Friday, July 15, 2005

Islamic Democracy in Action, Again

What will Muslims do when given the chance to govern themselves at the ballot box? Unfortunately, much the same as without it.
Pakistan's North-West Frontier province has passed a controversial bill to introduce Taleban-style moral policing in public places.

The legislation called "Hisba" (accountability), was passed with 68 votes in favour and 34 against.

Under the new law, an Islamic watchdog will monitor the observance of Islamic values in public places.

The plan is reminiscent of the infamous Department of Vice and Virtue, set up by the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.

The passage of the bill followed a heated debate between the ruling conservative six-party religious alliance Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA) and the opposition.

Under the new law, the principal duty of the cleric, called "mohtasib" - one who holds other accountable - will be to ensure people respect the call to prayers, pray on time and do not engage in commerce at the time of Friday prayers.

He will also stop unrelated men and women from appearing in public places together, and discourage singing and dancing.

One of his tasks will be to monitor the media to ensure "publications are useful for the promotion of Islamic values".

Ruling party president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has said the law is "unconstitutional".

He warned that it would lead to confrontation between Islamabad and the provincial governments.

The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party called it an "obscurantist pipedream" and an attempt to "Talebanise" Pakistan.

But the MMA says it was mandated by the people in the 2002 elections to bring in such laws.

The Department of Vice and Virtue set up by Afghanistan's former ruling Taleban became the focus of criticism from human rights organisations.

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