Blasphemy accusations as power play

  • And the good old FIA

Our nation has bestowed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) with much power and dignity. A few days ago, that dignity reportedly flew out of a fourth floor window of FIA’s head office in Lahore; a departure that deserves thorough and unbiased investigation.

A Christian man suspected of blasphemy was allegedly beaten up by FIA officers after he was called in to give his testimony. The man had been summoned because of his cousin, primary accused. The officers physically assaulted this young man, and ordered him to perform sex with his cousin. The man, unable to carry out this unspeakable act on someone whom he regarded as his ‘brother’, leapt out of the fourth floor window. Critically injured and barely able to speak, the man gave his statement on tape to a member of The Voice Society.

Journalists are often made to sanitize the harrowing, gory, and explicit details of the stories they uncover. We infantilise our readers, many of whom choose to be infantilised, by padding the jagged edges and sugar-coating the bitter pills. This soft-censorship, which is sometimes the only way for news to get published, deprives the reader of an understanding the human complexities involved in the making of that incident: the visceral reactions of the oppressor and the victim; the personalities of those involved; the intensity of trauma, physical and psychological.

Why do we commonly witness such glaring hypocrisy from the agents we rely upon to spread and enforce religious principles? This is so because their actions often aren’t about spiritual restoration, but political power-play

Consider the trauma of hitting the ground after you’ve jumped from the fourth floor of a building. And consider the savagery that may have unfolded on the fourth floor of that building that makes you want to choose to leap out of the window instead.

According to the FIA, no such ‘savagery’ took place. Sub-inspector Khalid Saeed claims that the suspect ‘panicked’ during the investigation. “There were at least five persons present in the room at that time, including the main accused Patras. Around 6pm, I was preparing to perform namaz when suddenly Sajid leaped out of the window”.

A skeptic may challenge the significance of the detail that he had been ‘preparing to perform namaz’, asserting that it’s been added strategically to the statement to imply the speaker’s piety and trustworthiness. I am not that skeptic, and I am willing to assume that the young Christian ‘suddenly’ jumped out of the window in the presence of four other people, for no obvious reason. I did not personally witness this incident, and therefore, am in no position to verify or refute the sub-inspector’s statement.

It’s pertinent to note that the sub-inspector had apparently refused to acknowledge this incident earlier, so this bout of truthfulness did not come naturally in a timely manner; clearly, the truth had to be meditated upon for a significant amount of time.

Has anyone noticed that many Pakistanis, who aim to cleanse the world of reportedly un-Islamic practices, often indulge in acutely un-Islamic behaviours themselves on that respectable campaign trail? Have you ever spotted young people on social media verbally abusing the mothers and sisters of non-Muslims or alleged blasphemers? Have you heard Khadim Rizvi’s speeches, and the vulgarity of his language?

The injured Christian man has accused FIA of forcing him to have sex with his cousin. If his testimony is to be believed, does that sound like the sort of behaviour a devout Muslim should indulge in while on a respectable mission to curb anti-Islamic practices?

Why do we commonly witness such glaring hypocrisy from the agents we rely upon to spread and enforce religious principles? This is so because their actions often aren’t about spiritual restoration, but political power-play. God is understood to be all-powerful and unassailable. Blasphemy accusations are often about one group of humans enforcing their political or social dominance over another group of people.

When a person is accused of blasphemy, who is the victim of this crime? Indeed, the only power and dignity that can be threatened, is that of humans. More specifically, it threatens those humans who use religion as their source of political power. Accusing the religious minority of blasphemy serves to remind us of who gets to write the rules in this country, and who’s expected to silently obey them.

FIA officials claim that Sajid Masih, the Christian man, ‘panicked’; wondering what may have led to him feeling ‘very afraid’, if his allegation of being forced to perform a sexual act is supposedly untrue. Was he afraid of being hounded by members of TYLR who act in particularly un-Muslim ways? Was he afraid of his community being terrorised and ravaged by extremist goons? Was he afraid he would not find justice and fairness on the fourth floor of the FIA building?

Is it all of the above?