Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The many faces of a homegrown terrorist

By Dinesh Sharma

Asia Times
June 16, 2011


While American media were apoplectic over "Weiner-Gate", a global terrorism trial came to an end in Chicago.

Americans shocked by congressman Anthony Weiner's aberrant behavior, namely, the leakage of his private self

represented as tweets in the public square, may not have fully paid attention to the mind of a terrorist.

There is a common element between the aberrant and the deranged - dissociation. In the age of Twitter, where no

private transgression can remain hidden for very long, we can venture to make the linkage between the private and

the public, the individual and the collective, and perhaps better understand the psychology of terrorism.

In the age of social media, privacy as we knew it is a thing of the


past; almost everything that we define as personal can now be accessed in the public domain.

In the past week, those concerned with homegrown terrorism were shocked to learn about the tightly

compartmentalized - complex, multiple and divided - chambers inside the mind of a Pakistani-American terrorist,

David Coleman Headley, who managed to penetrate and dupe intelligence authorities across many cultural and

international borders.

When United States Federal authorities finally nabbed him in October 2009, they released a complaint against him

and his alleged accomplice, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, for plotting attacks against a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-

Posten, over the printing an inflammatory caricature.

In December 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation also accused Headley of planning the massive 2008 Mumbai

attacks in India in which 164 people were killed; of providing material support to a terrorist group, Lashkar-e-

Tayyiba (LeT), and aiding in the murder of American citizens.

Headley, who pleaded guilty to 12 counts, faces life in prison and a hefty fine. He has in turn fingered his

friend Rana for a role in the Mumbai attacks. Headley cut a plea deal to avoid extradition to India, Denmark or

Pakistan and not to face the death penalty. The trial that concluded on June 9 found Rana guilty on two counts of

plotting against the Danish newspaper and aiding the LeT, but did not find complicity in the planning of the

Mumbai attacks.

In addition to confirming the now well-publicized role of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) in the

planning of the Mumbai attacks, the trial of Headley brought to light the "multiple personalities" or

"dissociative identities" of a home-grown terrorist, offering an object lesson to psychologists and security

experts alike. His complicated story has already generated a documentary; it might even be ideal for a HBO

docudrama.

A quick glance at Headley's profile reveals the presence of deep fissures, splits or dissociations in his

personality profile at different phases of his life. Not surprisingly, Headley was indeed diagnosed with a

multiple personality disorder (MPD) in 1992, so I learned while trying to confirm my clinical hypothesis. However,

the circumstances surrounding his illness and diagnosis remain murky.

He was known as Daood Sayed Gilani in the Pakistani-American community of New York, Chicago and Philadelphia as

well as in his ancestral homeland of Pakistan. Before turning into a terrorist, in the 1980s and 1990s Headley was

a small-business owner running mostly bars and video rental stores. In 2001, to absolve himself of multiple drug

charges for smuggling heroin from Pakistan, he became an informant for the Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA).

While conducting undercover surveillance for the DEA, Headley started to make contacts deep within LeT during 2002

and 2003. "He just turns around immediately and betrays everybody when it's convenient for him," says one

terrorism analyst.

After repeat visits with the LeT, one of the more effective step-children of the ISI, he began to assume

responsibility for the execution of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and other terrorist activities. "A dream come true for

LeT," according to another security analyst. In Headley, the LeT found "the perfect terrorist", an American guy

with money, a US passport and the ability go in and out of the country without any suspicions or interrogations.

In 2006, Headley dropped his Islamic name, adopted an American identity and his mother's surname to hide his

Pakistani-Muslim contacts and make travel to India easier. At the time, even his close friends and associates

could not have imagined what he was planning. "David Headley is insane ... no person with a brain could do these

things," said Rana's wife.

The clinical diagnosis of MPD is not easily obtained or simply doled out; it constitutes a rare psychopathological

condition in the general population. But in the case of this Pakistani-American jihadi, who was born in 1960 in

Washington DC, not too far from the steps of the Capitol, it seems to fit.

In 1992 and during other stressful life-transitions, Headley may have displayed the full-blown markers of MPD as

outlined in the diagnostic and statistical manual of the American Psychiatric Association (APA):
Disruption of identity characterized by two or more distinct personality states, one rooted in Pakistan and the

other in America.
Dissociation of important personal information from everyday events as a result of living two or more separate

lives
Significant distress and impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
Headley's different personalities were not seen as a "normal" part of a broadly accepted cultural framework.

Developmentally, the divided lives of Headley may have begun at the beginning. He is the son of a Pakistani

diplomat, Sayed Salim Gilani, and an American mother, Serill Headley, both of whom were employed at the Pakistani

Embassy in Washington at the time of his birth.

Headley spent part of his childhood at an elite preparatory school for the military, Cadet College Hasan Abdal in

Punjab province, after his father divorced and moved the family back to Pakistan. Raised as a devout Muslim, at

this school he may have received a strong dose of radicalization. He met his childhood friend and later apparent

accomplice, Rana, at the military academy and the two became life-long friends and business associates.

The Islamic world of his father would crash head-on with the secular lifestyle his mother offered him in the US.

In 1977, at the age of 17 due to the changing political climate in Pakistan, Headley's American mother moved him

to Philadelphia where she ran a bar called the Khyber Pass.

During turbulent teenage years, while experimenting with American values Headley began to show signs of fanaticism

by rebelling against his mother's open or "libertine" choices and professed to dislike all non-Muslims.

Headley himself could not have imagined that his hatred was so deep-seated that it would propel him so far along

the path of jihad. He managed to infiltrate the ISI, the LeT, the DEA and dodge the Indian security forces by

assuming different disguises, just as he courted and divorced a string of women in the US and Pakistan.

"Most people have contradictions in their lives, but they learn to reconcile them," William Headley, Headley's

uncle told a reporter, "But Daood could never do that. The left side does not speak to the right side."

Headley's fanaticism, rooted in a sickness, seems hidden and tucked away in the compartments of his deranged mind.

Its low-grade variant may be found at much reduced frequency and wavelength among those who live with divided

loyalties across different cultural and national boundaries.

This type of homegrown anti-Americanism may be more virulent than we think, much more dangerous than the salacious

tweets sent from a US congressman's personal blackberry.

Dinesh Sharma is author of Barack Obama in Hawaii and Indonesia: The Making of a Global President (ABC-

CLIO/Praeger, 2011).

The world's most dangerous countries for women




India Seen as Highly Dangerous for Women

India Real Time (WSJ)

By Tripti Lahiri

India is viewed as the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women because of its poor record on human trafficking and the widespread practice of female feticide, according to a poll of 213 people who work in the field of gender rights.

India fared slightly better than its neighbor, Pakistan, which was viewed as the world’s third most dangerous nation for women, while nearby Afghanistan was voted the most dangerous. The Democratic Republic of Congo was in second place, while Somalia was fifth on the list.

The poll, which was conducted by TrustLaw Women, a women’s rights information service from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, asked people in academia, journalism, development and other fields about their perceptions.

The countries that topped the list got the highest scores based on responses to two sets of questions. They were named most often in responses to a question about which were the five most dangerous countries in the world for women—that formed a quarter of the total score. The number of times a country was named in response to specific queries about where women were most likely to die from poor healthcare, suffer sexual violence or be discriminated against due to traditional factors, among other questions, made up the rest of the score.

Although only 12% of the respondents—or about 25 people—picked India as one of the top five most dangerous countries in the world, it kept cropping up in responses to danger on specific fronts.

India was regarded by 13% as one of the most dangerous countries for women on cultural and religious grounds, while 12% picked it as the most dangerous due to human trafficking and 7% of the people polled said India was the most dangerous nation for women on health. About 8% picked India as the country where women were most likely to face nonsexual violence and 4% said it was the most dangerous nation for sexual violence.

Pakistan fared better than India on health—only 2% chose it as the most dangerous on those grounds and on trafficking. But 25% of respondents chose it as the country where women were more likely to face violence for religious, tribal or cultural reasons, more than for any other country, including Afghanistan (20%).

The most worrying factors for India were human trafficking, discrimination and cultural issues, such as the preference for a son, which has led to the use of female feticide, and early marriage. Information accompanying the poll, citing India’s former home secretary, said as many as 100 million people, mostly women and girls, could be linked in some way to trafficking in India.

Some of the data in the poll were a bit puzzling. On human trafficking, 12% selected India as the worst country, while 3% chose the Democratic Republic of Congo, another 3% Afghanistan and 1% Pakistan. The report said 82% of respondents (yes, that does total 101%) had named other countries as their top concern, but didn’t elaborate. It’s not clear whether other countries weren’t named because they each scored under 1% or for some other reason—the poll results report doesn’t say and the foundation couldn’t immediately be reached for further explanation.
More In Women

While the poll is interesting, and highlights genuine concerns, the list seems a little arbitrary. There are many countries around the world that should appear up high on a list of places where it’s difficult and dangerous to be a woman and India is certainly among them. But one does wonder why other candidates around the world with similar credentials, for lack of a better word, didn’t feature higher on the experts’ radar.

China also practices widespread sex selection and is ranked on the State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List on human trafficking, same as India, while South Africa has a reputation for a high level of sexual violence. Two years ago, Amnesty International declared maternal mortality a “human rights emergency” in Sierra Leone, but the country didn’t appear among those the experts polled were most worried about on this front. Perhaps the situation there has improved dramatically since then.

Readers what do you think of this ranking? Are there other countries you might have also expected to see in the top five most dangerous countries for women? And which countries, in your opinion, are hard places to be a woman?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Trial and terror: David Headley Coleman and Pakistan's ISI

What a Chicago trial reveals about Pakistan's involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attack may force a huge shift in US foreign policy


Josh Shahryar
Guardian, Monday 16 May 2011 16.06 BST

Mumbai terror attack 2008, Chicago trial of David Headley Coleman 2011
Indian Army soldiers taking position outside the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, 28 November 2008. The Chicago trial, starting 16 May 2011, of David Headley Coleman will open a window on who plotted the Mumbai attack, which is likely to inflame tension between India and Pakistan. Photograph: AFP/Sajjad Hussain

The killing of Osama bin Laden, deep inside Pakistani territory, has sparked another vigorous debate about Pakistan's partnership with the west in the "war on terror". This time, the debate has finally gotten beyond just hints that some power-holders in Pakistan are supporting terrorism. His death has clearly swayed the American public's opinion, which by a large margin believes that Pakistan knew exactly where Osama bin Laden was, but refused to give him up.

That there are elements inside Pakistan's military that are sympathetic to al-Qaida and other terrorist organisations has been accepted for a long time. But clear evidence so far has either not been divulged to the public, or has been lacking in consistency for concrete action to be taken against those actors in Pakistan. But as important a piece of the larger puzzle as Bin Laden's death may be, the case of David Coleman Headley is likely going to remove many doubts about Pakistan's double game and may end up bringing far more dire consequences for Pakistan.

Headley, a Pakistani-American, is soon to appear in a federal court in Chicago as a prosecution witness against Rana Tawahhur Hussein, a Chicago area businessman of Pakistani descent. Hussein is accused of providing financial and logistical support to terrorists who carried out the deadly Mumbai terror attack in 2008.

A first generation immigrant, Headley was born Daood Sayed Gilani. The son of a Pakistani father and an American mother, Headley changed his name to a more non-Pakistani-sounding one to avoid suspicion and to make it easier for him to travel to south Asia, where he was recruited by the Pakistani secret service, the ISI. With help from ISI, Headley was instrumental in the Mumbai terror attack that left over 100 people dead and hundreds more injured or at least that is what he claims.

His story is not only unique, in that he managed to avoid detection for years while carrying out undercover work for terrorists – and as an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration – but also in that when arrested in 2009, he was willing to tell all about the ISI's connection to the attack. He's already divulged that several Pakistani ISI officials, including a shadowy figure named Major Iqbal, were involved with him in organising the attack. Major Iqbal and others trained him for months and funded his intelligence-gathering missions in India, during which he even stayed at the Taj Mahal Palace & Towers Hotel, which was later to be the scene of much violence during the attack.

Headley's case is far more damning for the Pakistani authorities than the case of Faisal Shahzad, who, like Headley, made his way into Pakistan to receive terrorist training, but ended up in the arms of the Pakistani Taliban. It is even more important than Bin Laden's death because dead men don't talk. Headley's testimony – if substantiated – will finally provide ample evidence to identify at least some of the men inside Pakistan's military-intelligence apparatus who are cooperating with terrorists as a means to further Pakistan's military and diplomatic interests.

To be sure, Pakistan is prepared to offset the damage and deal with critical lawmakers in Washington who want more concrete action against Pakistan in the aftermath of Bin Laden's death. To soothe relations, they've managed to circulate the news that the ISI is initiating a manhunt for the capture of the Taliban's leader Mullah Omar, who is believed to be hiding in the country's southwest – many already suspect he's being sheltered by the Pakistani government. On the other hand, Pakistani lawmakers are also threatening to cut Nato supply lines into Afghanistan from Pakistan unless the US stops drone attacks on suspected terrorists targets inside Pakistani territory.

Of course, Pakistan has many more wanted terrorists inside its territory, which it can offer up to regain Washington's favour when Headley's case starts getting more coverage in the United States. The war in Afghanistan will also undoubtedly constantly remind the White House that it needs Pakistan in order to supply troops and aid into Afghanistan. But what Pakistan is not prepared for is the role India is likely to play once Headley gives his testimony at the hearing.

While Bin Laden's case was taken up mostly by the American public, which can be quietly ignored unless an election is looming, and the government of Afghanistan, which really has nothing to offer to the US government and is thus irrelevant, Headley's case is different. Not only does India – the target of the deadliest attack in which Headley was involved – is furious over Pakistan's involvement in that attack, but it is also one of the largest trading partners of the United States, with over $12bn-worth of trade in the first four months of 2011 alone.

And India is in no mood to play the peaceful neighbour when evidence keeps piling up that corroborates Pakistan's involvement in the deaths of innocent Indians.

Last week, India started large-scale military exercises close to Pakistan's borders. Over 20,000 troops were involved at a time when India has already denounced Pakistan as a sanctuary for terrorists. The countries have already fought three wars over the disputed region of Kashmir, which is currently divided between them. Just this weekend, a border skirmish between the two countries' armies left 1 dead and 15 injured.

The Indian media is already upping the ante, and coverage of Headley's case has been frenzied and almost continuous in the country's newspapers. This means that not only the government of India, but also ordinary Indians are enraged at what they deem is US inaction against an enemy they perceive to be directly involved in terrorist attacks on their soil.

What the US government faces now is a reckoning that should had been made long ago with regard to Pakistan's support for terrorists. And for Pakistan, time is running out. When Headley's testimony starts making headlines in the US media, as the case of Zacarias Moussaoui did, the Indian government is likely to start pressuring the US government to force Pakistan into purging elements supporting terrorists from the ranks of its military and intelligence service.

That pressure will not just carry the weight of truth and reason, but also the might of billions of dollars in trade and a partnership that is flourishing economically and diplomatically. Given the anger felt towards Pakistan in India after the Mumbai terror attack, there might be another confrontation looming between the two nations which the US cannot possibly afford while it is engaged in stamping out insurgency in Afghanistan and in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas. The question is: does Pakistan realise that it may finally be losing its leverage with the US?

The Ugly world of Shiv Sena fixers

Praveen Swami &
Rahi Gaikwad
The Hindu
May 26, 2011

‘Tell them the money is for poverty, unemployment', Rege told Headley while demanding millions to be paid into tax-dodge trust

NEW DELHI: Late in the summer of 1998, as Lashkar-e-Taiba jihadist David Coleman Headley desperately searched for a means to assassinate Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and hit a brick wall, he ran into a small-time party apparatchik with big dreams — and an even bigger appetite for cash.

Rajaram Rege's relentless pursuit of money, and Headley's unremitting search for a means to kill — laid bare in documents filed by prosecutors in the Chicago court where 26/11 suspect Tahawwur Rana is being tried — have provided jurors with some low farce in the midst of an otherwise grim proceedings.

But it provides riveting insights into the grim world of political operators and fixers who feed off the Shiv Sena's clout.

In a meeting with the Lashkar's supreme leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Headley had been told the Hindutva group needed to be “taught a lesson.” He sought, therefore, to conduct reconnaissance inside the Shiv Sena's heavily guarded central office in Mumbai's crowded Dadar area.

Vilas Varkey, a physical fitness instructor Headley met at a local gym, provided an introduction to Mr. Rege, whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as an information technology officer with an Indian electronics firm.

Mr. Rege was introduced to Headley as a public relations officer for Mr. Thackeray's son. The Shiv Sena and Mr. Rege both deny he held that post, but admit he is linked to the party.

“Headley told me he wanted to see Sena Bhavan. I told him it was not a tourist spot and asked him to go away,” Mr. Rege says.

That wasn't quite the whole truth. Following their encounter at Mumbai's Shiv Sena central office on May 18, 2008, documents filed by prosecutors in the ongoing trial of Chicago-based Rana show that Mr. Rege sent Headley what might be called a business plan.

His pitch was crude — and not just in its grasp of spelling and grammar.

“I am politically and socially very well connected here in Bombay (mumbai), gujarat and delhi [sic., throughout],” he wrote. “Projects worth 10,000 crores sanctioned by govt are with me. are you getting my point????”

Mr. Rege's mail sent a frisson of excitement through the ISI and the Lashkar. “How should I respond,” Headley asked in a May 19, 2008, e-mail to his ISI handler.

The man Headley knew as ‘Major Iqbal' wrote back the next day. “I red [sic] your mail and gave a cool thought to all this,” he wrote. ‘Major Iqbal' counselled Headley to “engage raja by helping him getting seminars and confesses [sic., conferences] in usa.”

The following Friday, on May 23, 2008, Headley wrote back to Mr. Rege. He promised to set up a meeting with his bosses in the United States to discuss the Sena workers' business proposals — and also his pleas for a suitable job abroad.

Headley's mail also makes it clear that the two men had discussed the prospect of a western lecture tour where Mr. Rege could raise funds for the party. He wrote: “If it is possible, you should have some big name personality from your party to accompany you to America for maximum results. Would you be able to do that? This would guarantee all fund-raising activities to be a big success.”

In his statements to Indian and U.S. investigators, Headley has said he was in fact considering the prospect of assassinating Mr. Thackeray on the tour. The plan was doomed to fail: Mumbai's would-be F├╝hrer has a deep fear of flying — a fear that has led him to never leave the city, let alone venture abroad.

But Mr. Rege replied the same day, returning, with obsessive focus, to his main theme: “How to get both of us financially benefitted.”

In India, he wrote, “there are many huge projects of constructions, dams, roads, flyovers, bridges, cannals, power, agriculture etc. these projects I have from govt. sector as well as private sector.” For a share of the pie, he explained, “we have to give under table money and manupulate the tendor.”

Mr. Rege wanted his consultancy fees, which “renges from a few hundred lacs to few hundred crores of indian rupees,” and an additional “minimum if 10 lac US$ of donations,” paid into a trust he ran in Mumbai, which “gives me saving Income Tax.”

If there were questions, he said, without the least trace of irony, “You can simply tell them you are generating funds for well fare of mumbai people for poverty, unemployment, education, medical etc.”

Mr. Rege denies his e-mail exchange with Headley was unethical. “By talking of political connections and the signing of the MoU, I was only trying to gauge his capacity to pay and undertake projects. To test how genuine this person is.”

Police sources in Mumbai told The Hindu they were unaware of any trust run by Mr. Rege, and that he was not being investigated for potential wrong-doing.

Pakistan’s ‘Blasphemy’ Laws Pose Growing Threat to non-muslims

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 04:56 AM EDT Compass Direct News News - Featured News


Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy” laws can put even children at risk, and Christians say the days when they could teach their offspring pat answers to protect them from accusations of disparaging Islam or its prophet seem to have passed.

A 30-year-old Pakistani woman who grew up in Lahore said her Christian parents taught her formula answers to keep from falling prey to accusations under the blasphemy statutes, such as “I am a Christian, I can only tell you about Him.” But even then, before radical Islamists began influencing Pakistani society as they have in recent years, schoolchildren were taught not to discuss religion, she said.

“We knew never to get into religious discussions with others,” she said. “We had them at home – our parents would put us through the drill of asking us tough questions to see how we answered. Only now I realize that was practice for school.”

In this way, she was imbued with the fundamentals of the Christian faith and at the same time learned that she should discuss it only with her parents, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Though the Christian faith is inherently evangelistic, the need to remain silent is even more important today, she added.

“Christians constantly face questions like, ‘What do you think of the Quran, do you like it?’ and, ‘What do you think of Muhammad?’” she said. “One answer is, ‘As a Christian I have only read the Bible, I can’t read Arabic.’ These questions used to be easier to answer, we had formulas. But those are not working any more. We just tell children ‘Don’t talk about religion in school.’ This is shaky ground now.”

The blasphemy statutes signal to non-Muslims that they are second-class or “dhimmi” status citizens who must stay within narrow social boundaries, leave or be killed, she said.

“Some parents don’t even tell their children about Jesus, because they are scared they will go to school and say something wrong,” she said. “One street kid did not know anything except about the blasphemy law. When her mother was asked why she did not teach her daughter about Jesus instead of the blasphemy law, she replied, ‘If I tell her too much, she will talk about it on the street, and someone will kill her or charge her with blasphemy.’”

The street child, she said, was afraid to tell her what church she attended.

“She said the mullah in the shop behind us was listening, and as she said that, I saw the man nearly fall off his chair from trying to listen to us,” she said.

An entire generation, Christians fear, is growing up not knowing their faith for fear that it will lead to potentially disastrous schoolyard talk. Moreover, children required to take Islamic studies in school are in danger with a single misstep.

“If they write anything or misspell anything to do with the prophet Muhammad, they can be in serious danger,” the source said. “In fact, the other side of this is that they are made to answer questions saying what a wonderful man he was.”

Christian kids in predominantly Muslim areas don’t have friends to play with, as even a cricket game can be risky, she said. Adults are equally fearful.

“People in offices are silenced into submission,” she said. “The fear is creating aggression.”

Conviction under Section 295-C of the blasphemy law for derogatory comments about Muhammad is punishable by death, though life imprisonment is also possible. Curiously, accusers in blasphemy cases cannot repeat the alleged derogatory comments without risk of being accused of blasphemy themselves. Section 295-B makes willful desecration of the Quran or use of an extract in a derogatory manner punishable with life imprisonment. Section 295-A prohibits injuring or defiling places of worship and “acts intended to outrage religious feelings.” It is punishable by life imprisonment, which in Pakistan is 25 years.

Law Leading to Lawlessness

A district court judge last November stunned the nation and the international community by handing down a death sentence to a Christian mother of five for allegedly speaking ill of Muhammad.

Subsequently three politicians spoke out against the blasphemy law that put Asia Noreen (also called Asia Bibi) in prison. Two of them have been killed for standing up for Noreen and against the blasphemy law. One is in hiding for fear of her life.

Noreen, mother two children and stepmother to three others, has been in prison in solitary confinement since June 2009, accused of having blasphemed against Muhammad, after a verbal disagreement with some women in the village of Ittanwali, near Lahore. If she is released from prison, her life will be at risk. Her husband and children are on the run, receiving constant threats from Muslims who say they will take justice into their own hands.

Thousands of Pakistanis who think and believe differently than mainstream Muslims are at risk of being slandered under the blasphemy law, and those who live in poverty or are illiterate are particularly vulnerable. Personal vendettas from neighbors, co-workers and rivals are the most common reasons blasphemy law cases are filed, according to Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

“Most victims are Muslims, but non-Muslims or minority Muslims suffer disproportionally,” said Marshall. “Ahmadis [an unorthodox Islamic sect] are probably proportionally the greatest victims. There are more victims from mobs and vigilantes than from the government itself, but the government bears responsibility because it does not protect the victims.”

Suspected Islamic extremists in Faisalabad shot dead two Christians about to be acquitted of blasphemy charges on July 19, 2010. The Rev. Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and his 30-year-old brother Sajid Emmanuel were shot days after handwriting experts on July 14 notified police that signatures on papers denigrating Muhammad did not match those of the accused. Expected to be exonerated, the two leaders of United Ministries Pakistan were being led in handcuffs under police custody back to jail when they were shot.

Christian Lawyers’ Foundation President Khalid Gill said the two bodies bore cuts and other signs of having been tortured, including marks on their faces, while the brothers were in police custody.

Most recently, 40-year-old Arif Masih, of a village near Faisalabad, was arrested from his house on April 5 after Muslims accused him of ripping pages of the Quran and writing a threatening letter ordering them to become Christians. His brother claims that a neighbor fabricated the accusations in order to acquire property adjacent to that of Masih’s.

Though the much-abused blasphemy law is punishable by death, at times vigilantes have taken matters into their own hands. At least eight Christians accused of blasphemy are estimated to have been killed since 1986. The number of Muslims accused of blasphemy and killed extra-judicially may be twice that figure.

For secular-educated Pakistanis, the blasphemy law has come to symbolize the measure to which extreme Islam has overtaken society. In the span of three months, radical Islamists murdered two of the nation’s most outspoken leaders against the blasphemy law. On Jan. 4 Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province, was murdered, and on March 2 parliamentarian Shabaz Bhatti, who as federal minister for minority affairs was the only Christian cabinet member, was assassinated in Islamabad.

A third official, Sherry Rehman, a parliamentarian from Karachi, led an effort to reform the blasphemy law after Noreen was sentenced to death last year. Taseer, Bhatti and Rehman were the most vocal about injustices Noreen has suffered and their disapproval of the law. Rehman, in hiding since Taseer’s murder, is said to be next on the Islamic terrorists’ hit list.

Noreen’s case drew little attention before she received the death sentence. One advocate said he believes that had her case not drawn so much attention, she would have been quietly acquitted by a higher court without criticism abroad or at home. Now her release would look like a win for the “Christian” West, he said.

“Hence, we are not going to have any concrete benefit out of whatever decision comes on her,” said Asif Aqeel, leader of the Community Development Initiative. “I don’t see any decision having some fruitful result.”

Aqeel concurred with other Christians that the blasphemy law has led to a steep drop in freedom of expression. Mosques in neighborhoods where blasphemy cases are filed become centers for inciting people to the streets, where destruction ensues. Since Noreen’s death sentence in November, sermons against changing the blasphemy law are commonly broadcast from mosques, especially in neighborhoods where there is a Christian presence.

“People do not talk, and it is proving an embargo on thinking,” Aqeel said. “It has caused vigilante justice, and several incidents have taken place. After that, now whenever this issue arises, people become afraid that it might turn into a demolition of the entire place.”

Victims of the blasphemy law cannot hope for justice from local police, who “do not dare to declare innocent anyone accused of blasphemy,” Aqeel said, and often lower court judges and magistrates do little to give them their rights. “Now the slogan is that the one who sympathizes with the blasphemer is also a blasphemer,” he said, pointing to the deaths of Taseer and Bhatti.

Pakistan is moving increasingly towards a state driven by fear of extremists, where even moderate politicians make conservative choices to appease Islamist threats, according to Sara Taseer Shoaib, daughter of the late Taseer.

“Pakistan is definitely becoming more right-wing and extremist when it comes to religion,” she said. “Religious parties are gaining a cult following, and even moderate leaders are trying to gain popularity and votes by taking a right-wing position.”

The reasons for this shift to the ultra-right, she said, are many: conservative issues like defense of the blasphemy law serve to deflect attention from the real issues of poverty and lack of hope; there is an increasing trend to blame all woes on the West; and there is a prevailing sense of a need to defend Islam as the perception remains that it is under global attack.

Shoaib said her father spoke about Noreen as a member of Pakistan’s poor, disenfranchised minority. Determined to defend her and the rights of others like her, Taseer had visited Noreen in prison before he died.

“He felt that she was a victim of the ambiguity of this law, and [that] she was unable to defend herself fairly,” she said. “[He felt that] she was the prime candidate where the unfairness of this law could be brought to light. He wanted an amendment to the law which is man-made.”

The source from Lahore said that fear among Christians after Taseer and Bhatti’s death is palpable. Christians feel left alone, not knowing who to trust.

“Everything seems to have snowballed,” she said. “People are really, really scared. Someone who you see as out there defending you and speaking for you has been silenced; someone just goes up to him and shoots him.”

She said Christians feel that the mentality of their Muslim fellows has hardened as the Pakistani Taliban and other extremist elements seem to be holding the government and people’s minds hostage.

“For the extremists, it’s no longer making Pakistan a Muslim country, but how they use Pakistan to promote the cause of Islam across the world,” she said. “It’s not for love of the nation, or national identity, but entirely about religious identity. That completely isolates those who do not subscribe to the same views … you are on the street in terms of identity and your social belonging in the community.”

Growing Issue
Aqeel said blasphemy looms larger in Pakistani minds and anti-Christian sentiment is growing for both socio-economic and global reasons.

In today’s impoverished Pakistan, and after U.S.-led wars in Muslim-majority Iraq and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, people see even Pakistani Christians as allies of the West threatening their identity, he said. Poverty and a religion that upholds violence as a means to an end only fuel this mob mentality, he said.

“This has helped create a sense of alienating the Muslim world, and that the ‘blasphemous’ West is trying to snatch the values by movies and technology and globalization and trying to capture areas of the Islamic world,” Aqeel said. “Because of this, their sense of insecurity has made them more religious.”

As a result, blasphemy has become a larger issue, he said.

Pakistan’s law against defaming religion was amended in 1982 to include desecrating the Quran and in 1986 to include disparaging Muhammad. Since then, at least 37 blasphemy law suspects have been killed while in police custody, according to Aqeel.

On March 15, Qamar David, 55, died while serving a life sentence in a prison in Karachi for alleged blasphemy. Prison authorities claimed that David died of a heart attack, but his supporters have called for an investigation, as he had received threats and was subject to beatings and mistreatment from prison authorities. (See “Pakistani Christian Sentenced for ‘Blasphemy’ Dies in Prison,” March 15.)

While the murders of Bhatti and Taseer have helped to remove a “Defamation of Religions” resolution from United Nations consideration – for now – the assassinations have also brought any movement toward amending Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to a standstill.

“Although there is a section of media that is highlighting the issue of blasphemy, the situation hardly allows any movement or legislation on this subject,” said a Pakistani lawyer on condition of anonymity. “In my experience in the past 24 years, I have not seen [such a] stalemate condition, mainly due to the violence and terrorist threat that prevails.”