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Glory to the Martyrs! We won’t forget the Palm Sunday massacres! Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists.

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Glory to the martyrs
We won’t forget al-Qaddisayn
We won’t forget Maspero
We won’t forget Peter and Paul
We won’t forget Arish
We won’t forget the Palm Sunday massacres

YET ANOTHER bloody holiday for the Copts of Egypt. Once again churches are bombed and dozens of churchgoers are killed on a religious holiday. Once again the corpses of Copts lie with the debris of their icons and what is left of their churches. Once again, al-Sisi’s regime, its military rule and its police state fail to protect Coptic lives and churches.

Al-Sisi took power promising the Copts of Egypt that the days of fear, terror and sectarian violence were gone, and his regime would protect them from dark terrorism. Here we are in the fourth year since the coup, the third year of Sisi’s presidency, and the last four months alone saw the bombing of the Peter and Paul church, the killings and displacements of Christians in Arish and the two latest massacres in Tanta and Alexandria.

When a terrorist was allowed to go inside the Peter and Paul church and blow it up, the Coptic youth raged at the flagrant security failings and demanded the sacking of the interior minister. But al-Sisi intervened to prevent any talk of failings and naturally did not sack his interior minister. And now terrorists were able to attack a church barely a week after a bomb was discovered outside that same church! Here the security failings and the lack of accountability have become complicity with the crime.

We must remember that the few weeks before the January 2011 revolution saw large demonstrations of Coptic youths against the burning and bombing of their churches and the complicity of the security services. One sign of the political bankruptcy of the Mubarak regime was the abhorrent sectarian “deal” that counted on the Coptic Church to support the regime and contain the anger of Copts while giving free reign to the sectarian agitation of al-Azhar and the Salafists. Mubarak’s state was a particularly sectarian one, and al-Sisi’s state is based on the same sectarian principle.

The January 2011 revolution shattered this sectarian “deal” and saw, for the very first time in modern Egyptian history, unity between the Christian and Muslim masses, not around hollow nationalist slogans like “Religion is for God and the Nation is for everyone,” or police-sponsored superficial alliances between the Coptic and Muslim religious leaders, but around a common revolutionary struggle for democracy, freedom and social justice.

But this unique revolutionary moment did not last long. The Muslim Brotherhood betrayed the revolution by siding with the Military Council (SCAF), which exploited sectarianism and inflamed it with the Maspero massacre. The secular opposition has also allied itself with the military to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood, paving the way for al-Sisi’s 2013 coup.

Al-Sisi restored the bases of the Egyptian sectarian state and re-established the very sectarian and securitarian deals that Mubarak’s regime had set up; the Copts are once again paying the price with their blood. The security services’ incompetence and complicity are only part of the picture, and we must of course join the Coptic youths when they demand that the interior minister be sacked and put on trial for criminal negligence.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BUT THE security failings are part and parcel of the political bankruptcy of the al-Sisi regime. Not only did the military rule and its security forces fail to protect the Copts and their churches, but this regime’s policies can only lead to more violence, bloodshed, terrorism and sectarianism. A regime that is based on tyranny, dictatorship and the suffocation of the political arena. A regime whose economic policies impoverish the majority for the sake of the same big businessmen who monopolized the country’s wealth in the Mubarak years and shared it with the generals. A regime that is based on sectarianism and uses the religious institutions, from the Coptic Church to al-Azhar Mosque, to gather support for the dictatorship. A regime that hasn’t made a single step to dismantle the systemic discrimination and persecution that the Coptic masses suffer, but on the contrary reinforces the discrimination and persecution, exploiting the sectarian card along with tyranny and repression in order to remain in power.

Once more, al-Sisi and the al-Azhar Imam will present their condolences to Pope Tawadros. And once more, they will talk of national unity and the evil plots against Egypt and other nonsense.

It is about time that we built an opposition that rejects all forms of sectarianism, be it coming from al-Sisi’s regime or groupings of political Islam. An opposition that doesn’t content itself with condemning terrorism and the terrorists and the failings and complicity of the security forces. An opposition that puts the struggle against sectarianism and the persecution of Copts at the center of its priorities.

Revolutionary Socialists.  (Egypt).

More from Socialist Worker (US).

Written by Andrew Coates

April 10, 2017 at 11:59 am

Islamists Massacre Egyptian Christians on Palm Sunday.

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A bomb exploded in a church north of Cairo that was packed with Palm Sunday worshippers, killing at least 21 people and wounding 50 others, officials said. France 24.

The attack in the Nile Delta town of Tanta was the latest in a series of assaults on Egypt‘s Christian minority, which makes up around 10 percent of the population and has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists. It comes just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt.

CBC TV showed footage from inside the church, where a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers. Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed confirmed the toll from the attack in interviews with local and state-run media.

No one immediately claimed the attack (Blog Note, but there is little doubt that they were Islamists).

A local Islamic State affiliate claimed a suicide bombing at a church in Cairo in December that killed around 30 people, mostly women, as well as a string of killings in the restive Sinai Peninsula that caused hundreds of Christians to flee to safer areas of the country.

A militant group called Liwa al-Thawra claimed responsibility for an April 1 bomb attack targeting a police training centre in Tanta, which wounded 16 people. The group, believed to be linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, has mainly targeted security forces and distanced itself from attacks on Christians.

Egypt has struggled to combat a wave of Islamic militancy since the 2013 military overthrow of an elected Islamist president.

This tragedy cannot be blamed on Western intervention.

This tragedy cannot be blamed on ‘the West’.

There responsibility lies with those violent Islamists and jihadists whose hatred of Christians, and other non-Muslims, has already led to a mass exodus in the Middle East.

Our love and solidarity to all those suffering after this attack.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 9, 2017 at 11:35 am

Tunisia: Banned “Call to Prayer Remix” now on-Line.

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Prayer Remix: “Violation against Good Moral and Public Outrage Against Modesty”.

Tunisian authorities have shut down a nightclub and begun an investigation after a DJ played a remix recording of the Muslim call to prayer, an official said on Monday.

A video, widely shared online since Sunday, shows clubbers dancing at the weekend to music that includes the call to prayer at the club in the northeastern town of Nabeul.

The footage sparked a storm of debate on social media.

The party, near the popular resort of Hammamet, had been organised by two European DJs.

“After confirming the facts, we decided to close this nightclub” until further notice, Nabeul governor Mnaouar Ouertani told AFP.

He said an investigation had been opened and the club’s manager detained “for violation against good morals and public outrage against modesty”.

“We will not allow attacks against religious feelings and the sacred,” Ouertani said.

The organisers of the Orbit Festival apologised on Monday in a post on the event’s Facebook page.

The DJ “did not realise it might offend an audience from a Muslim country like ours” and “had no intention to anger or offend”, they said in their post.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

Jeune Afrique reports,

Organisatrice de l’événement qui s’est tenu de vendredi soir à dimanche matin, l’équipe d’Orbit Festival a de son côté « décliné toute responsabilité » et « présenté (ses) excuses », dans un message publié sur sa page officielle Facebook.

« Le DJ ‘Dax J’ est anglais et a joué ce titre récemment en Europe », il n’a pas réalisé « que cela pouvait offenser le public d’un pays musulman comme le nôtre », a-t-elle ajouté.

That is the Organisers of the event, Orbit Festival, have stated that the DJ, Dax J, is English, and they deny any responsibility for the incident, adding that they apologise, and that they had been as surprised at the incident as the general public and had acted after realising what was going on.

They add that the DJ has offered his “sincères excuses ” sincere apologies, for any offence caused.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 4, 2017 at 11:07 am

Stop the War Coalition: only way Islamist Murder can be ended is by “campaign against both war and Islamophobia.”

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End Terrorist Attacks By Stopping Western Wars and Islamophobia says StWC.

War, Terrorism & Islamophobia: Breaking The Vicious Circle Stop the War Coalition, also reproduced on the site of the groupuscule, Counterfire, which occupies many of the StWC’s leading positions.

Lindsey German writes,

The threat of Islamic terrorism requires a serious analytical response which cannot ignore the background against which it exists.

Does this involve an analysis of what Islamic terrorism is, the nature of groups such as the Islamic State, their genocidal ideology and practice? Their relation to Salafism, the social and ideological conditions in which they have grown in?

No,

..every serious analysis of the increase in terrorism over the past 16 years has to confront one central fact: that the ill-conceived and misnamed war on terror has actually increased the level of terrorism in Europe, not reduced it.

And,

The terrible consequences of the Iraq war – and subsequent interventions in Libya and Syria – have indeed led to a growth in terrorism both across the Middle East and South Asia.

German does not go further.

She offers nothing about the history of Islamism, from the Iranian Revolution (1979) to the conflicts between Shia and Sunni that mark the greatest number of terrorist atrocities. Or the Algerian Civil War, (over 100,000 dead, 1991 – 2002), an example of religiously inspired violence and state repression which has profoundly shaped the Maghreb, and left support for murdering Jihadism to be mobilised in the present conflicts.

There is equally not a word on the decades long development of Islamism in all its various forms, from the Muslim Brotherhood, back to its roots in the writings and practice of figures such as Sayyid Qutb to cite but one name, that a “serious analysis” would have to grapple with in any effort to explain the intensity, the blood-stained killings that mark the present batch of jihadists.

This is no doubt a large area, a hard reading list even for the learned German, but she could begin here Islamism (Wikipedia). Or indeed with the books reviewed on this site yesterday, notably, The Way of the Strangers by Graeme Wood.

Such a study would show that the violence, the racism and the totalitarian ambitions of the jihadist wing of the Islamist movement cannot be reduced to an effect of Western Intervention.

The invasion of Iraq, and the failed state that the US tried to create, has increased the possibilities for Jihadists to spread, fueled the wars between Shiites and Sunnis, and led to the wholescale religious cleansing of non-Muslims from a large swathe of the Middle East.

But the springs for the terrorist violence in Europe, the mechanisms which organise it, which encourage it, the actual series of intentional acts of murder, lie in the material shape of the Jihadist groups, their ideology and the individuals who carry out the slaughter.

German continues,

It is worth remembering that those countries still reeling from the effects of these interventions face regular terrorist attacks against their own populations, with often dozens killed in single attacks on markets and other public places. These receive scant coverage in the British media and certainly not the emotional responses that mark an attack in London or Paris. But they alone should prove as false the idea that these attacks are about British values. They are political attacks designed to promote the ideas of IS or al Qaeda or other similar groups and their main targets are other Muslims.

This is all too true, which might lead the leaders of the StWC to support those in these countries, Muslim or not, above all the liberals and secularists, fighting the Islamists, and, above all, the Jihadists, linked with, or members of Daesh and Al Qaeda.

But no.

That is there.

Here is here.

And here is, apparently, where the problem comes from.

The first is that the foreign policy which has contributed to the rise of terrorism has to end. These wars are not history but are ongoing. Only this week there have been reports of a US bombing raid on a mosque near Aleppo in Syria which has killed many civilians, in addition to the bombing of Mosul in Iraq – as part of the campaign against IS – which has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, including 200 in a recent attack.

Such attacks are exactly what has helped feed terrorism in the past.

Sagely German notes that,

The second message is that the response to such attacks cannot be further racism against Muslims.

Those advocating “further racism” take note!

What we can be certain of is that these attacks will continue unless there are major political changes.

This climate of racism here in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, is only helping to create a vicious circle where Islamophobia leads to a growth in extremism and terrorism, which in turn leads to more Islamophobia. It is a circle which can only be broken by a concerted campaign against both war and Islamophobia.

This will surely defeat the genociders of the Islamic State.

That is, it would, if Islamism and the Islamic State had been created by ‘Islamophobia’ and racism.

Faced with the depth of the challenge that Jihadism presents this statement marks the inability of the Stop the War Coalition to rise above slogans.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 28, 2017 at 5:16 pm

The Way of the Strangers. Encounters with the Islamic State. Graeme Wood. Reflections on Islamism.

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The Way of the Strangers. Encounters with the Islamic State. Graeme Wood. Allen Lane 2017. La Fracture. Gilles Kepel. Gallimard/France Culture. 2016. Pour les Musulmans. Edwy Plenel. 2015 (2014).

The problem must be posed anew, the hypotheses inverted, for in this domain ‘ideology’ is but another name for ignorance: the religious expression of a social phenomenon is not its disguise, but its unveiling. Gilles Kepel. (1)

From the 7th of January 2015 Islamist murders at Charlie Hebdo and the Vincennes Hyper Cacher to the massacre on the 14th of July in Nice, on the Promenade des Anglais, was for those living in France, Gilles Kepel, begins La Fracture, “une année terrible”. That the anniversary of the 2016 jihadist killings in Belgium was marked last week by the Westminster atrocity has brought the Islamic State, Daesh, back to European headlines. In Mosul and Syria ferocious battles, waged with few scruples, continue against their genocidal tyranny.

Some figures have reacted to the latest tragedy with what Nick Cohen calls the “lies of the right” – Nigel Farage’s tirade against “migration” in first place – “debase civilised society.” (Observer 26.03.17) In Pour Les Musulmans the journalist Edwy Plenel one of the first to signal the dangers of Le Pen and the Front National in the 1980s (L’Effet Le Pen 1984 Edwy Plenel and Alain Rollathas written a generous appeal, in the spirit of Émile Zola’s Pour les Juifs (1896). Against hatred, and the accumulated prejudices against Muslims that makes them a “global enemy” and target in French political life, Plenel offers the British reaction to the 2005 London carnage, “We Are Not Afraid”.

Perhaps now is also the moment to look anew at Jihadism, the most violent wing of Islamism. In his column Cohen reflects a wider dissatisfaction with those who try to explain these outrages as responses to western foreign policy (the ‘anti-imperialist’ left), or the ‘result’ of multiculturalism (the ‘alt-right’).

Kepel was an early critic of the view that political Islam was a “mask” for deeper social causes. Since 9/11 we have heard much of the “religious disguise” that Al-Qaeda and now Daesh presented, while the ‘real’ issue of Western intervention, or more generally ‘neo-liberal globalisation’.  While these abstractions count for little, there are without doubt hard social facts that help extreme forms of Islamism flourish. In France the social divisions that leave many of those of North African descent marginalised, time in prison, and the psychological fragility of individuals, are conditions working behind the acts of individual Jihadists. But “l’idéologie donne la conscience de l’action et en détermine la forme.” Ideology is material, and exists, in ISIS/ISIL, as an organised would-be state, with international offshoots. Daesh, Kepel states, aims to provoke a violent fracture in France, which their ideologues elaborate from Salafist materials, a conquest of Europe, ending in the mass conversion, the enslavement or extermination of the inhabitants. (2)

The Islamic State.
These may be outrageous beliefs, but Kepel does not misrepresent them. The Way of Strangers is a thorough account, first hand evidence, of Islamic State ideas. Those wearied by the media use of the “so-called” before Islamic State will find that, after consideration, Wood, uses the term they use themselves. He shifts the attention to what they are and not to what a ‘real’ ‘Islamic’ state might be. It cannot be grasped as “Jacobinism with an Islamic veneer. It has its own story, the will of god written on the battlefield.

“The notion that religious belief is a minor factor in the rise of the Islamic State is belied by the crushing weight of evidence that religion matters deeply to the vast majority of those who have travelled to fight. “(3) Not only does it issue mountains of Fatwas and other pious declarations, but also, Wood demonstrates, the Islamic state cannot be understood without a deep immersion in the ideology of Salafism and a variety of Islamic schools. The “simplest explanation” for their roots is that their founders were “extreme Islamists”. As for effort to dismiss their faith basis, those doing so rarely have any knowledge of the clerics and scholars in its ranks.

“Since 2010, tens of thousands of men, women and children have migrated to a theoretic state, under the belief that migration is a sacred obligation and that the state’s leader is the worldly successor of the last and greatest of prophets. If religious scholars see no role for religion in a mass movement like this, they see no role for religion in the world.” (4)

In meetings, across the world, with those in sympathy with this goal Wood talks to figures, many of them converts, Musa Cerantonio, ‘Yahya’, Anjem Choudary, and some with decided distance from the Islamic state, such as Hamza Yusuf. The Way of Strangers melds these encounters, invariably over Halal food, with considerations on Islamic history, above all the legal school of Dhaharism, which rigorously bases its rulings on the Qur’an and the prophet, and no additional material or judgements. Parallels with the seventh century Kharijites, a vicious Muslim splinter group who practised mass excommunication, and denied all authority but their own, are dawn.

As one reads The Way of Strangers happy talk about Islam as a “religion of peace” quickly evaporates. The ‘literalist’ Islam of the Islamic, baked by scriptural authority, state sanctions the most severe forms of Hudud punishment, slavery, infamously including sexual captives, and the regulation of all aspects of personal life fused around loathing of the non-licit and the ‘kuffer’. It is obsessed with, The Way of Strangers continues, the takfir¸ the “sport” of declaring those who disagree with them and claim to be Muslims “apostates” under sentence of death. It has genocidal intentions, already put into practice against Yazidis. Wild dreams of a worldwide apocalypse the Islamic state’s followers, to come in decades not months, round off the picture.

Religious Genocide.

Most people do not want, Wood writes, to be part of a religion seen as “fanatical and bloodthirsty.”Most religions have zealots that the mainstream would prefer to make disappear and the Muslim bind is not unique”. Yet, is the Islamic State Muslim? “Whether it is ‘legitimate; is a question other believers answer for themselves, overwhelmingly in the negative” That can be said of any minority, “the group led and supported by Muslims albeit Muslims with whom they vociferously disagree.” To say that it has “nothing to do with Islam” is to deny that they “cite Koran, hadiths, and carefully selected thinkers within the Islamic tradition.” In brief, the denial of the Muslim roots of Daesh is a way of avoiding answering uncomfortable questions, starting with the fact that the Qu’ran does contain verses that support slavery, sexual oppression, and is riddled with ideas that are hard to reconcile with democratic values. Word for word reading shows them, and reasoning by analogy, historical context, and other methods used to adjust Islam to today, on the model perhaps of Saint Augustine’s 5th century reading of the Bible in On Christian Doctrine  always runs up against the problem that the book is claimed, however bizarrely, to be the inerrant word of god. (5).

The Way of Strangers is not just an important and brave book. It is a way of confronting difficult issues about religious politics above all religious genocide based on a form of spiritual racism. The immediate response to defend universal human rights a point of unity between people. Yet Wood leaves us with multiple dilemmas. If the Islamic State is now facing defeat in its Caliphate, will it be able to retain and rebuild support in other violent conditions? What will happen to those who have joined its genocidal regime? Will they return home, or will they, like the butchers of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen be tried and imprisoned?

*********

(1) Page 234. Gilles Kepel. The Roots of Radical Islam Saqi 2005. Originally published as Le Prophète et Pharaon. La Découverte. 1984.
(2) Pages 47 and 256 – 8 La Fracture. Gilles Kepel.
(3) Page 73. The Way of Strangers. Encounters with the Islamic State. Graeme Wood.
(4) Page 77. The Way of Strangers.
(5) Pages 217 – 8 .The Way of Strangers.

 

Pakistan Asks Facebook to Track Down ‘Blasphemers’.

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“Enemies of Humanity” Says Pakistan Interior Minister.

Radio Pakistan ‘reports’:

NISAR VOWS TO BLOCK  BLASPHEMOUS CONTENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Interior Minister asks Facebook administration to cooperate in removal and blocking of the blasphemous contents.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan says those responsible for blasphemy will be dealt with an iron hand.

Talking to media after inaugurating citizen facilitation center in Islamabad on Thursday, he said the culprits of blasphemy are enemies of humanity.He said that we have asked Facebook administration to cooperate in removal and blocking of the blasphemous contents.

 The Interior Minister said that government is making all out efforts to block blasphemous material on social media. He said eleven people who commented on such posts are being interrogated.

He urged all Muslims countries to practice unity against sordid conspiracies against Islam as the matter of blasphemy hurts feelings of all Muslims.

He said the government will take strict action against blasphemous contents and will avail all the possible options.

The Minister said that cooperation from the US Administration is also being sought through US embassy in Pakistan in this regard.

He urged the international community to have immense consultations on the issue of blasphemy as it has become a critical matter for the world.

He said ridiculing a religion in the name of freedom of expression will not be allowed

Al Jazeera reports,

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani authorities have contacted social media website Facebook for help in investigating the posting of “blasphemous content” on the platform by Pakistanis, according to a statement.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan. Insulting the Prophet Muhammad carries a judicial death sentence and, increasingly commonly, the threat of extrajudicial murder by right-wing vigilantes.

At least 68 people have been killed in connection with blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to a tally maintained by Al Jazeera.

“There have been positive developments in the matter of the Pakistani government’s contact with Facebook’s management regarding the blocking of blasphemous content,” an interior ministry spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.

Facebook would be sending a representative to visit Pakistan with regard to the matter, the statement said, and the government has appointed an official to liaise directly with the social networking website regarding the censoring of certain content.

In a statement quoted by the AP news agency, Facebook said it viewed government requests with care keeping in mind “the goal of protecting the privacy and rights of our users”.

The move comes after Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, ordered a ban on all online content deemed to be “blasphemous” on Tuesday.

“Ridiculing a religion in the name of freedom of expression should not be allowed,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, said on Thursday.

11 People under Threat.

Khan is spearheading the government’s efforts to have the material blocked.

Eleven people have been identified as having posted “blasphemous” comments or material on Facebook and will be acted against, the minister said. The identities of the 11 people in question were not immediately clear.

The authorities’ move comes after a senior judge at the Islamabad High Court called upon the government to block all blasphemous content online, “even at the cost of blocking entire social media”.

The petition at the High Court accuses five rights activists who were abducted in early January of running Facebook pages that had posted content deemed to be blasphemous.

No evidence has been shared directly linking the five activists to the Facebook pages in question, but during their three-week disappearance the men were the subject of a vast social media campaign accusing them of blasphemy.

“There is overwhelming evidence that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate human rights and encourage people to take the law into their own hands.

Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Issues.”

Amnesty: Pakistan: How the blasphemy laws enable abuse.

Al Jazeera continues,

Pakistan’s telecommunications regulator currently blocks hundreds of websites, including those run by ethnic Baloch dissidents, as well as sites containing pornography or material deemed to be blasphemous.

It is empowered under a 2016 law to block any content “if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, public order, decency or morality”.

In January 2016, Pakistan ended a three-year ban on video-sharing website YouTube, also over blasphemous content, after the content provider agreed to launch a localised version that would streamline the process for content to be censored for viewers in Pakistan.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeeras Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 17, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Pakistan’s Missing Bloggers: Back Pakistani Protests.

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Pakistani rights activists hold images of bloggers who have disappeared, during a protest in Lahore on January 12. Photo: AFP

Pakistani Human Rights Protests for Missing Bloggers.  

The families of five missing Pakistani activists denounced what they called a “malicious” social media campaign accusing the men of blasphemy, a highly charged allegation that can have deadly consequences in Pakistan.

The five men had stood against religious intolerance and at times criticized Pakistan’s military. They all vanished within days of each other earlier this month.

No group has claimed responsibility for their abduction and security agencies have denied involvement.

Meanwhile, the blasphemy accusations against the activists have been multiplying on Facebook and Twitter, triggering a flood of threats.

More here.

Pakistanis active on social media were drawn to a poem written by Haider and published last July in Tanqeed (criticism), an e-zine he co-edits:

Right now the friends of my friends are being ‘disappeared’

Soon it will be my friends’ turn

And then mine …

When I become the file

That my father will bring to court hearings

Or the picture that my son will kiss when asked by a journalist

This sad story has yet to come to a conclusion.

Disappeared: Silencing Pakistan’s activists Al Jazeera.

Rights groups say blasphemy allegations against disappeared activists aim to silent dissent for good.

The issue of enforced disappearances is not new for Pakistan. Rights activists allege that there are thousands of people who have been “disappeared” by the state, with some allegedly killed while in custody. In December, the government’s Commission on Enforced Disappearances reported that the dead bodies of 936 missing persons had been found in Balochistan province alone since 2011.

The government denies any wrongdoing, and, in the case of the five activists currently missing, the interior ministry says it is “making every possible effort for [their] safe recovery”, according to a statement.

Now, however, these activists and citizens, as well as those calling for their release, face an even greater danger: They are being accused of blasphemy – a crime that carries a judicial death sentence and, increasingly commonly, the threat of extrajudicial murder by right-wing vigilantes.

Weaponising blasphemy’

“These [Facebook] pages … are extremely insulting to the Prophet, the Quran, Allah and Islam. They have made a joke out of this,” said Abdullah Cheema, a guest on a popular television news show on January 12. Cheema accused Goraya of running the Facebook pages in question, a charge denied by the activist’s family.

“Speaking in support of such criminals is a crime in itself,” said Cheema, while being encouraged by Orya Maqbool Jan, the show’s host and a well-known newspaper columnist.

“These blasphemers who they have captured, whoever has captured them, may Allah bless those people,” said Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a well-known Muslim leader in a sermon uploaded to YouTube on Jan 13.

“The bloggers’ disappearance is its own issue. They should definitely be produced, but no one should try and hide their crimes, and their crimes are so heinous that no one should … say that they suffered injustice,” said Aamir Liaquat, one of Pakistan’s most well-known talk show hosts on January 16.

Meanwhile, Facebook pages known for posting material in favour of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have also taken up the cry.

“The group of atheists committing blasphemy on Facebook … have been defeated,” said a recent post by Pakistan Defence, a pro-military Facebook page that has 7.5 million likes and is run by anonymous administrators.

Insulting Islam’s prophet carries the death sentence in Pakistan, while defiling the Quran carries a life sentence. Blasphemy accusations have often been used to target minorities and to settle personal scores, rights groups say. Currently, there are 40 people on death row or serving life sentences for the crime in Pakistan, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

More worryingly, at least 68 people linked to blasphemy accusations have been killed by vigilantes or mobs since 1990, according a tally maintained by Al Jazeera. They have included those accused of blasphemy, their lawyers, their relatives, judges hearing their cases and members of their communities (PDF).

“Anyone even accused of blasphemy practically carries a death sentence even if they are [released],” says Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), expressing her organisation’s “alarm” at the accusations being levelled at both the disappeared and those campaigning for their release.

Gul Bukhari, a Lahore-based rights activist, sees the campaign of accusations as aimed at silencing the campaign for the five men to be recovered.

Human Rights Watch.

The Pakistani government should urgently investigate the apparent abductions of four activists who campaign for human rights and religious freedom, Human Rights Watch said today. The four men, Salman Haider, a well-known poet and academic, and bloggers Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, and Ahmad Raza Naseer, went missing or were taken away from different cities between January 4 and January 7, 2017.

All four men were vocal critics of militant religious groups and Pakistan’s military establishment, and used the internet to disseminate their views. Their near simultaneous disappearance and the government’s shutting down of their websites and blogs raises grave concerns of government involvement. While the Pakistani interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, directed the police on January 7 to speed up efforts to locate Haider, whom the government says it is not holding, a broader effort is needed to uncover the whereabouts and well-being of all four men.

“The Pakistani government has an immediate obligation to locate the four missing human rights activists and act to ensure their safety,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The nature of these apparent abductions puts the Nawaz Sharif government on notice that it can either be part of the solution or it will be held responsible for its role in the problem.”

Written by Andrew Coates

January 26, 2017 at 11:59 am