I told myself this weekend that I would take it easy on the “Religion of Peace” this week. After all, between “Innocence of Muslims”, embassy attacks, Iran and Pakistan, I’ve been putting the boots pretty hard to the Islamic world for the last few weeks. And while that’s fun, sometimes you need a break.
So imagine my disappointment when I read this article about the Pakistani cabinet minister who has put a $100,000 bounty on the head of the person responsible for producing “Innocence of Muslims” and anyone else who makes a similar film. At a news conference late last week Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, the Pakistani railways minister said:
“I announce today that this blasphemer who has abused the holy prophet, if somebody will kill him, I will give that person a prize of $100,000… I also invite Taliban and Al-Qaeda brothers to be partners in this noble deed… I also announce that if the government hands this person over to me, my heart says I will finish him with my own hands and then they can hang me.”
Now, some lunatic Muslim says something crazy, we’re told that “they’re extremists who don’t represent the face of Islam”. I’d like to believe that – although I’m struck by just how many “extremists” there seem to be – but this case makes you wonder.
After all, Ghulam Bilour isn’t a fanatic living in cave in the wilds of Pakistan – he’s a Pakistani cabinet minister. Nor is he the representative of a hard-line fundamentalist party, he’s a member of the socialist Awami National Party (ANP), which is, at least notionally, a secular party (though “secular” might mean something very different in Pakistan). Indeed, a number of ANP activists have been killed by the Taliban (those would be the “Taliban and Al-Qaeda brothers” that Mr. Bilour was referring to). By Pakistani standards, he is a moderate.
But what’s more distressing – and what makes me wonder just who “unrepresentative” those Islamist “extremists” are – is not Mr. Bilour’s statement, but the reaction to it by the ANP and the Pakistani government. Think about it, what would happen in Canada if a cabinet minister called a press conference in which he put out a hit against the citizen of another country, offering to pay the murderer $100,000? We know what the reaction would be in the West; the cabinet minister would be booted from cabinet and from his party before the ink was dry on the press release. And, in all likelihood, he’d be facing criminal charges.
But in Pakistan, we get silence for a couple of days, followed by a statement by the spokesman for the Pakistani government that “[t]his is not government policy. We completely dissociate (ourselves) from this.” Now maybe something was lost in the translation, but that strikes me as a non-condemnation. That the Pakistani government is “dissassociating” itself from Mr. Bilour’s offer just means that if someone brings them the head of Sam Bacile, the government won’t be paying up. Would be bounty hunters will have to take it up with Mr. Bilour. In no way is that a condemnation of the offer itself.
Moreover, Mr. Bilour hasn’t been pushed to retract his statement, he hasn’t been kicked out of cabinet, or out of the ANP. He certainly hasn’t been charged with soliciting murder (or the Pakistani equivalent). Indeed, as one analysis notes, Mr. Bilour’s extreme language may have been a necessary to allow the ANP to stay politically relevant. According to Hasan Askari:
“There is a common phenomenon of point scoring in Pakistan politics and Bilour wanted to show that ‘we are not lagging behind any other group’… ANP has rivalry with the religious parties who have considerable following in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and they want to show that they are more committed and people should not go to the religious parties.”
“Point scoring”? “Vote for me and I’ll spend more money/cut your taxes” is “point scoring”. If “vote for me because I want to murder the same people that you do” is “point scoring” in your society, it’s one seriously fucked-up society.
In any event, the Bilour incident tells us a lot about Pakistan (a country with nuclear weapons, might I add) and should scare the hell out of us. A cabinet minister representing a (relatively) moderate (and purportedly secular) political party, puts a bounty on the head of a blasphemer to win public support and isn’t sacked, either from cabinet or from his party, isn’t condemned, and certainly isn’t charged, and we’re supposed to believe that he’s not “representative” of the attitudes of his fellow Muslims (at least in Pakistan)? It’s not the “extremists” that worry me, it’s the extremism of the purported “moderates” that scares the shit out of me.