dhandhuka, almost certainly as retaliation for his posts—falling into a fairly typical pattern of settling blasphemy accusations with extrajudicial violence in the Indian subcontinent. Probably unsurprisingly, two clerics were among the people arrested in connection with the murder. Mass demonstrations held in response to the event have turned violent.

On the other side of the coin of Indian sectarian violence, two Muslim men were recently attacked by Hindu nationalists in the southern state of Karnataka. One, Sameer Subhansaab Shahpur, is dead, while the other, Shamseer Khan Pathan, is apparently in critical condition. Both were in their early twenties.

As Hindu nationalism has gained ascendancy in India over the last several years, such anti-Muslim violence has become tragically more prevalent. It reminds us that religious fundamentalism, militancy, and nationalism breed destruction and misery no matter the forms they take.


A murdered priest and blasphemy developments

In the Pakistani city of Peshawar, a Christian pastor, William Siraj, has been shot dead. Though it appears to be a general religious hate crime without any more specific motivation, it nevertheless falls under the umbrella of violence committed in the name of Islam in Pakistan, including violence motivated by blasphemy accusations. And a new report shows that as many as 89 people in Pakistan have been killed over such accusations in the last decade, 71 men and 18 women.

Still, at least we have responsible state actors keeping things in check. At least, they say they are. In the wake of William Siraj’s killing, one government official reassuringly declared that “no case of the misuse of blasphemy law has been reported in the country during the last one year.”

Fantastic. Then we need not worry about Aneeqa Ateeq, a 26-year-old Muslim woman who was just sentenced to death for some messages she sent over WhatsApp, likely goaded out of her by a romantically rebuffed and angry man. A life destroyed, even that of one who belongs to the “right” faith, because she transmitted the wrong things: nothing to see here. This does not constitute “misuse” of the blasphemy law, so it does not matter.

This sickening miscarriage of justice, of course, only drives home the point that speaking about blasphemy laws in terms of “misuse” and “abuse” will never bring justice to their victims, because the existence of any blasphemy law at all constitutes abuse. Let us hope against hope that Aneeqa finds fortune in the legal appeals process.

Less extreme but still significant developments include the recent firing of two police officers for blasphemous content on their Facebook pages, and—a bit of good news—the acquittal of another blasphemy accused, Asim Aslam, whose case had been outstanding for more than a decade.


World Hijab Day

February 1st was “World Hijab Day,” conceived as a means to “counteract some of the controversies surrounding why Muslim women choose to wear the hijab.” While the goal of “dismantling bigotry, discrimination and prejudice against Muslim women” is an admirable and worthy one, particularly given resurgences of anti-Muslim bigotry and violence in recent years, EXMNA has long contended that the glorification of the hijab is wrong-headed.

Check out the video we released for the occasion, in which our executive director Sarah Haider breaks down the controversy from an ex-Muslim perspective. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating “No Hijab Day” next year (if you didn’t this year), in honor of the 80 million Muslim women who do not enjoy choice in this matter as women in the West do.


Some noteworthy tidbits

Check out this write-up on Pakistani-Canadian human rights activist Salman Haider, who fled his home country after being kidnapped and tortured for his work. Also, two others who found refuge in the West after being labeled as blasphemers: Iranian heavy metal musicians Nikan Khosravi and Arash Ilkhani, members of the band Confess, who are soon to release a new album about their experience as prisoners in Iran from their new home in Norway.

See also this piece from Pew about blasphemy and apostasy laws the world over. While it is important not to lose sight of the uniquely draconian blasphemy laws that define many Muslim-majority countries, this work does shine a light on the underdiscussed fact of archaic blasphemy laws that remain on the books in other parts of the world—even some Western countries, where there is certainly no longer any excuse for these statutes’ continued existence.





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