April 26 – May 10, 2021

Religious Havoc Everywhere, Persecution in Pakistan

In recent weeks: obstinacy from the theocrats of Pakistan, an alarming arrest in the UAE, and persisting religious madness of all stripes the world over.


Pakistani officials: We will not move an inch on our right to persecute.

As the beauty of spring manifests with days of warm sunlight and blooming foliage, we can celebrate some very good news: it would seem that we, along with all other activists for secularism and human rights, were simply mistaken about the horror of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. This, at least, according to a recent proclamation from Pakistan’s special envoy on interfaith harmony, Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, that there has been “not a single case” of blasphemy laws being abused in the country. Or not in the last six months, anyway. (No, really.)

The comments came on the heels of an EU resolution that asserts that the blasphemy law, among others, has done harm to Pakistan’s minorities. Prime Minister Imran Khan made clear that there would be “no compromise” on this issue. Federal Minister for Information and Broadcast Fawad Chaudhry balked at the very suggestion that Pakistan self-reflect on its human rights record, calling it “dictation from the West.”

There we have it—no need any longer to worry for the atheists, freethinkers, and religious minorities who have suffered physical abuse, incarceration, and murder at the hands of the state and vigilantes. There has been not a single case of misuse of these laws! 

Of course, the Prime Minister is actually correct in his way. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are functioning exactly as intended.

As they say, “the cruelty is the point.” As an aside, this lays bare one of the saddest realities about campaigning against blasphemy laws from within any country that has them: to allege that they are being “misused” is one thing, and one can usually get away with it.

This is the center of the discourse: are the blasphemy laws being executed properly? To even imply that the laws themselves are the problem is a privilege reserved only for those of us fortunate enough to exist in secular countries. Prime Minister Khan need not feel any pressure, even for a second, to engage in that conversation.


An arrest of conscience in the UAE.

Police in Dubai recently arrested Abdul Khader Puthiyangadi, a “rationalist” from the state of Kerala in India who had been a prolific YouTuber and blogger. He has reportedly been charged with blasphemy, having committed that crime which has killed the freedom of so many others: posting certain words on Facebook. He was caught red-handed “trolling Islam,” so they say, and he was apparently already known as a freethinker, unloved by Islamic fundamentalists.

It goes without saying that this is an unacceptable authoritarian abuse against free speech on the part of the UAE, and Abdul should be released immediately. In the meanwhile, some have circulated the hashtag #StandUpWithAbdulKhaderPuthiyangadi to demonstrate their support.


A stabbing in France and a very angry Erdoğan.

A Tunisian man stabbed a French policewoman to death near Paris last month. The victim, an “administrative assistant” named Stephanie, was 49 years old and has left behind two teenage children. The assailant reportedly shouted “Allahu akbar” as he attacked, before being shot dead by an officer. 

This tragedy comes mere months after the horrific and senseless beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, as well as another incident in which another Tunisian man killed three in a stabbing attack in Nice. Islamist extremism thus continues to plague France, most unwelcomely. President Macron, for his part, remained unwavering after hearing the news: France, he said, will “never give in to Islamist terrorism.”

U.S. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has earned Turkey’s ire after formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish ultranationalists are not happy; just take a look at the replies to this tweet. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reacted negatively, accusing the United States of “distort[ing] historical facts” and promising more sour relations as a result. And President Erdoğan, ever eager to keep the stain of genocide off Turkey’s legacy (a battle he has largely already lost), offered similar comments, calling Biden’s characterization “baseless, unjust and untrue.”


Religions are alike all over.

The blinding effects and general compulsion to craziness of all religious belief are flourishing just fine, as indicated by the events of the last couple of weeks. Dozens were killed and hundreds injured in a stampede in Israel, which occurred in the midst of a 100,000-strong gathering celebrating an annual religious holiday. It has proven one of the worst and most tragic disasters in the nation’s history, and the casualties—preventable as they were—are deeply saddening.

This event was held against the recommendation of public health officials as COVID-19 continues to affect Israel. Of course, if not for the deadly tramplings born of senseless zealotry, one might be able to argue that this could be forgiven, given Israel’s robust vaccination campaign and record-low case numbers. This is less the case for India, currently in its worst days of the pandemic yet, where a procession of more than 500 in Gujarat recently aimed to “eradicate” COVID-19—through faith.

Also, in the United Kingdom, a Hindu priest has been found guilty of raping a woman he claimed had been married to him in a previous life. This story is presented without any further comment.

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