The Art of Blasphemy


Administrators at the National College of Arts, Pakistan’s leading arts college based in Lahore, are waiting to find out whether they will be charged with blasphemy, a crime punishable by death. Last summer, the college’s contemporary arts journal reproduced homoerotic paintings by Muhammad Ali depicting clerics alongside seminude young boys.

The controversy is the latest example of Pakistan’s institutions crumbling in the face of extremism and a sign that artistic expression here also is in danger.

The National College of Arts retracted its journal after receiving threats and a demand for both a public apology and the journal’s withdrawal from Jamaat ud Dawa, the charity wing for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which reportedly carried out the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008. The college pulled all issues of the journal from bookstores and dismissed the editorial board.

But despite the college’s swift response, a court chose to take up a petition calling for blasphemy charges against the institution. During the most recent court hearing, in mid-December, the editorial board’s lawyer said his clients had not wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings and were prepared to apologize.

Free speech advocates can hardly blame the National College of Arts for kowtowing to the demands of Jamaat ud Dawa: Those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan often fall victim to public violence before they can defend themselves in court.

Written By: Huma Yusuf
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  1. Throwing acid on the faces of women; wrongly accusing a little girl of desecrating the Koran; killing polio workers; kidnapping charity/aid workers; blowing up adherents of Shia Islam; shooting little girls for wanting to read and write…the bill of indictment is ever increasing! They may all belong to different groups but how long do these knob-head politicians require to realize that these people aren’t to be negotiated with? Need to start by getting rid of the stupid law.

  2. Blasphemy is not so much a right as a duty. Those of us fortunate enough not to live under barbaric rules should blaspheme at every opportunity. Surely it is only those who lack confidence in faith and/or societies based upon faith who would feel threatened by others blasphemy. Challenges to faith must become normal, unremarkable and daily occurrences if we are to retain and extend free speech.

  3. Here we go again – more idiotically barbaric news from that country – when will it all end? Who is running that place – the government or the clerics? Oh wait, they are one and the same!

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