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The bloody blasphemy heritage of the colonial lords

This month's support mark in honor of an Islamist killer is rooted in an obscure and brutal history – and also shows the deep divide that characterizes many Pakistani communities. It is important not to make the divisions bigger.


Sunday 6. March was a somewhat unusual sight that characterized the west edge district of Frogner's street scene in Oslo. 150 Norwegian Pakistanis of all ages, women and men, demonstrated in front of the Pakistani embassy. They carried posters with slogans like "In the service of the Prophet even death is acceptable" and "The Islamic warrior Mumtaz Qadri's death penalty is un Islamic and unacceptable". They also carried pictures of the body of Qadri. Those passing by who were tossing a stroller or airing the dog stopped and stared in disbelief at the impassioned assembly.
This obscure tribute of a killer has a long and even more obscure history behind it. Asia Bibi is the Christian mother-in-law who is still in prison waiting for the death penalty for allegedly blasphemous. The Pakistani blasphemy law is horrendous in itself, but it has also become an instrument to suppress and terrorize already vulnerable minorities.

Killed by the bodyguard. Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer went out and defended Asia Bibi, criticizing how blasphemy laws hit the weakest. His bodyguard was the young Mumtaz Qadri, who had heard from religious leadership that the governor deserved to die for blasphemy. Qadri decided to take action, and at the beginning of 2011 he murdered the governor he was hired to protect. With the 28 shot, the governor's voice was silenced forever. Qadri says he did it devoted love of the Prophet. This is a dogma that stands strong in Pakistani society and which unfortunately can have profoundly tragic outcomes – such as when a young boy felt he had committed blasphemy and cut off his hand.
Mumtaz Qadri was sentenced to death, and in late February this year he was executed. It triggered massive reactions. Over 100 followed him to the tomb, and markings were held all over Pakistan as well as elsewhere in the world in the Pakistani diaspora.
Also here in Norway, smaller rallies have been arranged in honor of Qadri in the Norwegian Pakistani mosque communities, especially among those belonging to the Barelwi movement, as well as a larger public mark in front of the Pakistani embassy. This has provoked strong reactions among Norwegian Muslims. Many are shocked and disgusted on social media. To Aftenposten, head of the Islamic Union and deputy leader of the Islamic Council of Norway Basim Ghozlan says he could have understood it if the demonstration had been about resistance to the death penalty – but it was about paying homage to a killer as a hero. "It's shameful. This demonstration, in practice, encourages taking the law into their own hands. It's disturbing, ”says Ghozlan.

Instead of honoring the Prophet, the realities of colonial-era divide and rule are in fact kept alive.

Mafia Conditions. The protesters in Oslo are not considered threatening or extreme by the police in the sense that they pose a danger to Norway's security – but attitudes that it is commendable to murder if one does so out of "love for the Prophet", are potentially dangerous. Young, easily influenced minds – like Qadris – will be able to be convinced enough to put words into action. In Pakistan, then also the minority minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed for the same reason as the governor of Punjab shortly afterwards. Human rights activists can only hope that it will be possible at least to have a debate about the laws, without risking being filled with bullets. It is almost mafia-like conditions set in system.
Pakistan has in 2015 become the country most affected by terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and Nigeria. In addition, the country is steeped in corruption and weak legal certainty. The people of Pakistan are deeply divided, both politically and in value. After decades of corrupt government and a powerful military, people have begun to resort to Islamists of various varieties in the hope that these will contribute to a certain degree of justice and prosperity. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) is also an obstacle to progress. Among other things, they made sure that the proposal to strengthen the legislation against child marriage was withdrawn when they declared it blasphemous and contrary to the teachings of Islam.

Avoid generalization. The Norwegian-Pakistani environment is also divided. For fear of creating more xenophobia and Muslim hatred, many in the ever-growing proportion of highly educated, equal and liberal Norwegian Pakistanis avoid settling the medieval attitudes that continue to flourish among some. It is too uncomfortable, it can lead to scolding and social freezing. They are trained to respect the elders and the religious authorities. It is particularly serious, therefore, that imams are leading the way in front of the Pakistani embassy. That is why it is also so important to protect and support the brave voices that take on the internal value struggles. Not least, it is important not to take these offenses to income all that is wrong with the immigrant culture. Yes, 150 people in support mark for a killer and for brutal blasphemy offenses are 150 people too much – but there are nearly 38 people with Pakistani backgrounds in Norway. Yes, over 000 supporters at Qadri's funeral are many – but there are 100 million people in Pakistan.
The ultimate irony is that the blasphemy laws that are supposed to defend the "honor of the Prophet" were never introduced by Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago. They were introduced by the British colonial rulers in 1860, and when Pakistan was divided from India, this was part of the legal legacy. So instead of honoring the Prophet, in reality, the colonial-era mechanisms of divide and rule are kept alive.

Linda Noor is the general manager of Minotenk and a trained social anthropologist. She contributes regularly to Ny Tid with the column Krysskultur.

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