A Duke University professor has stated that the recent arrest of a disabled Pakistani Christian girl in the Islamic Republic is part of a decades-old trend in "witch hunts."
Ebrahim Moosa, professor of Religion & Islamic Studies for Duke's Department of Religion, said in comments published by Duke on Monday that the practice had "ruined Pakistan's reputation for decades."
In an interview with The Christian Post, Moosa explained that in Pakistan from 1986 to 2007 there were 647 charges filed against people on the charge of committing blasphemy. About half of those charged were Muslim.
"Twenty suspect blasphemers have been assassinated by vigilantes. Scores of accused languish in jails for years until the charges are withdrawn or prosecutions fail," said Moosa.
"The national and international media have repeatedly highlighted these events. Several moderate parliamentarians, governors and cabinet ministers have called for a review of the blasphemy laws."
According to Moosa, Pakistan's blasphemy laws go back to when the British Empire ruled the region. After independence in 1947 they were kept and later updated under the martial presidency of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
"Pakistan needs a serious national conversation about the public role of religion, before warring religious fanatics and their political handlers turn that society into an inferno of inquisitions," said Moosa.
"The greatest tragedy is that moderate religious voices are not sufficiently forceful to stop this madness and have been cowered into silence by militants."
Moosa's remarks come in response to the news of an 11-year-old Christian girl once diagnosed with Down syndrome being arrested for allegedly desecrating an Islamic booklet.
The arrest of the girl, who was identified as Rifta Masih from a neighborhood near Islamabad, sparked denunciations from human rights groups and prompted Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to order an investigation of the case.
Moosa told CP that the charges against Masih "appear to be 'dubious' by several accounts inside Pakistan, as it is with most of these blasphemy charges."
"There is sufficient evidence to indicate that she might not even have torched any scripture. It might have been newsprint with Arabic or Urdu," said Moosa.
According to Jon Boone of The Guardian, the incident has exacerbated tensions between Muslims and Christians in and around Islamabad. In the community where the accusation took place, the Christians are primarily low income families and rent from Muslim landlords.
"Relations between the communities had been simmering for months after complaints were made about the noise coming from three churches in the area during religious services," wrote Boone.
"Two of the landlords who owned the buildings had already ordered an end to worship and some services were forcibly broken up."
Amnesty International reported last month that a homeless man in Pakistan's Punjab province was accused of burning the Quran by a mob. After dragging him out of a police station, they proceeded to beat the unidentified man to death and set his corpse on fire.