According to multiple sources, a 12-year old Christian girl was arrested outside of Islamabad for allegedly burning a page or pages of the Qur’an. Such a crime is considered blasphemy in Pakistan, and is punishable by life imprisonment—or even execution. As The Washington Post reports:
Amid the conflicting claims, this much is certain: As many as 600 Christians have fled their colony bordering the capital, fearing for their lives, officials said, after a mob last week called for the child to be burned to death as a blasphemer.
The girl, who authorities have described as mentally challenged, sits in jail in Rawalpindi, charged by police with blasphemy, while her family has been put in federal protective custody. The evidence against her is muddled at best, but police said they arrested her in part to assuage the mob and also because they knew she would be safer in jail.
. . .Some Christians who stayed in the area said shopkeepers are refusing to sell them food and have issued threats.
“They said they will burn our house down if we don’t leave,” said a 17-year-old who lived near the accused girl’s family. “They are also saying that since a woman burned the Koran, they will come after our women now.”
Laws against defacing the Qur’an aren’t just for show: people have been killed for this. As HuffPo reports:
This is one of the latest high-profile incidents to draw attention to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, which state that people who are convicted of insulting the Quran or Islam’s prophet can face the death penalty.
In 2010, a Christian mother of five was sentenced to death for blasphemy.
And last month, a man accused of desecrating the Quran was dragged from a police station in Pakistan and beaten to death before his body was set on fire.
Salman Taseer, a Pakistani governor, was assassinated by a bodyguard in 2011 because of his reported opposition to the laws.
It reminds me of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s description in The Gulag Archipelago of someone getting sent to the camps for wrapping a fish in a sheet of newspaper containing Stalin’s picture.
Besides the obvious over-the-top sensitivity of Muslims to this incident, there are two other problems:
1. According to AFP, the girl had Down Syndrome. She could hardly be held responsible even if she did burn the holy book.
2. It’s not clear if any pages of the Qur’an were burned at all. The Washington Post details the ambiguities:
The incident involving the girl happened Thursday afternoon, evidently while she was gathering trash — but beyond that, everything is in dispute. Some locals claim to have witnessed her and her mother burning the entire Koran.
But Tahir Muhammad, a 30-year-old shop owner and landlord, said the girl found just one page of the holy book while cleaning a house, mixed it with other papers and burned it.
A 10-year-old neighborhood girl said she saw the whole thing and took the ashes to the mosque — with no pages of the Koran extant. In interviews Sunday, two men at the mosque said that only ashes remained and that the imam mixed in some pages himself before turning over the “evidence” to police.
“Somebody must be confused when they said pages were mixed in — no such thing happened,” Imam Hafiz Muhammad Zubair said Monday. He said community leaders decided to turn the girl and her mother over to police for their safety.
“Both the women confessed to us that they had indeed burned the Koran,” he said.
I wonder how those confessions were obtained.
Among the local Islamic population, there’s no presumption of innocence in such cases, and some Muslims are baying for blood. Besides the threats that have caused 600 Christians to flee the village, there’s this:
“The one who burned the Koran should be burned,” said Shaukhat Ali, an assistant at the local mosque, expressing a sentiment shared by many Muslims in the community.
Such are the lunacies of Islam. Yes, there are moderate Muslims who decry this kind of violence (although they tend to remain silent when stuff like this—or Rushdie’s fatwa—take place), but who can say confidently that Islam is not among the world’s most dangerous faiths? Can you imagine someone being imprisoned or killed for burning the Book of Mormon or the Bible? If that were true, P. Z. Myers would have been dead long ago.
I’m always surprised at atheists who take out readily and gleefully after Catholics or fundamentalist Protestants, but remain largely silent on the greater excesses of Islam. Those who are more vociferous are often branded “Islamophobes.” But it’s not the people we hate: it’s the extremist ideology that leads many Muslims to kill apostates, imprison girls with Down Syndrome, threaten a teacher with flogging for naming a teddy bear “Muhamed,” and systematically disenfranchising half of their population: the ones with two X chromosomes.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but my impression is that atheists, with the exception of people like Dawkins and Hitchens, are loath to go after Islam nearly as strongly as they go after Western religions. Perhaps that’s out of fear of appearing racist, or perhaps it’s just out of fear for one’s skin. But being “Muslim” is not a racial trait, any more than is being “Jewish.” These are religions, and their adherents include a broad mixture of ethnicities. What we deplore are the beliefs, not the genes.