Iran Near a Boiling Point
Unbelief Brief
December 5, 2022
It has now been more than two months since the killing of Mahsa Amini, and the discontent and unrest show no signs of abating. Plus: blasphemy cases in Pakistan and India.

Iranian protests intensify

It has now been more than two months since the killing of Mahsa Amini, which set off historic protests throughout Iran almost without precedent. (This article from DW tells Amini’s story excellently and in great detail—a worthy read to honor a senseless victim of modesty culture and such an important figure in contemporary Iranian history.)

Though time has passed, the discontent and unrest show no signs of abating, in a most unwelcome sign for the Islamic Republic against which protestors are railing. Despite token (and utterly insufficient) “efforts” from authorities towards responding to protestors’ demands—in particular, looser restrictions on women’s dress—protests are seemingly accelerating. This now includes widespread strikes of scores of Iranian workers.

Additionally, a lack of clarity over where the government even currently stands on many of these highly contentious issues complicates things. One official claimed on December 3rd that the morality police, agents of which were all but certainly responsible for Mahsa Amini’s death, had been abolished. Other officials soon contradicted this claim—perhaps alluding to a chaotic situation within the government.

Regardless, the unrest that continues to storm is such that French Middle East specialist David Rigoulet-Roze has remarked that the “tipping point” from protest to revolution is “not far off.” Whether the Islamic Republic of Iran is truly on its last legs remains to be seen—but we are likely to find out sooner than later.

Blasphemy in Pakistan

Pakistan, one of the worst offenders in sheer quantity of blasphemy cases and their prosecutorial aggression, appears to be “tightening the noose” even more. Recently, law enforcement in the country has apparently prosecuted (successfully) 62 cases of blasphemy which resulted in imprisonment—specifically the “menace” of blasphemous content spread on social media. Of course, to authoritarian and quasi-theocratic states like Pakistan, freedom of conscience and expression is indeed a menacing concept.

The specific case of one of these recent victims was reported in Dawn: 21 years in prison, plus a hefty fine. Disgraceful, unconscionable, and nothing but another day for Pakistan. 

These ongoing injustices continue to draw the attention of human rights groups. One recently drew attention to the case of Imran Rehman, who has been imprisoned since September and was apparently tortured in custody, to the point of giving a possibly false confession. In Pakistan and other blasphemy-prosecuting countries, people who did not even commit the “crime” they are accused of still often end up in jail—not that the injustice is any less for those who do blaspheme, as is their human right, and still receive punishment.

Blasphemy all over

In Indonesia: an extremely draconian new criminal code has been passed. The Muslim-majority country, which still maintains and regularly uses blasphemy laws, will now ban insulting the president, which is autocratic in a garden-variety sort of way. The real kicker is that sex outside marriage is another legal casualty of this new code. Ostensibly secular though the country may be, this provision alone almost makes it worthy of the distinction of theocracy.

In India, where Hindu nationalists are hard at work giving Islamic theocracies a run for their money in religious authoritarianism: slews of cases continue to be brought against individuals for “hurting religious sentiments” (which really means “hurting Hindu sentiments”—much as it means “hurting Muslim sentiments” in neighboring Pakistan). The victims of this law are sometimes Hindus themselves, who find they have been too loose with their tongues for the government’s liking, and often members of India’s Muslim majority whom the blasphemy law serves to muzzle. Most recently, the author and publisher of an apparently-blasphemous book on criminal justice have come under the law's fire

Whether in India or Iran—Hindutva or Islamic fundamentalism—the coin is the same. Blasphemy laws are naked tools of religious subjugation, and all of them enemies of secularism and pluralism.

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