The World Today for January 04, 2022

NEED TO KNOW

Bloody Passions

PAKISTAN

Priyantha Kumara was a Christian and Sri Lankan citizen who managed a Rajco Industries factory in Pakistan. When rumors spread that he had trashed some posters of the Islamic prophet, Muhammed, ahead of a planned repainting of his factory, hundreds of his more than 2,000 employees became incensed.

In their eyes, Kumara, 48, committed blasphemy, reported the Washington Post. He had to die. So they lynched him and torched his corpse.

Police have since arrested 100 people in connection with the incident, which has been shared in viral videos around the world, the BBC noted.

But while the killing might have been illegal, Kumara’s death was in line with the harsh punishments that Pakistani authorities can mete out for convicted blasphemers. Disturbing religious assemblies, desecrating the Muslim holy book, the Quran, burial grounds or sacred sites and even making derogatory remarks against Islamic luminaries can elicit the death penalty in the South Asian nation.

In November, for example, Pakistani police arrested four men who argued with an imam who refused to announce a funeral for their Christian neighbor in his mosque. “As soon as they arrived [at the mosque], they started cursing the mosque’s imam, they disrespected the mosque and they insulted Islam,” said a police report cited in Al Jazeera.

Nobody has ever received the death sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan, explained Ahmet Kuru, a political science professor at San Diego State University. But vigilantes have killed more than 70 people suspected of blasphemy since 1990.

Authorities have condemned Kumara’s killing. But not by much. According to the Deccan Herald, Pakistani Defense Minister Pervez Khattak said the murder was the work of “angry, charged youngsters who were swept away by religious emotions… even I can get excited and do wrong when it comes to religion…boys do such things in passion.”

Efforts to change the laws face significant hurdles. “The reluctance to address this cause is rooted in fear that criticism of the blasphemy law itself could be deemed blasphemous in Pakistan,” wrote Foreign Policy. In 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer sought to eliminate Pakistan’s blasphemy law, for example. He was assassinated.

But Kumara’s killing might change things. A writer at the Diplomat wondered if Pakistanis’ intolerant attitudes could affect their country’s economy. Foreign investors will think twice about parking their money in a country where the slightest indiscretion or rumor of an indiscretion results in violence.

At a time when scholars like the Brookings Institution’s Madiha Afzal is calling in the New York Times for a reset between Pakistan and the US, those concerns might be more important than ever.

But nobody ever convinced an irrational person to change their mind with good arguments.

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