Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Manipulating Mobs with Desecration Charges

In Gorja, Pakistan, 100 Christian villagers were burned out of their homes and 8 killed by mobs angry over rumors that Qur'ans had been desecrated. I have written here already that scripture's iconic dimension can exert a particularly powerful effect on popular sentiment and that charges of scripture desecration easily lead to mob action. This is especially true in Pakistan with its draconian laws against insulting Islam, the Qur'an, or Muhammed.

The news now that the attacks were orchestrated by extremist groups underscores the point, except with a twist. It demonstrates that the iconic dimension of scriptures provides a convenient lever for manipulating mob sentiment. But in this case, the organizers were no doubt aiming at a larger political audience and are depending on media coverage to get their message across.

August 9: Kunwar Idris, writing in Dawn.com, traces the origins of Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws and, especially, their capital penalties to the policies of General Ziaul Haq (President, 198 ).

Relevant to the Gojra episode would be the two sections he added to the penal code (295-B & C) which made the offences of defiling the Quran or the name of the Prophet punishable with life imprisonment or death. Ziaul Haq’s aim in enacting these laws was to exploit the religious sentiments of the people for his own power and glory. The fanatics have used them to persecute the minorities and dissidents, the politicians to promote their political ends.

Dying at the hands of fanatical mobs for (allegedly) defiling the Holy Quran or Holy Prophet have been a hafiz-i-Quran at one extreme and an old Hindu woman at the other. The toll runs into hundreds. Then there is the instance of four brothers who languished in jail for five years until a judge found they were maliciously accused of blasphemy or desecration by a villager who coveted their land and the headship of the village. Though acquitted, fearing mob violence they sought asylum abroad. The false accusers got what they had desired.

Sad stories of innocent victims and vile motives of their tormentors abound. A fact hard to deny, however, is that no one has ever been imprisoned for life or hanged under Zia’s laws but a large number have fallen victim to mob fury

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