Outlining his strategy against Islamophobia, Pakistan’s prime minister says Muslim countries need to unite to educate West about the pain caused by blasphemy
The unrest in Pakistan over the publication of blasphemous caricatures abroad will have no impact on the west and only served to damage our country and its economy, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Monday.
“Would ending all ties with France and expelling its ambassador change anything?” he said in a nationally-televised address while referring to the banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s demands for an end to their protests. “Is there any guarantee that this would prevent blasphemy in future?” he continued, stressing that “no one else knows the West better than I do; this would have no impact.”
According to Khan, if Pakistan were to expel the French envoy in line with the TLP’s demands, it would actually provoke a reaction from other western states, who would resort to blasphemy in the name of freedom of expression. “There are 50 Muslim states. No one else is doing this [rioting],” he said. “No one else is asking for French envoy to be expelled. This will not impact France,” he stressed.
“This [boycotting France] will, however, have great impact on Pakistan,” warned the prime minister. “After a long time, our exports are increasing, our large scale industry is prospering, people are finding employment, the rupee is gaining strength, we are generating wealth,” he claimed, reiterating the many ways in which strengthening of the rupee can reduce prices of imports and boost the country’s economy. “If we expel France, we cut ties with Europe. Around half of our textiles exports got to the European Union. This would mean our exports would drop, jobs would be lost, our rupee would get devalued and prices would increase. This would damage Pakistan, not France,” he added.
Assuring the public that his goals were the same as that of the TLP, the prime minister claimed his approach was different. “One approach is protesting. This will not have any impact. Our purpose is the same: that the pain caused by insults to Islam’s Prophet every few years needs to end,” he said.
“I understand the west the best. I’ve spent a lot of my life there,” he said, noting that he had broached the issue of blasphemy at several international summits since coming into power, including at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations General Assembly. “I even wrote to Mark Zuckerberg saying Facebook should not be used for blasphemy,” he said, adding that in October 2020 he had also written to the heads of state of Muslim nations to unite against Islamophobia.
“This is my strategy: we need to educate the west on why we [Muslims] feel so much pain when they malign Islam’s Prophet,” he said. “The West does not experience love or respect in the same way as we do. They are not as close to their faith as we are,” he said, reiterating that the gap needed to be filled through efforts to educate them about its damages. “There are only a few Jews in the world. But they united and have made sure no country can speak anything against the Holocaust,” he said, claiming that if all Muslim countries similarly united, they could force the West to enact laws to ban Islamophobia by using the strength of 1.3 billion Muslims to exert economic pressure.
Earlier, the prime minister reviewed the events of the past week and the devastation they had wreaked across Pakistan. “In the past week, 40 police vans have been burnt. There’s been millions in losses to private property. Four policemen are dead; over 800 others are injured,” he said, adding that on the first day of the protests last Monday, over 100 roads were blocked. “This damaged the public; there were even problems with oxygen cylinders reaching COVID patients, which resulted in some deaths,” he said.
Regretting that the unrest had been utilized by “enemies,” he claimed that over 70 percent of the posts maligning the government on social media were from “fake” accounts and accused India of profiting off the unrest. “More than 380 Indian groups were operating fake news of ‘civil war in Pakistan’,” he said, and accused opposition parties of joining hands with the TLP in a bid to destabilize the government.
Stressing that Pakistan was the only country that was created in the name of Islam, Khan asserted that every person in the country—regardless of their faith—held Islam’s Prophet in high esteem. “Whenever he is maligned, we all feel pain. But not just us, every Muslim in the world feels pain,” he claimed, adding in a reference to the TLP that it seemed one party felt it cared more about Islam than the rest of the country. “The TLP’s purpose is my purpose; our government’s purpose. Only our methods are different,” he added.
“Ever since our government came into power, we’ve been fighting to ensure that Islam’s Prophet is not insulted anywhere in the world,” he said. “The TLP wants no country to even dare to malign Islam’s Prophet. We want the same,” he said, adding that protests provoked by blasphemy had started around 1990 after Salman Rushdie wrote a book in which he blasphemed. “People took to the streets, damaged the U.S. embassy,” he said, noting that since then whenever someone blasphemes against Islam’s Prophet, it provokes protests. “This happens every few years. There has been no impact of this approach. This is what the TLP is doing right now,” he added.
Noting that the government had been trying to negotiate with the TLP for the past 2-2.5 months, Khan claimed they had tried to explain to the now-banned party that their approach would damage Pakistan, not France. “An agreement was reached that this matter would be placed before Parliament. But we saw that even while negotiations were underway, they were preparing for protests. They also announced that if the French envoy was not expelled, there would be a long march on Islamabad,” he said. “This is when our talks fell apart,” he added.
The prime minister concluded his speech by appealing to Pakistan’s ulema to work with him and his government to ensure such protests did not continue. “What was done with our police is heartbreaking. Who has benefited from this? Why are Indian websites talking about this? Our communities have been damaged. No amount of damage to our own country will impact the West in any way,” he repeated.
“I urge our people to unite. Our country is, through much difficulty, once more headed in the right direction. This is not the time to damage our progress,” he added.