Home > Politics > Blasphemy Law and Orientalism: Persecution of the ‘Other’

Blasphemy Law and Orientalism: Persecution of the ‘Other’

In May 2010, 93 Ahmadi victims of gun and grenade attacks at two mosques in, Lahore Pakistan, of the Ahmadiyya Movement, a religious sect in Islam,  in Lahore Pakistan reminded the international community once again of the atrocious acts of violence that continue to unfold and gain momentum  when considering religious persecution in Pakistan. In Dec 2010, Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother of 5, was sentenced to the death penalty for committing “blasphemy” and continues to languish behind bars. In early January 2011, Salman Tasreer’s (Governor of Punjab) assassination received endless outcries from the global community as well as that of the national community within Pakistan including NGO’s and women rights groups such as Amnesty International and the Women’s Action Forum.

Crimes such as these have toppled, and furthermore, have served as an infringement, on the already lagging divide that has been operative in Pakistan since the late 1980’s between Pakistan extremists and Pakistan’s religious minorities and liberal communities.

In addition, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister of Minorities, has stated in The Dawn newspaper that the Government of Pakistan will not repeal the Blasphemy Law as it may fuel militancy. On February 8th, 2011, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani assured Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman that the government does not plan on amending the blasphemy law.

 As one continues to be bombarded with such acts of infamous evils, it seems to be a feasible option to look deeper into the meanings of such acts of alienation and subjugation.  Consider the impeccable work of Edward Said’s surrounding  Orientalism. According to Said, Orientalism is a process whereby the East, or the Middle East (perhaps in this case the South Asian peninsula) continues to be eroticized (Exoticism) and differentiated by Western hegemony to further classify the East and its inhabitants as ‘the other.’ Resorting to such a mechanism of differentiation has further perpetuated a process of creating binary opposition as that of The West and The East, one has created unified and homogeneous units of classification and identity.

Hence, the Orient, signifies a system of representations that are framed by political forces. The Orient exists for the West, and is constructed by and in relation to the West. The Orient therefore, presents itself as the “Other” (alien) to the West.  Orientalism therefore, is a manner of regularized vision, writing and governance, dominated by pre conceived understandings, imperatives and perspectives that go on to create ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient. It is the image of the ‘Orient’ expressed as an entire system of thought and scholarship.

Edward Said, grouped such an analysis framing it so it remained to perpetuate itself as long as The West existed on the left and the East on the right. Edward Said has left behind a legacy allowing for us all to further unravel the area of Orientalism and ‘The Orient’ as per personified vis-à-vis Arabs, Africans, South Asians, East Asians etc.

Let’s take this analysis a step forward shall we? Can Orientalism internally within the East, where a system of social hierarchy is created as a basis of governance? Are there examples of the ‘Orient’ when considering the internal contexts of societies? Are there members within these societies that have to endure the political, social and economic ramifications as they are eroticized and perceived as the ‘other’?  

When considering the analytical connections between that of Orientalism and Blasphemy Laws that continue to conquer the psyche of those around us, one has to question the underlying assumptions that form(ed) the foundations of Orientalism. It is only after a close review of the premise can one find Blasphemy Laws to be an internalized example of Orientalism in the present day. There lies a parallel when comparing the paradigm and ‘gaze’ with which the West perceives the East to be. That similar subjugating paradigm infiltrates the minds and bodies of those within Pakistan, Indonesia and other parts of the East. Hence, whereas Orientalism is often understood to be a phenomena capitalizing on two main communal settings; The East and the West, it is time that we consider the presence and execution of ideological thinking within these two units of classification. Orientalism and the creation of the ‘other’ to further legitimize hate crimes, religious persecution and the creation of mechanisms to further outcast and alienate members belonging to religious minorities needs to be strongly condemned.

Pakistan’s list of challenges and committed wrongs has long exhausted itself to a point of no return.  It is with heightened dismay that I say…Shame on you Pakistan!

I can only resort to the words of the forefathers of my beliefs and continue to pray for the future of a secular and flourishing state of Pakistan.


  1. Aamir
    February 18, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    I have a point to make about this post. According to Said, the West has created the concept of the Orient to denote the East, both as a cultural and a religious group that differs in philosophy and behavior from themselves. The East has in turn coined the term Occidentalism to refer to the West and their segregation of such cultures and religions from their own.

    If we can look at the ruling class of Pakistan and the religious majority there as the Orient using the classic Western definition, that would mean that these same people look to the minorities as the Occident; in other words, to the Orient, the minorities are a symbol of the Occident that is permeating their society; thus, they have to take measures to stop them from penetrating and overtaking their ideology and, in turn, their power. The Orient is basically rebelling against the Occident the only way they can, by persecuting and terrorizing the groups they believe are part of the Occident.

    I think the minorities need to show the majority that they are as much a part of the Orient as the majority is. Only then can the majority learn to accept that they have in fact been taking out their anger and frustration on the wrong group, and learn to accept the minorities as a part of themselves.

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