Blessed are the merciful

4 March 2011, 12:01 PM

I wrote about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws back in January, after Punjab governor Salman Taseer was killed for advocating their reform; but when Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti met the same fate in Islamabad this week, their destructive power really came home to me. Bhatti had been the official Federal voice of minority religions in Pakistan; He was also a colleague and a friend of the United Religions Initiative in Pakistan.

All of a sudden I was getting emails from Pakistan, from people of religious minorities as well as from the religious majority, people who were outraged and fearful. Like Bhatti and Taseer, they have called for a reexamination of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, and now can only imagine what fate awaits them at the hands of religious vigilantes trying to silence dissent.

This has become personal. What twist of faith convinces murderers that they are doing God's will, I ask? Does the rule of law abide in Pakistan? Will the killers ever be brought to justice? Has intimidation closed the door to a reconsideration of blasphemy laws? And what do I do with my anger and depression, my concern for my friends who are now a bullet away from death at the hands of the self-righteous?

What I did was watch a video of a French newswoman interviewing Shahbaz Bhatti a short time ago. She asked him about the danger of speaking up.  And his answers came through clearly and resolutely, and reflected the core of his beliefs.  Throughout the exchange I kept hearing in my mind: "Blessed are the peacemakers…blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…blessed are the pure in heart…blessed are you when others revile and persecute you on my account."  Bhatti was a deeply principled man who put his life on the line for the sake of Pakistan's minorities, and for religious freedom.

What gave these misguided laws such a hold on his killers? Blasphemy executions give believers the false assurance that blasphemies have been eliminated when the guilty party is killed. But who can possibly number and adjudicate all of the occasions when citizens profane that which is truly sacred? And who decides what is sacred?

Blood is spilled on the streets to ensure that blasphemy laws are understood as the immutable work of God. But they are not; they are the work of men. Do we jump into the Holy Seat of Judgment, or do we heed the voice that says, "blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy?"

This isn’t heaven, after all. This is Pakistan.