Sherry Rehman working on ridding Pak of fundamentalism through liberal resurgence

Saturday, January 29, 2011

KARACHI - Sherry Rehman, a progressive Pakistani parliamentarian attempting to amend the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, says she is working on a liberal resurgence there.

Rehman sees the current political crisis in Pakistan as the birth pangs of a new “left”- from peasant movements in the countryside to a resurgent urban civil society- with the power to reclaim political space from religious extremists in the country.

“It’s going to be a long haul but I don’t think it’s impossible. It just looks that way sometimes. If we are to live in Pakistan, to invest in Pakistan’s future, then we do have to think about how to find this glass half full,” the Christian Science Monitor quoted her, as saying in an exclusive interview.

A member of Pakistan’s parliament since 2002, Rehman has drafted a raft of bills to amend the country’s rape laws and outlaw sexual harassment in the work place.

She tabled an amendment to the blasphemy bill last year when the case of Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani-Christian woman facing the death penalty on charges of insulting the prophet Muhammad, came to prominence.

However, some progressive allies criticised Rehman’s timing, given the strong emotions surrounding the case, and several religious parties carried out rallies and demonstrations to keep the blasphemy law intact.

“The religious parties love taking it outside on the streets,” where tensions boil over and rhetoric runs high, said Rehman. “They get disproportionate power there, and in parliament they are outnumbered. So it’s in their interests to keep it outside the political mainstream.”

In a sign of progress on the liberal resurgence front, she pointed out, an influential Karachi-based Imam who had brought a fatwa against Rehman after declaring her a non-Muslim was forced to back down after three alert citizens, responding to a Facebook petition, registered criminal charges against him.

If this cohort of increasingly vocal citizens can join hands with Pakistan’s progressive political parties, then moderate Pakistanis can rescue the nation from fundamentalists, she maintained.

While regaining ground from religious fundamentalists will be a long process, Rehman said, “We’re already seeing the beginning.” (ANI)

will not be displayed