“THERE is a small space in which a liberal vision of Pakistan hangs on. It shrank a lot further with the murder on January 4th of a notable progressive politician and critic of religious extremism, Salman Taseer”; The Economist commented on the murder of the governor of Punjab province of Punjab (The Economist Jan 6., 2011). His crime? He spoke against the blaspemy law which is used by extremists to persecute Christians and anyone they don't like. The liberal governor spoke in support of a poor Christian woman who is facing death penalty for alleged blaspemy.
The killer who is the bodyguard of the governor jusifies his action saying, the governors opposition to the blasphemy law amount to blasphemy! The assassin was garlanded by some extremists when he was produced before the court and some extremist groups have warned that those who express condolences at the death of the governor will meet the same fate.
Blasphemy law in Pakistan was introduced by President Zia Ul Haq back in 1980 under pressure from the Islamist groups. More than 600 people were charged with blaspemy law but none of them were hanged so far. More than fifty percent of those who charged are non-Muslims. Though, nobody were hanged on a court order so far, 300 of them were murdered!
What is blasphemy? Blasphemy is, “A contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God or a sacred entity” so goes the dictionary definition. Basically it has to do with the divine!
Blasphemy has been part of human history for quite some time. People have asserted their faith by repudiating the faith of others in the process speaking disrespectfully of their gods and sacred places and writings. No religion can claim innocence!
Christianity has a long history of being the victims and villains at the same time. As early as the first century non-Christians were blaspeming Christ. Alexamenos graffiti as it is known was engraved on the Palatine Hill in Rome by those who opposed Christians in the first century. The graffit portrayed a human like figure with the head of a donkey on a cross. There is also a figure of a young man with his hands in a posture of worship. The caption of the graffiti reads “Alexamenos worships his god”. This is a clear example of blasphemy against Christ whom the Christians in Rome worshipped. Resembling Jesus Christ to a donkey-man certainly amounts to blasphemy to Christians of those days. The history repeated many times as people denied Jesus divinity, denied his death and resurrection, made films about his temptations, his marriage and so on! Everyday, especially in the West, they use his name as a swear word!
Now, the villain part. Yes, there are Christians who responded with violence and also framed laws to protect the reputation of Jesus. For example, since 17th century there existed a law in England against blasphemy, particularly applying to the Church of England the state religion. This was used against atheists, Unitarians and the like. However, in 2008, the labour government abolished the law and the former Archbishop of Canterburry, Lord Carey whole-heartedly supported it. Though it took three centuries for the Church of England to realize that Jesus and his Church doesn't need legal protection of their reputation, it did really dawn on them finally.
There are questions for which we have to find answers. If it is the reputation of the divine that is attacked can't the divine take care of it? Does he need the protection of a human blaspemy law? When we tend to protect our gods aren't we stating how weak our gods are to protect themselves?