The intolerance and abuse of religious minorities in Pakistan reached a new low this case with the incarceration of Dr. Masood Ahmad, 72, a British doctor who is has been charged with the ridiculous crime of “posing as a Muslim.” In 1984, a law was passed declared Ahmadis to be “non-Muslims.” He could face three years in prison after being caught reading and interpreting the Koran.
One would expect most countries, particularly a developing country, to welcome Dr. Ahmad who returned to Pakistan to open a pharmacy and business. However, Ahmad is an Ahmadi, a religious group that considers themselves Muslim but believe in a prophet after Mohammed. The problem is that the Muslim extremists in the government view the Ahmadis as heretics and religious leaders have said that killing an Ahmadi guarantees the murderer a place in heaven. Many have accepted the bargain with 20 Admadis murdered last year.
What is chilling about the Ahmad case is that he was arrested after a sting operation by two men posing as patients in Lahore. The men reportedly asked him for advice on issues related to faith. When he answered and read a verse from the Koran, Ahmad was charged is posing as a Muslim. One of these fanatics was Islamic teacher Muhammad Ihsan who swore that he preached to them in answering their questions. The arrest was a final success of local Muslims who have tried repeatedly to have him arrested. Indeed, there have been efforts to arrest all Ahmadis for such crimes as giving out sweats on Muslim holidays or displaying bunting. Last April, a mob led by Islamic mullahs raided the home of an Ahmadi family, looted the home, beat the men, and had them arrested.
Tahir Ashrafi, head of the powerful Ulema Council of clerics, showed the world what such fanatics believe is a moderate position: “We would not have a problem with them if they did not use the name of Islam and the symbols of Islam.” Like many in his country. Ashrafi dismisses notions like free exercise of religion or free speech in favor of the overriding demands of the Muslim majority.
Pakistan is one of our allies that has worked with the Obama Administration to create a new international blasphemy standard. The continued crackdown of anti-religious speech is part of its long-standing blasphemy abuses. For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West. For recent columns, click here and here and here.
We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard.
The prosecution of Ahmad shows the still unresolved tension between Islamic laws and free speech. Indeed, there remains a deep incompatibility with the views of many Muslims in countries like Pakistan and basic civil liberties. Many of us do not view free speech and freedom of religion as “Western concepts” but part of the fundamental rights entitled to all humans. These same countries are the first to claim affronts to their religion while routinely denying the same protections to other faiths. Saudi Arabia is such an example of an country that champions the claims of the free exercise and free speech rights of Muslims internationally while barring even the construction of a church in the country.
The case also raises the distinct between our allies and countries like Iran that we denounce as evil and intolerant. I am afraid that persecuted people like Dr. Ahmad would fail to see the distinction from his cell in Pakistan.