Learning from his death

Feisal H. Naqvi in Pakistan Today:

ScreenHunter_01 Jan. 11 12.34 Many people who critique the blasphemy law do so on the basis that there is no punishment provided in the Quran for denigrating the Prophet (PBUH). So what? There is no punishment provided in the Quran for many crimes. Surely, nobody can deny that a society has a right to determine the acts it wishes to punish. And as Ms Menocal’s book shows, blasphemy is a crime to which Muslim societies have historically been – and self-evidently remain – uniquely sensitive.

The standard jurisprudential response to my assertion is that society indeed has a right to determine what actions are to be treated as criminal, but only within certain rights provided by the fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Constitution. I concede that point, so let us then look at the next issue: is punishing blasphemy violative of fundamental human rights?

My answer is no. As much as I disagree with the blasphemy law, I do not think that criminalising the act of blasphemy is violative of any fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Constitution. All of those rights are subject to reasonable limitations. And in Pakistan – repeat, in this country – I do not think it is unreasonable for the law to provide that blasphemy shall be a criminal offence. Even in England, the last blasphemy prosecution took place not centuries ago, but in 1977.

Does that mean the blasphemy law cannot, or should not, be challenged or changed? Absolutely not. The blasphemy law, as it stands today, invites abuse and serves as a terrible instrument of oppression. But what it does mean is that the change must be brought about through political means, not legal. And politics, as we too often forget, is the art of the possible, not the art of the desirable.

There are three basic ways to attack the blasphemy law. The first…

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