After a recent cartoon competition has announced to take place in November thousands of angered Muslims have taken to protesting in Pakistan demanding that Imran Khan’s new government completely cut diplomatic ties with the Netherlands. The demonstration has been organized by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP). TLP is an Islamic politic party that has devoted themselves to the punishment of blasphemy. This is the first major test that Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration has been faced with. It was only last year when the Muslims that make up the TLP got upset and successfully shut down the capital, Islamabad, for almost a month.
Earlier this summer the leader of the Netherlands second largest political party, Greet Wilders invited people to submit their cartoons depicting the false prophet Muhammad. This is something that the practice of Islam strictly forbids and it is not the first time that the anti-Islam PM has found himself the target of heated words and anger. While I have probably offended some by referring to Muhammad as a false prophet, as a Christian you will never get me to acknowledge him as anything, but a false prophet. With 200 entries so far, the contest that will award its winner with $10,000 will officially open in November.
A leader for the TLP, Peer Afzai Qadri was quoted by the Guardian as saying, “we can be martyred or arrested, but we will not return until either the cartoon contest is stopped or the Dutch envoy is expelled.”
Wednesday saw several thousand Muslim activists leave the eastern city of Lahore and begin to make their way toward Islamabad where they intend to stage a sit in. Members of the TLP feel that the Pakistani government condemning the cartoon contest is not a strong enough response to the “blasphemy” that has been committed against their false prophet and the only real solution to this situation is jihad.
Before last months general election in Pakistan even took place Khadim Rizvi let it be known that if he had the power he would order a nuclear strike against the Netherlands if its government did not prevent the cartoon contest from taking place.
Although the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, does not support the cartoon contest itself and feels that it is a disrespectful event, he does support Greet Wilder’s right to have the contest on the grounds of freedom of expression.
Two days ago Pakistan’s senate passed a resolution that was highly critical of the cartoon contest and Khan vowed to take up the issue at the United Nations general assembly in September. He feels that Islamic countries need to cooperate and come together in creating laws against the blasphemy of their false prophet, Muhammed, similar to the kind of laws that western European countries have against Holocaust denial.
Khan asked, “if western European countries feel pained discussing the Holocaust, why haven’t we been able to convey to the west how much we feel pained when they do blasphemous things against Islam and our beloved Holy Prophet, peace be upon him?”
Past events have shown that the TLP knows how to force their governments hand. Last November 2,000 of the TLP’s members blocked a roadway between Islamabad and Rawalpindi over minor adjustments to an election oath that they felt was blasphemous. A deal was eventually brokered between the government and the army that saw law minister, Zahid Hamid, dismissed and other concessions made.
This particular protest happening at this moment in Pakistan places Khan in a very difficult position. During the run up before the general election he was using the same kind of rhetoric on blasphemy as the TLP.
Right now the eyes of Pakistan are watching Khan to see if he is another weak leader like his predecessor who will treat the TLP with kid gloves or if he has the kind of strength and backbone that will allow him to be a good leader who sets a timeline for the protest while preventing a public road from finding itself blocked by protesters again. The irony in this situation stems from the fact that Khan himself is well known for lengthy protests and his reputation has more than likely provided some of the TLP members with inspiration for this protest.