Crackdown and Legislation on Hate-Speeches by Clerics

My Outlook op-ed April 11.

Last week intelligence officials arrested a Mullah in Takhar province for hate speeches against the Government. Ziauddin was the imam of Commander Pir Muhammad Mosque in Taluqan city. He was arrested on Friday while making sermon with hate messages to provoke people against the Government and foreigners in Afghanistan. This has been an exemplary move so far following the riots against Quran burning and the tragic murder of UN staff members in Mazar city. The Upper House delegation which was sent by the Senate to investigate the killings in Mazar has reported that it had been some clerics who made hyperemotional speeches using the loudspeaker of the mosque for provocation of riots. New investigations have found that those who stirred the violence and carried out the killings and beheading were ex-Taliban who had been “reintegrated” through the peace program recently. Officials including Police Chief and Governor of Balkh said some insurgents had also infiltrated the protesters, and murdered the foreign staffers of the UN. Some local Afghan staff of the UN, who witnessed the killings, have also said the murderers were with a different accent, not from Mazar.

It’s now clear that the killings and beheading were by insurgents and their ex comrades. But basic provocation for the protest rally to come to UNAMA office had been caused by the hate speeches of some clerics. They are Maulvi Abdul Rauf Tawana, Maulvi Zakirullah, Maulvi Abdul Wakeel Forqani, Maulvi Abdul Hadi and Maulvi Abdul Qahir. The “investigation” of the Senate delegation is just to identify, but not recommend or carry legal action against those who provoked the people with emotional speeches. The Government must crackdown against the hate-mongers who use mosque to misguide the people with religious sentiments. This case should be made an example for the rest of the hate-preachers to stop provoking hatred otherwise they must be punished with legal action.

Governor Ata had asked imams in Balkh not to discuss politics in mosques. He had ordered police to crackdown on audiocassettes of hate-speeches sold in shops. There are many firebrand preachers who have not only written the messages of hatred and spread it by sermons, but audio-cassettes are also available everywhere.

In a country where the state religion is Islam, Government should have control on the religious affairs and stop provocation of religious hatred. The Senate delegation cannot implement their investigation, but they should discuss the issue in parliament and recommend legislations with limitation of the topics a Mullah can talk about in Friday sermons at mosques across the country. In a situation like ours, where extremism has plagued the whole society, we are in dire need of definition for the roles of Mullah on the chair of Friday-after-prayers-sermons in mosque. There should be regulations and for this. The Government and parliament committees can seriously engage moderate scholars and Ulema Council of Afghanistan for a debate on and recommendations on legislation.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs should deal with the speeches in the mosques and give guidelines to imams. This issue should not be controversial in a country where over 95 percent population is Muslim, the state religion is Islam and all in the Government are Muslims. Many of these imams get their salary from the Ministry, thus they can control them.

It’s ridiculous that our Government is making laws about marriage parties, what to eat, how to dress and how many to invite on ones marriage day, but hate-mongers of the mosque are given ultimate freedom in spreading the word of hatred. We need much more than legislation about hate-speech by loud speaker of the mosque. All the mosques should be registered to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and qualified preachers be allowed to lead the prayers. There are over 160,000 mosques across the country, but only 3000 are registered with the Government. Of course it’s very difficult to register all, and monitor them. But if there is a will, it will be possible with the cooperation of the Ulema Council. These people should realize the dreadful situation our society has reached today. If a mosque speech can provoke normal citizens to murder innocent people, then it needs ultimate and very serious attention.

If you attend a Friday sermon of the most-visited mosque in Kabul, you will understand why our society is so reactionary on religious sentiments based on false provocation and ignorance of hate-monger clerics. For instance, Enayatullah Balegh every Friday calls on the Muslims, who attend his sermon in the central mosque of Kabul, for Jihad against foreigners who desecrate Islam. For such nutty saviors of Islam, some stupid in Florida represents the entire America and all “foreigners” and infidels. Balegh calls for “holy war” against “foreigners”. If any emotional empty-head takes his words for serious and it provokes him to incite violence or hatred against “foreigners”, shouldn’t Balegh be held responsible?

It’s not only about Terry Jones. The hate-speech is a phenomenon as old as preaching of Mullah. I remember the Religious Studies subject taught in childhood at schools that “Jews will never be friends of Muslims.” This is the most common sentence of hatred poisoned in the minds of children from early age. And it is still part of every Friday prayers sermon. A Reuters journalist reporting a Friday sermon of Habibullah Asaam in northwest Kabul quotes the Mullah, “the Jews and crusaders can never be friends of Muslims, they are the despoilers of our society and culture. Those who want them here are cowardly Muslims. Women avoid wearing veils, men chase fashion and show off, it’s all because of the foreigners.”

In volatile parts of the country where Taliban influence is stronger, imams either fearing their life by threats from insurgents, or due to sympathy with them, always make provoking speeches against foreign troops and the Afghan Government. It has strong influence on the “hearts and minds” of the innocent heads.

The Government, MPs and religious scholars should pay serious attention to the hate-mongers. They have rooted the culture of violence in our society.

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