A bipartisan group of six senators recently wrote to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, asking that he free Rimsha Masih, the eleven-year-old girl who was being held on blasphemy charges and is still under serious threat of mob violence and resumed prosecution even though she has been released on bail. The letter is a welcome indication that the world is finally noticing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws — but working at cross purposes with those who are trying to get Pakistan to scrap these laws is none other than Barack Obama, who is now doing nothing less than effectively enforcing them upon the U.S. military. The senators wrote to the wrong President.
Rimsha reportedly has Down syndrome, yet was charged with blasphemy for allegedly burning some pages of the Qur’an among some trash she had collected. Even worse, a Muslim cleric has now been accused of planting the pages of the Qur’an among the remnants of the papers she burned, so as to ensure her conviction. According to Pakistan’s Dawn, a witness “said he tried to stop the cleric from tampering with the evidence, but he insisted it would strengthen the case and lead to eviction of the girl’s family from the locality.”
The case of Rimsha Masih has thus highlighted the irrationality and cruelty of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and how they are used against the country’s small Christian minority and other non-Muslims in Pakistan. For years, untold numbers of non-Muslims have been persecuted, harassed, deprived of property, imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and even murdered under their provisions. It is widely documented that Muslims often use them as a tool to settle scores or seize the possessions of non-Muslims with whom they have some dispute. Yet up until the case of Rimsha Masih and a similar case involving another Christian woman, Asia Bibi, last year, the international human rights community has taken little notice.
However, Barack Obama has just dealt a huge setback to any effort to compel Pakistan to drop its blasphemy laws in the interest of human rights, by effectively enforcing Islamic blasphemy laws against American military personnel. For last month, U.S. military brass announced that they were going to punish six American troops who were involved in the notorious burning of Qur’ans in Afghanistan last February.
“The administrative punishments,” according to Reuters, “could include things like reduce rank or forfeiture of pay.” Nonetheless, these “fell short of criminal prosecution, and it was unclear whether they would satisfy Afghan demands for justice.”