The Blog

Blasphemy in Pakistan

The law that breeds terror.

12:00 AM, Apr 22, 2008 • By BENEDICT ROGERS and JOSEPH LOCONTE
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Gillani and his moderate PPP party will be helped in their task by the margin of their political victory and the resounding defeat of religious radicals. One of the most hopeful results of February's election was his party's triumph in the Northwest province on the Afghanistan border, where a pro-Taliban and pro-al Qaeda coalition has ruled for several years. Their ouster suggests a rejection of militant Islamism--and an opportunity for significant political reform.

If Gillani is serious about fighting terrorism, he must address the conditions that enable religious radicalism to flourish, beginning with laws that criminalize religious speech deemed unorthodox. No rights are more fundamental to liberal democracy than freedom of speech and freedom of religion. No social justice is possible under a government that flouts equal protections under the law. "The government often fails to protect religious minorities from sectarian violence," concludes Freedom House, "and discriminatory legislation contributes to a general climate of religious intolerance."

Blasphemy laws represent an illiberal assault on fundamental human rights--and a signal to the extremists that their ideology retains a place in Pakistan. Now is the time to send a new message and chart a new, genuinely democratic future.

Benedict Rogers is a human rights advocate at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a London-based human-rights organization. Joseph Loconte is a senior fellow at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy and a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD Online.