The much anticipated Supreme Court verdict regarding the Asia Bibi blasphemy case on 31st of October sparked nationwide protests and riots. Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) leaders threatened to kill the Supreme Court judges in Broad daylight and they called upon the Muslim generals in the army to revolt against the Army chief. Everyday life activities in major cities were brought to a standstill, all schools in Punjab and all private schools in KPK remained closed for some days, meanwhile provincial government of Sindh declared article 144 to be in force from Thursday. Protestors indiscriminately damaged public and private properties just to vent their anger and frustration because they couldn’t get a person they hated hanged or killed for religious reasons. The protestors played havoc with the law and order situation and acted like agents of chaos looking to celebrate death and destruction, only because they were angry at Supreme Court’s decision to acquit Asia Bibi of unfounded blasphemy charges.

There is complete uncertainty as to what is going to happen next because the ideological support for the protestors is massive and their capacity to inflict violence upon the society is formidable. There are so many questions that arise in any mind as to why this perturbation of colossal proportion is happening and what this nasty mess is all about. Why the acquittal of a Christian woman who languished for eight years on the death row is so special to provoke such large agitation in such a short time. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech on Wednesday night sent a clear and succinct message; the strength and clarity of prime minister’s message gave the nation some surety that this time state will not compromise on its writ. The nation has seen 4 days of absolute chaos and mayhem at the hands of an extremist faction which wanted a woman hanged for a perceived act of blasphemy. Later, news of a deal between the government and the extremists surfaced, the initial stance of the government regarding dealing with the trouble makers iron handedly seemed to have softened. The TLP leaders who at first appeared immovably adamant on their unearthly demands, then claimed to have achieved their goals and that a deal has been struck with the government. It seems now as if the storm has calmed down a bit, but to many people it is just an illusion of calm. Despite the news of the deal, there are very few, if any, reasons to be optimistic about the end of blasphemy violence.

Despite the news of a deal the paranoid rhetoric of hate continues, the pulpits are still fuming with rage and demands of hanging and beheading are still reverberating. The deal is ambiguous, flawed and visibly flimsy and fragile. The provisions of the deal like putting the name of Asia Bibi in Exit Control List (ECL), filing review petition in Supreme Court, and freeing people involved in rioting have very little to offer for a permanent solution of the problem.

The violent agitation can erupt again at any time in future because the government has no legal basis to stop Asia Bibi from traveling abroad. The mechanism adopted to solve the issue is likely to be totally temporary because the root causes of all this pandemonium remain unaddressed and the people who were calling for death of judges are still free to say and do anything they want.

The people who perpetrated these acts of mindless vandalism were inspired by a perverted ideology of factionalism, hate and megalomania. This ideology espouses a kind of cultism that derives its substance from extremist medieval interpretations of Islam. The adherents of this ideology are unwilling to respect the universal values of freedom of speech or even freedom conscience and religion. They are always ready to use violence or threat of violence whenever they feel their religious feelings have been hurt. In this particular case of acquittal of Asia Bibi by the Supreme Court verdict, the extremists have shown a complete disregard for the decision of the apex court, they didn’t stop just there, they rather went on to accuse the SC’s judges of blasphemy and called for their murder.

So a deal with ambiguous provisions aimed at temporarily calming the situation is not enough to restrain the forces of chaos. A single deal with vague promises and feel-good proclamations is surely not enough to rid our society of extremist mindset that unfortunately holds its sway over a huge portion of society. The minorities, liberals, and ordinary citizens can not feel safe in the presence of this irrational ideology of hate and chaos. The blasphemy laws which were first introduced by military dictator general Ziaul Haq in the eighties have acquired sanctity tantamount to sacred texts themselves, and the religious extremists are always ready to go to any extent to oppose and sabotage any attempts to reform a deeply flawed piece of legislation which has actually become a deadly weapon of terror in their hands. Nation needs a comprehensive plan of action to get rid of this ideology and this is going to be a long and tough struggle. Pakistani society can only be emancipated from this ideology of hate and chaos by a conscious process of unlearning and a programme of social and educational reform. The five essentials of this national plan of action can be listed as under:

  1. Strong law enforcement measures to restrain the street power of extremists from engaging in vandalism and rioting, special legislative measures are equally imperative to contain extremist attempts to attack ordinary citizens’ right to freedom of expression.
  2. Stringent enforcement of hate speech laws and a complete blanket ban on ‘Wajib ul qatal’ type of fatwas.
  3. Awareness campaign regarding flaws in the existing blasphemy law abusive practices related to it and starting a national debate for finding ways and means to reform this law.
  4. Reforming the curriculum to include content on universal human rights and fundamental freedom like freedom of conscience and religion and freedom of expression. Our high schools and college curricula are woefully lacking in human rights education.
  5. Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and conscience and freedom of expression must be available to all citizens regardless of religion or sect.