Pakistan owns a porcelain cuspidor. Once more, the spit has been hurled. Sawan Masih has been sentenced to death. He will be hanged in the manner reserved for enemies of the state. He is a dangerous man. His arrest on March 6, 2013 on a blasphemy charge caused a horrendous backlash against his fellow Christians. Three thousand citizen activists lugged their fuel and lit their matches. Luminous arteries of fire flowed through the streets of Joseph Colony, Lahore. Approximately 200 homes were destroyed. Justice served on the street and justice meted out from the bench: Pak-mania style. A Christian street sweeper from Lahore must pay the price. Pakistan’s porcelain cuspidor is held in reserve for the hatred and spittle of her citizens.
Porcelain is a hard-grained, usually translucent and white ceramic ware. It consists of kaolin, quartz and a feldspathic rock. Fired at high temperatures, the product is both sonorous and nonporous. My own cuspidor-for-opinion is not made of porcelain. It is a simple metal bucket. This reminds me that when spitting on my fellow man the sound is not meant to be resonant and pleasant. The sound exposes the metallic edges of my own heart.
While Sawan Masih awaits his fate, there is a bit of spitting going on in my country. Let us think about this a bit. Nuanced operational layers can be deployed by individuals who practice religious persecution against Christians. As of late, Americans in central Ohio have been startled out of their natural state of sheep-like complacency. Highway billboards proclaiming, “Jesus is a Muslim” and “Mohammed is in the Bible” are galvanising the Christian community to plan “Jesus is Lord” prayer rallies and street protests. These billboards are the anencephalic brainchild of ask-a-Muslim dot com. The public script is that they are meant to strike up a conversation about religion and faith. In reality, this tactic strikes a match.
Here’s the deal. I firmly support freedom of expression and freedom of religion but, in recent months, I have noted a subtle turn in the daawah activities of Muslim organisations (yes, I track these expressions.) There is a slight shift toward passive-aggressive persecution of the Christian community. Your side says “Jesus is a Muslim” by posting the thought on billboards the size of a small hill. You imply that the Christian faith is blasphemous. Slap. My side rejoins with a resounding, “Jesus is Lord”. You infer that I am letting you know the Muslim faith is apostasy. Slap. Several slappity-slap prayer rallies and marches later, the scale of animosity between Muslims and Christians rises substantially in central Ohio. The Muslim community will smugly complain they are persecuted by Islamophobes. The Christian sheep-turned-goats just merely returned the favour. Now, we have psychological unrest. That unrest becomes the domain of the state.
In the US we need to carefully consider policies that thwart an every-dog-to-the-fight vigilantism. Religious vigilantism is now visible within the landscape of central Ohio. In making a quick run through the blogscape I note that spit is hitting the bucket hard and fast. I have released my own metallic comments to a friend. Foolish grandstanding over matters of faith does not impress me. Faith practiced with quiet devotion — creature supplicating Creator for daily bread — is the stuff of piety. And my nation does not possess a porcelain cuspidor. We think the landscape is more peaceful when sectarianism is not encouraged.
What is ask-a-Muslim thinking? And now, a devout Christian community understands that, in the west, religious persecution is not substance but shadow. This current shadow is a full metal jacket billboard aimed at wounding the Christian community.
I have attended many a daawah open house in area mosques. I am not uncomfortable when Muslims speak of their love for Jesus as one of their prophets. When seated as a guest in their facility it is not my right to rail against the Islamic bricks of doctrine. Usually, I am busy balancing a plate of delicious food on my lap, which has been prepared by the sisters. I accept their hospitality and gift of culinary delights. I am also busy contemplating the rules of etiquette or, perhaps, admiring the beautiful henna design that was placed on my hands. However, billboards slapping at the deepest tenets of my own faith? This is subtle hatred. Faith, which does not conform us into a greater loveliness, does not interest me.
Back to Pakistan and this most recent miserable state of affairs. You hold tightly to the porcelain cuspidor. A poor Christian who is most likely functionally illiterate will die for his faith. He will die because of an argument with a Muslim. His death will come on the heels of a likely violation of an indelible right to (the most skilled level of) counsel to mount his defence. His lawyer was most likely one of ordinary skill and a mismatch for the skill of a jurist clinging tightly to inhumane policy. Sawan Masih did not have a fighting chance.
It is interesting that his death is decreed by hanging. The accused (I refuse to say guilty) will be suspended by a ligature around his neck. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is specifically to put to death by suspension, though it also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain hanging.
Did Sawan Masih commit mischief in the land?
Let the sound of nails hammered into the executioner’s platform ring out. Hopefully, it is a sunny day when the chairs are lined up for the local dignitaries. I want Sawan Masih to see sunshine before the light is snatched from his own eyes. Drop the noose around his neck but I have one request. Prepare a second noose in symbolic manner. Place my effigy next to that of the persecuted Christian. Let me also hang with my legs dangling, suspended between earth and sky. Whose mischief is greater? That of a street sweeper, or that of a journalist?
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org