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IT is unfortunate that the stand-off between those demanding tougher legislation on blasphemy and the Bangladesh government has had such a violent outcome. For several weeks, the Hefazat-i-Islam — which draws support from the country’s madressahs — and its supporters have been demanding changes, including the introduction of the death penalty for those found guilty of blasphemy. Bangladesh, however, describes itself as a secular democracy and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed said that the current laws were adequate. Matters came to a head on Monday. With tens of thousands of religious activists on the streets, violence first erupted on Sunday after the police tried to break up a blockade of the highways leading into Dhaka. The next day, in a pre-dawn raid, the police launched a crackdown; Dhaka turned into a battleground echoing with gunfire, hundreds were injured and there were a number of deaths. The police shut down Islamist television stations and arrested dozens of protesters.Here in Pakistan, there is good reason to empathise. As this country’s experience has proved, caving in under pressure to groups that resort to violent means to press for their demands can never produce good results. Though it may temporarily appease such elements, it also emboldens them.

In particular, laws made under such pressure, especially from the religious right, generally prove to be controversial. As Pakistan has seen in terms of its own blasphemy legislation, laws based on religion prove practically impossible to undo later. It is easy for the hardline right to stoke the population’s passions through the card of religion. Yet the state must stand up; and that is why, although demands for a revisit of Pakistan’s own blasphemy laws fell silent after the assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, the issue needs to be taken up again once a new government is in place. The hardline right may exert a lot of force, but it has to be resisted if Muslim countries are to become progressive countries too.

Comments (12) Closed

Zia May 09, 2013 05:59am
Bengalis are more mature nation and they know the pitfalls of a controversial legislation. I do not think Bangladesh will ever come into this trap of religious zealots.
BIMAL CHANDRA JHA May 09, 2013 04:57am
Sir, A very good and inspiring editorial. In India too some extremists from the majority religion try to impose their will on minorities, but they fail in their efforts because of strong step taken by the government. Even the Constitution of India in its preamble promises a socialist secular democratic India and therefore, judiciary too supports the action taken by the government. In my view religion is private affair. The state must not intervene in private affairs. Muslim fundamentalists have done more harm to Islam than any body could have done. Yours faithfully; BIMAL CHANDRA JHA Samanpura Road, Patna, India
Thingamee May 09, 2013 04:00am
The Bangladeshi government is wisely cracking down on terrorists and wannabe terrorists. They, of course, have the Pakistani model to avoid. I say kudos to them and I wish the GOP had more courage to rid us of this scourge.
MOHAMMAD May 09, 2013 03:21pm
there is always a way out if you are sincere. leaders can take others into confidence and solve the problem
Ravi May 10, 2013 03:42am
You are right, Pakistan is perfect example of misuse of religion and spreading lawlessnes and intolerance. Bangladesh should avoid going that disastrous path. I hope Imran does not make situation worse if he comes in power, as he appears to have soft corner for religious fundamentalism in Pakistan.
kausik May 09, 2013 07:02am
Excellent comments yes the state must exert itself as they showed with determination if they give in then all non Muslims have to Migrate for fear of offending any Muslim who can accuse them of Blasphemy it is dangerous if people in Pakistan wonder why west or their neibours see with suspicion is because of these draconian Blasphemy laws created to inflict sub human treatment to minorities so wake up for world opinions because the due process is rigged by mullahs.
Rihat May 09, 2013 09:14am
Bravo! An excellent article clearly pointing out the terrible pitfalls of having such draconian laws which are taking us back to medieval times, darkness and backwardness. It has choked the nation of any positive decision making and has suppressed the minorities against whom any personal vendetta might be taken and settled using the ugly blasphemy laws.
Sue Sturgess May 09, 2013 08:53am
Every religion is likely to be considered "blasphemous" by other religions. The answer lies in tolerance, and acceptance of those who believe differently.
Thoughtful May 09, 2013 10:49pm
Bangladesh should take lessons from Pakistan. Bowing down to the demands of fanatic religious right will bring same magnitude of disaster as one sees in Pakistan. Bangladeshi authorities should crush the rise of religious fanatics with an iron fist so that this violent and dangerous dragon never rises again.
Skeptic May 09, 2013 02:47pm
Totally agree!
atts May 09, 2013 12:36pm
very true, the affairs of the state is diff from religion, also there should be no labeling people non-muslim if they do not subscribe to all your beliefs of islam e.g the ahmadis and shias etc
AHA May 09, 2013 12:07pm
Bangladesh should not become another Pakistan. We are a 'shining' example of the destructive force of religion. Bangladesh should learn from our mistakes.