There are many things to admire in Bearak’s collection of pieces for which he won a 2002 Pulitzer. We’ll just point out, for this piece about pre-9/11 Pakistan, his tone: It’s dry, almost wry, which allows for both the seriousness and absurdity of his subject matter. (If it weren’t for the consequential nature of that subject matter, we might have laughed reading parts of the story.)

He’s reporting on the case of one man accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. The man apparently suggested in a class on physiology that the prophet Muhammad was not circumcised. Now the man’s life is in danger. In the world Bearak portrays, speech is like movement in a briar patch: To speak more is to get in deeper trouble. As the piece moves along, we see the thicket more clearly.

In straightforward ways, Bearak builds a sense of irony for his readers. He quotes one of the man’s accusers: ” ‘Even if someone is only half-conscious when speaking against the Prophet, he must die,’ said Mr. Qasmi, who managed to sound amiable.” With that modifying phrase, Bearak wryly acknowledges absurdity. It’s like a wink to the reader, and we know we’re in intelligent company.

Read “Death to Blasphemers: Islam’s Grip on Pakistan,” by Barry Bearak

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