Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

'All that is necessary is that good men do nothing ...'

Despite Rimsha Masih's acquittal, no-one accused of blasphemy in Pakistan can truly feel safe

While Pakistanis greeted the acquittal this week of 14-year-old Rimsha Masih with a sigh of relief, I fear her trials and those of her family are far from over. An individual, once accused of blasphemy, can never feel safe in Pakistan again.

The country inherited this blasphemy law from the British, who intended it to deter inter-religious disputes. Regretfully, Pakistan not only retains the law, but also allows it to be misused for personal vendettas and the settling of scores.

Rimsha's case was clearly flawed. A teenager, reportedly handicapped with Down syndrome, should have been forgiven by any sane person, even if she did desecrate the Quran - which she didn't. Instead, evidence was tampered with to implicate her.

The cleric who originally accused the girl, and called for her execution, has been thoroughly discredited. Witnesses who testified in the case have recanted.

But the damage has been done. The dozen or so Christian families who lived in the same neighbourhood have left their homes in search of safer havens, out of fear of a retaliation that might also target them. Their properties are now worth whatever someone might choose to pay.

Religious intolerance seems to have again become a worldwide phenomenon. Many accuse Muslims of having begun this cycle of hate and intolerance. But it is immaterial who is guilty, or how the followers of a religion are compared to each other.

What matters is that sanity returns. We must reclaim our common humanity from those who attempt to hijack it by violent means, spreading hate in the name of religion.

There are those who might say that nowhere is there greater and more urgent need of reclaiming a country from bigots than in Pakistan. I do not know if that is true, but as Pakistan undergoes such turmoil, shame on us all if we fail to take action.

Ultimately, in whatever country and whatever the religion, bigotry is always the same. The spread of intolerance always comes down to a minority of individuals who are intent on spreading hate. The most dangerous person in the world is the person who believes he is right - no matter what the circumstances - and is prepared to resort to violence to impose his belief.

Ironically, education has very little to do with bigotry. There are an astounding number of highly educated bigots in every country. It is not a matter of race, or class, or nationality. Bigotry cuts across all of these divisions - an unfortunate unifying factor for humanity.

Pakistan's most recent case is just one on a list of atrocities, with perhaps the most high-profile crime being the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer last year. The outspoke politician was killed because of his criticism of the same blasphemy law, and his defence of a Christian woman who was accused of similar crimes.

In Pakistan's crisis, there are age-old patterns that are uncomfortably familiar. Two quotations come to mind. The philosopher and scholar Edmund Burke is generally credited with this truism: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

And then there is the famous quote by the theologian Martin Niemöller about the Nazis' takeover of Germany in the 1930s: "Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me."

By no stretch of the imagination do I qualify as Burke's "good" man, but the least I can do is to speak before they come for me. And for Risha and her family, someone must speak for them.


Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 An Egyptian Orthodox Christian priest give communion during the Palm Sunday service inCairo, Egypt. Mohamed El-Shahed / AFP

Region in focus - April 18, 2014

The best images of the last seven days from around the Gulf and across the Middle East.

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

Video: Local reactions to a national fishing ban

A federal fishing ban has been imposed by the UAE federal government, but local authorities are taking diiferent approaches to implementing the ban. Two fishermen tell two very different sides of the story. Produced by Paul O'Driscoll

 Hamburg players leave the field after the match against Borussia Moenchengladbach on March 30, 2014. AFP

Hamburg the dinosaur’s time may be up in Bundesliga

Ever-present for 51 years in the German top-flight, Hamburg face the prospect of relegation, writes Ian Hawkey.

 The new Bentley GT Speed convertible on display at a press event of the New York International Auto Show. Jason Szenes / EPA

In pictures: Hot cars at New York International Auto Show

With more than 1 million visitors annually, the New York International Auto Show is one of the most important shows for the US car industry. Here are some of the vehicles to be shown in this year’s edition.

 The cast of Fast & Furious 7, including Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel, centre, on set at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Fast & Furious 7 filming in full swing at Emirates Palace

Filming for Fast & Furious 7 has started and we have the first photos of the cast and crew on set at Emirates Palace hotel this morning. Visitors staying at Emirates Palace say they have been kept away from certain areas in the grounds.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National