Thursday, September 10, 2020

Chadwick Boseman and the Legacy of Black Panther

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Mohammad Abdullah

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Chadwick Boseman and the Legacy of Black Panther


Global Views 360

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September 10, 2020


Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther

On the morning of 29th August, the world woke up with shocking news, the death of Chadwick Boseman. He is globally remembered for his stellar role of T’Challa, aka ‘Black Panther’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  He died at a young age of 43 and the cause of his death was said to be colon cancer, which he had been silently battling for the past 4 years.

The tribute poured for him across the world from the common people to the renowned celebrities and sportspersons. Arsenal FC striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did the signature ‘Wakanda Forever’ as a tribute to Chadwick’s MCU character after scoring his goal in the FA Community Shield, while Mercedes F1 team’s racer Lewis Hamilton dedicated his pole position in the Belgian Grand Prix to the actor.

Chadwick’s character ‘Black Panther’ was the first Black MCU character to get his own standalone movie. The movie was released in 2018 and became a blockbuster, grossing over $1.3 billion worldwide. It was the 9th-highest grossing movie of all time and 2nd-highest in 2018, only behind Avengers: Infinity War—a movie which also included Black Panther as an integral team member.

A still from film Black Panther

Black Panther was also highly critically-acclaimed, with praises for the setting, the visual effects, the soundtrack, and so on, but the best part of the film was the majorly Black cast of the movie. Barring Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis, every other character of the movie was Black. It was also the first Marvel movie ever to get an Academy Award. The movie was nominated in 7 categories and won the Academy Award in 3 categories: Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and Best Production Design.

Black Panther comic character closeup | Source: Marvel

The history of ‘Black Panther’ in comics is also interesting. In 1966, Marvel Comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the character in ‘Fantastic Four’ #52. T’Challa in the comics was shown not only as a highly powerful but also extremely intelligent black character, something which was ground-breaking at that time, among all the stereotyping Black characters used to face in Pop Culture. Around the same time, social activists Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the ‘Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’.

It is often said that both events were related to each other, although that’s not true. Newton and Seale’s Party symbol and name came from the Clark College’s (now Clark Atlanta University) mascot, while Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character for their black readers. This character was also inspired by many personalities of the US Civil Rights Movement.

In order to avoid the similarities with the political outfit, Marvel renamed the character to ‘Black Leopard’ in the early 70s but soon reverted to the original one before creating a standalone comic ‘Black Panther’ in 1977. In the comics, the character delves into politics, fighting against the racist forces of the Ku Klux Klan. This showed how far ahead of the time Lee and Kirby were.

The commercial success of the ‘Black Panther’ movie contributed immensely to the rise of a black cultural revolution. The release of the film also coincided with the rise in hate crimes against Black community during US President Donald Trump's rule. The idea that a Black superhero can exist among all the existing racial divides made ‘Black Panther’ an inspiration for all such people to come forward. During the screening of the film, people used to come proudly dressed in their traditional African-American outfits to see the film.

The two contributing factors for this response were the setting of the film and Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of the character. Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has beautiful settings like Thor’s Asgard and the many-many galaxies that the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ visited, Wakanda could’ve been easily inferior against those settings had it been done wrong. But it easily stood out against all of those with its own unique identity. The idea of an African country viewed by others as a ‘Third-world nation’ but in secret was a technological marvel, possessing the largest chunk of Vibranium, the strongest metal known to mankind (also the main component of the alloy in Captain America’s iconic shield) in an industry which normally portrayed Africa as backward, chaotic and savage, was truly marvelous. But Wakanda wasn’t just technologically advanced, it also paid tributes to the tribal and cultural diversity of Africa, with Wakanda having 5 tribes, the Merchant, Border, River, Mining and Jabari Tribes all respecting their traditions while also advancing technologically.

But all of that could have seriously gotten unnoticed had it not been for Chadwick’s brilliant portrayal of T’Challa. Debuting in 2016 in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ as the Prince of Wakanda, T’Challa donned the iconic outfit to catch the culprit behind the bombing of the UN convention; which killed his father T’Chaka, also then King of Wakanda and former Black Panther; with Bucky Barnes aka Winter Soldier the prime suspect. His portrayal in the movie was immensely lauded, and it hyped his standalone movie so much that it was one of the most talked movies even before its release.

A sequel of the ‘Black Panther’ was announced in July 2019 after much anticipation. However following Chadwick’s death, many fans are now urging Marvel Studios to not recast the role in memory of the actor. This was the legacy Chadwick Boseman created with Black Panther.

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July 19, 2021 12:00 PM

The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan and its Implications

In Pakistan, Blasphemy results in a capital punishment in majority of cases. It is perhaps considered a crime worse than terrorism. A crucial case in point is the fact that the Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court gave around 15 years jail term to two close aides of Hafiz Saeed—chief of the terrorist organization—Lashkar-e-Taiba—and mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks—where at least 150 innocent people lost their lives.

Similarly, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi—Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operation commander and another important figure involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack—was sentenced to 15 years in jail period. Not to mention—this happened amidst the international pressure on Pakistan for letting terrorists to function and roam freely within their country.

While something as violent as terrorism is dealt with lenient punishments, there are draconian laws for blasphemy in the country. Moreover, one can be accused of committing blasphemy—doesn’t matter if they did it or not—and might not even face a fair trial.

This article discusses what are the blasphemy laws and what are their implications while looking at some specific cases.

What are Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws?

What's called Blasphemy law today has its origins in the colonial era. The “offences relating to religion” were introduced by British in 1860, and were later expanded in 1927. These were sections 295 and 295-A from the Indian Penal Code. The laws were made to avoid religious disturbances, insult religious beliefs, or intentionally destroy or desecrate a place or an object of worship. Under the 295 and 295-A, the convicted were to be given a jail term from one year to ten years—with or without a fine.

Pakistan ended up inheriting these laws after the partition of India in 1947.

The laws were amended in 1982 and another clause was added which prescribed life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran intentionally. Another clause was added in 1986 to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad through imprisonment for life or death. These clauses, were added under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, in an order to make the laws more “pro-Islam.”

Since then, this law has often been used to persecute people from minority communities—such as the Ahmadiyas, Shias, Christians, and Hindus—they have been accused of blasphemy without much evidence.

Infamous cases and implications of blasphemy in Pakistan

One of the famous cases was of Asia Bibi, which grabbed international attention as well. Asia Noreen—known as Asia Bibi—was a Pakistani Christan and a farm laborer in Punjab province. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, was a brick laborer. A dispute with her Muslim neighbours turned into an accusation of blasphemy—leading to her arrest and imprisoned. There were a lot of protests in Pakistan, demanding death penalty for Asia Bibi.

Two politicians—Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti—who supported and tried to help Asia Bibi, were murdered. Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in broad daylight. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was executed in 2016. Mumtaz Qadri became a hero for millions and hardliners praised him as a martyr. He is regarded as a saint and a mausoleum has been built over his grave in his village near Islamabad, where even devotees come to offer prayers.

Asia Bibi was first sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, however was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in a historic judgement of 2018. In 2019, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that she was free to leave Pakistan and was given asylum in Canada where she moved along with her family.

Although after a long struggle, Asia Bibi still got justice and was able to start a new life—unfortunately many others didn’t. Many met with Mob Justice.

In 2017, a journalism student at a Pakistani University was lynched to death by fellow students in Mardan—in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The student—Mashal Khan—was a Shia Muslim and was falsely accused of blasphemy. The mob was enraged by a rumour according to which he had promoted the Ahmadi faith on Facebook. In a similar instance, a man named Tahrir Ahmad Naseem was killed by vigilantes in July last year for blasphemy. He was a former Ahmadi, and was in Peshawar Central Jail since 2018 for claiming to be a prophet. He was shot dead inside the courtroom during trial in the Peshawar Judicial Complex.

Furthermore, in a case similar to that of Asia Bibi, a Christian couple—Shahzad and Shama Maseeh—were accused of blasphemy as well. They were then beaten and burned alive by a mob in 2014. Shama was four months pregnant. The mob, which also included a local cleric, believed that the couple had burned some pages of the Quran along with some rubbish, although the couple’s family still denies this. Five people including the cleric were sentenced to death, while the eight others were given two years imprisonment.

Last year, former Foreign and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif as well was accused of blasphemy for merely stating that “all religions are equal.”

Why is this happening?

According to data by Pakistan’s Centre for Social Justice, there have been 1549 known cases of serious blasphemy in the years 1987-2017, out of which 720 were Muslims, 516 Ahmadis, 238 Christians, 31 Hindus, and the rest 44 are unknown. 75 out of the total cases ended in the person being murdered before their trial.

There are 13 countries in the world which punish blasphemy by death penalty and Pakistan happens to be one of them. But unlike countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where they are executed judicially—as mentioned earlier—accused in Pakistan are often killed in mob violence or assassination. While Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to top in terms of the highest number of executions, most of them for sacrilege or crimes against Islam, Pakistan’s total ‘judiciary’ killings stand at zero.

The problem of this mob mentality in Pakistan, especially when it comes to religion, is actually deeply rooted in its constitution. The country’s aspiration to become a democracy as well as an Islamic state is in itself contradictory. The people want the right to freedom and expression and the hanging of a person committing blasphemy at the same time. The constitution denies criticism of Islam while claiming to allow freedom of speech and religion. The elevation of one religion over others in itself is principally undemocratic.

Another interesting point is the fact that the people supporting these ideas haven’t been aware of how things can backfire. Muhammad Din Taseer—father of Salman Taseer—supported Ilam Din, who murdered a Hindu publisher over blasphemy in 1929. An ancestor’s support for radicalism ended up in his own offspring being assassinated in the name of blasphemy.

Mental illness and blasphemy

In Pakistan, often some mentally ill people are punished to death by mobs for unknowingly ‘committing’ blasphemy. In 2012, a man widely reported by the media and police as ‘mentally unstable’ was arrested for blasphemy in Bahawalpur district, Punjab province. A mob gathered outside the police station, dragged him outside, and burned him to death. There have also been cases of misuse where such vulnerable individuals were subjected to sexual abuse and later accused of blasphemy by the abusers to cover up their crimes.

Such abuses towards mentally unsound people would have been a criminal case and the abusers would have been punished—unless they use the blasphemy law—as the mentally unstable victim cannot defend themselves.

Role of Anti-Terrorism courts

Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism courts were set up to ensure quick justice in cases such as terrorism, sectarian violence, targeted political killings, hijacking, kidnapping, extortion and even arms trafficking. Earlier gang rape was also included in it—but removed later.

They are also key to controlling mob attacks on blasphemy accused as such trials are held here.

Yet, these courts have been facing several problems due to lack of basic resources and understaffing. The posts of judges often remain vacant for months, and the state prosecutors complain of poor working conditions—with no offices, stationery, clerical staff or legal resources. These problems may have risen due to the fact that there are not sufficient funds allotted for the ATC infrastructure, one of the major challenges in Pakistan’s legal system. Due to this, these courts are not able to fulfill their primary objective—to provide ‘quick’ justice.

Moreover, these courts lack independence and are vulnerable to political influence—the judges are held accountable to the executive. Sometimes the witnesses often refuse to testify against the accused, as they fear assassination by terrorist groups the accused belongs to. The judges, state prosecutors and others also have personal security concerns which also lead to delays in trials.

Also, these courts deny terrorism suspects the right to equality before the law. They are not even tried in a public place with full defense and are not presumed innocent. Peshawar High Court advocate Ghulam Nabi even challenged the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 under Article 199 of the constitution in December 2009, saying that it violated basic human rights.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan need to be repealed in today's Global civic society. People are fighting for equality everywhere around the globe. And now it is up to Pakistan to choose—whether to become a democracy or continue with a pseudo-democratic authoritarian regime which is based on extremist interpretation of religion.

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