Some would say that Junaid Jamshaid has got his comeuppance for turning religious; others would say that what he did was proof that he should not have meddled in religion. There are those who have said that if he can be forgiven his blasphemy by repentance, then why was this privilege not extended to Shehzad and Shama Masih. It is not that a position on blasphemy is being taken, but what he may have done goes to the heart of the critique of Islam made by those who oppose its political dimension: the position of women in Islam.

It is not useful to answer the critique of Islam as suppressive of women by mentioning all the rights that Islam gives women. It should suffice to note that this critique is based on an acceptance of Western feminism. That is based on those same rights which Western civilization denied its own women, making gradual changes, and giving women equal rights by the 20th century. Islam may have granted women certain rights and assigned her certain duties, but it is as a mukallaf, an adult human being, not as the result of some ideological struggle. A woman is as accountable for her actions before the Almighty, according to Islam, and therefore her duties must be at least equated with the man’s. While the jihad is compulsory for men, it is not for women. For them, a hajj mabrur has been prescribed as a substitute.

Both have been prescribed prayer, but for women, prayer in congregation has not been made compulsory. It follows, therefore, that a woman has inheritance rights. That implies the right to own property, both of which were denied to her by Western countries. Feminism is thus Western, and while important for those societies, not really relevant to Muslim societies. The ton of bricks that fell on Recip Tayip Erdogan represents this feminist reaction, even though what he said was by and large true for Muslims.

At the same time, this statement was violative of feminist arguments. Boiling them down, the feminist argument is against hijab, which has been blamed for many ills, including that of the spread of TB and other infectious diseases. Though hijab is supposed to be practiced as a religious order, the lack of hijab in Western societies has meant that women have been objectified, which is where the feminist movement has originated. They either become objects to please men, or compete with them.

It is perhaps ironic that the blasphemy Junaid Jamshed is alleged to have committed relates to Hazrat Aisha, one of the wives of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), because she illustrated with her life that a Muslim woman is not the fainting damsel in distress that is one’s Western ideal. She was a faqih, and a narrator of many Hadith. Clearly she had inherited the formidable memory of her father, the Caliph Abu Bakr. That memory, her close association with the Holy Prophet (PBUH), and her long life after she was widowed, ensured that she was long sought after as a definitive and authoritative source of the practices in the daily life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

However, it is perhaps symptomatic that Junaid has fled in fear of his life. The blasphemy laws were brought in to control the sort of passion that he now fears. Clearly, not only has the law failed to control blasphemy, but it has also failed to ensure that its punishment is reserved for the state, not inflicted by private individuals. This violence has meant violent attitudes by people at large. In a well-ordered state, Junaid Jamshed should have nothing to fear. All those who feel he is guilty should face two barriers against punishing him themselves: belief that they themselves will be punished if they carry out any punishment, and a belief that the state was capable of deciding guilt and punishing the guilty.

However, Pakistan is not a well-ordered state. Proof was to be found earlier this week in Faisalabad. It is not just a blot on Western democracy, but on the attitudes that Pakistan has developed, that an essentially political dispute has had such a violent outcome. Imran Khan would like all blame placed on the government, the government would like all blame placed on Imran and his PTI. But there is a systemic problem. Democracy is supposed to render unnecessary any recourse to violence, and it is a strange turn of events where the proponent of greater democracy in the country, of ‘true democracy’, can only be considered a genuine contender for power, a true politician, if there is bloodletting in his cause. The need for bloody validation is out in the open, with the PML(N) clamorously accusing Imran of needing corpses to promote his politics, which it insists wishes to bring in military intervention. True, military intervention only came in 1977 after 1000 people died, and by that measure there is a long way to go. However, military intervention has been stopped not just by attention to duty, as by the fact that a democratic consensus exists, as expressed in the Parliament joint session resolution in favour of democracy. That support might break down if there are more deaths. Why is it that such deaths will be needed?

The weakness of the state can be seen in both episodes. The state is not strong enough to punish Junaid Jamshed if indeed he committed blasphemy, nor to be believed if it was to declare that he had not done so. At the same time, in politics, without people being killed, a political issue cannot be settled. It is the state’s responsibility to have the person heading it, enjoy legitimacy. The Pakistani state, it seems, cannot undertake that responsibility. The problem might well be with the systems in place. The Anglo-Saxon legal system cannot properly handle blasphemy cases. The political system, equally Anglo-Saxon, cannot handle participants who cannot accept election results (or conversely, cannot handle participants who subvert those results). Does the solution lie in the changing of the systems? Perhaps. How? Those demanding a change had better find a solution, for the floodwater will stop only at natural obstacles.

n    The writer is a veteran journalist

    and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.