PM vows to lead drive against blasphemy

Published April 20, 2021
(Clockwise) Workers of the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan attend the funeral of a member of the party in Lahore on Monday. A TLP supporter prepares to hurl back a tear gas canister fired by the police to disperse protesters in Karachi. Lahore CCPO Ghulam Mehmood Dogar inquires about the health of a police official who was injured during a clash with TLP workers. TLP supporters, who were injured during the clash, receive medical aid at a mosque in Lahore. Supporters of the TLP stand beside a pile of empty tear gas canisters fired by the police in Lahore.
— Online / AP / PPI / Reuters
(Clockwise) Workers of the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan attend the funeral of a member of the party in Lahore on Monday. A TLP supporter prepares to hurl back a tear gas canister fired by the police to disperse protesters in Karachi. Lahore CCPO Ghulam Mehmood Dogar inquires about the health of a police official who was injured during a clash with TLP workers. TLP supporters, who were injured during the clash, receive medical aid at a mosque in Lahore. Supporters of the TLP stand beside a pile of empty tear gas canisters fired by the police in Lahore. — Online / AP / PPI / Reuters

• Urges TLP not to harm peace, economy through violent protest
• Blames some religious, political parties for fanning fire
• Hints government may not send back French ambassador

ISLAMABAD: Urging the recently outlawed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) not to harm peace and economy of the country through a violent protest over the issue of blasphemous caricatures, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday assured the nation and the ummah that he would plead the case with the West to stop playing with the sentiments of Muslims in the name of “freedom of speech”.

In his address to the nation, the prime minister hinted that the government might not send back the French ambassador to his country, as demanded by the TLP, saying such actions and severing of trade ties with France would add to economic crisis, joblessness and poverty in the country.

Mr Khan said he would launch an international campaign with the help of heads of all Muslim states to make the western counties and European Union realise that the West must discourage Islamophobia and blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the name of freedom of speech because it hurt the sentiments of Muslims across the world.

“Let me assure that what I am campaigning for is the only way and one day they will understand [our concerns] and that day is not far. I take responsibility for it and will lead this campaign [and] I will not disappoint my nation and Muslims,” the prime minister said, adding that he would not disappoint the nation and will “bring a change” in the West through pressure from all Muslim states and there would be no incident of blasphemy in the world.

He said the second effective strategy could be that all the Muslim countries together announced a “trade boycott” of the country where blasphemy was committed. “Sending back French ambassador to his country and cutting all trade ties with France will not make any difference but cause harm to Pakistan and its rising economy,” he added.

The prime minister blamed some religious and political parties for fanning the fire when demonstrations were held in protest against the blasphemous acts of other countries. “They are serving the purpose of Pakistan’s enemies like India from where 380 fake groups on social media are posting fake news describing the LTP protest as a civil war in Pakistan.”

The prime minister described the violence by TLP activists over the arrest of their leader Saad Rizvi last week and the ensuing government crackdown as “regrettable” incidents. “The Holy Prophet lives in the hearts of the people of Pakistan. That is why whenever any disrespect is attempted to his name anywhere in the world, it hurts us and Muslims around the world are also pained by such acts,” he added.

PM Khan said like the TLP, the government too wanted that there was no blasphemy against the Holy Prophet in any country. “Only our methods are different,” he said, noting that while the TLP wanted the French ambassador to be expelled and Pakistan’s relations to be severed with France, his government had adopted a different strategy.

“Now, I ask will sending the French ambassador back and cutting off all ties with them stop this? Is there any guarantee that no one will commit blasphemy after that?” he asked, adding that even if Pakistan took steps against France, the same disrespect could be done in any other European country “in the name of freedom of opinion”.

“The biggest effect will be that after great difficulty our economy is rising, the large-scale industry is getting up after a long time, people are getting jobs, wealth is increasing in our country, our exports are rising and after a long time our rupee is strengthening. If we send the French ambassador back and end relations with them then this means we will break relations with the European Union,” he explained.

He said half of Pakistan’s textile exports were meant for the EU and if they were discontinued, it would result in unemployment and closure of factories in the country. Since textile is the country’s primary export sector, it will also put pressure on the rupee and give rise to inflation and poverty, he added. “So the loss will be ours, not of France.”

The prime minister said his government had been engaged with and explaining the same to the TLP for the past two-and-a-half months, adding that although the government had agreed to their demand for taking the matter to the National Assembly, the TLP planned to come to Islamabad.

Detailing the losses incurred by the country during the TLP protests last week, PM Khan said 40 police vehicles had been burnt, damage worth tens of millions of rupees caused to private property and four policemen martyred and over 800 injured. He said the blockade of nearly 100 roads had prevented oxygen cylinders from reaching Covid-19 patients, resulting in their deaths.

The prime minister said he had spoken about Islamophobia first at the 14th summit of the Organisation of Islamic Countries in June 2019 and proposed a joint Muslim world plan to stop incidents of blasphemy, and later raised the same at the UN General Assembly in September that year, as well as the 2020 UNGA. He said he had also written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on “how Facebook shouldn’t be used for Islamophobia”.

Earlier, speaking at the foundation stone laying ceremony of Margalla Avenue, the prime minister said when blasphemous caricatures were published in France he wrote a letter to heads of Muslim states and proposed a joint action on the issue.

“[My] strategy is that we the heads of Muslim countries together tell Western forums such as the UN and the EU that why we are hurt when they disrespect our Prophet in the name of freedom of speech. Because they don’t understand this in the West, they don’t have the kind of love and adoration for their prophets as we do. That is why we will have to explain to them and when we the heads of state of the Muslim world talk collectively as a group, it will have an effect,” he stressed.

Prime Minister Khan said there were fewer Jews in the world, “but they gathered and told the Western world nothing negative should be uttered against the Holocaust on any media”. He said that in four European countries, those speaking against the Holocaust could be jailed. “So can we not make them understand how it hurts us?”

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2021

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