Blasphemy is the new narrative the Pakistani state is trying to push to silence dissent

By Minerwa Tahir

KARACHI

Members of Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, a religious organisation, protested against missing bloggers Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya and Aasim Saeed this week. They demanded the bloggers be tried under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law. Photo: PPI

On August 15, Islamabad-based poet and blogger Salman Haider stated in a Facebook post that it has been 18 days since Karachi-based human rights activist Wahid Baloch was abducted by the armed forces.

Today marks 18 days to Haider’s disappearance.

Recently, four left-leaning bloggers belonging to Punjab and one Shia activist from Karachi have gone missing. Progressive activists seem to have set aside all differences and formed a united front to counter allegations being levelled against the missing activists and all those who support them.

Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court issued notices on Tuesday to the ministries of defence and interior, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and police on a petition filed for the recovery of a missing person, Imran Sajjad. It is not the first time that proponents of the repressive state apparatus (RSA) are being asked to appear in court in missing persons’ cases. Practically speaking, it won’t be the last, either.

While the label ‘traitor’ has always been a favourite of the state, the propaganda seems to have been taken to the next level: blasphemy charges are being levelled against any activists and journalists who dare to question the state-sanctioned narrative.

In these circumstances, French philosopher Louis Althusser’s concept of ideological state apparatus (ISA) and RSA is seen by many as befitting in the case of the Pakistani state. While the law enforcement and intelligence agencies use violence to crush all voices of dissent, the ISA — with certain segments of media acting as its torchbearers — ensure that other such voices are contained. They have recently launched a vicious, smear campaign against all the left-leaning activists in the country. While the label ‘traitor’ has always been a favourite of the state, the propaganda seems to have been taken to the next level: blasphemy charges are being levelled against any activists and journalists who dare to question the state-sanctioned narrative.

Now, blasphemy is a serious issue in Pakistan. A former governor, who was by no coincidence a left-leaning politician, was shot dead by one of his own guards as he was accused of having committed ‘blasphemy’. Late Salmaan Taseer’s blasphemy was that he voiced his concerns against the blasphemy law, which, according to critics, is widely misused in Pakistan to settle personal scores. Over 200 people in Pakistan were charged under blasphemy laws in 2015, with many of them minorities such as Christians, who make up 1% of the population. It comes as no surprise that leftists are also a minority in the police state that we live in.

A recent protest by leftists in Karachi was pelted with stones as charged religious activists lashed out at them for committing ‘blasphemy’ by supporting the ‘blasphemous’ bloggers. Due to these developments and open threats on social media, progressive activists, writers and journalists feel that their lives are endangered.

A recent protest by leftists in Karachi was pelted with stones as charged religious activists lashed out at them for committing ‘blasphemy’ by supporting the ‘blasphemous’ bloggers. Due to these developments and open threats on social media, progressive activists, writers and journalists feel that their lives are endangered. Nonetheless, perhaps we are all paying the price of raising our voice too late. We remained silent when every other Pakhtun would be branded as Taliban in FATA and be abducted and tortured by the army. (It is the same army that trained these ‘mujahideen’ in the 1980s to get some dollars from the West.) Many of us still remained silent when Mama Qadeer’s Voice of Baloch Missing Persons pointed out that about 35,000 Baloch men and 160 women have disappeared, while 8,000 mutilated bodies have been found in the province as of 2015. And many of us continue to remain silent when the fire has engulfed Karachi and Mahajirs branded as ‘MQM terrorists’ are being picked up by intelligence agencies every other day.

Nevertheless, people, leftists in particular, seem to be looking back on their mistakes. A resolute young force of politically aware activists is in the making. This is something that could not be prevented, especially in the wake of the advent and easy access of social media to everyone. The question, however, is, if the state will again succeed in repressing the voices of dissent. Or will sense prevail?

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