I am not pure; I am not vile
I am no Moses; I am no Pharaoh
Bulleya , who am I?
- Bulleh Shah
If someone had asked me two weeks ago whether I was hopeful for the future of my country, Pakistan, I would with a lot of surety, have said, yes – yes I am. I would have said, we are fighting a war that wasn’t ours to begin with, and that we are trying, in our own way, to fight from all sides. Now I’m not sure.
The assassination of Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, last week brings forth a thoroughly divided Pakistan. On one hand you have the radicalized hardliners – those that cite religious scripture and point blank decide the future of the others while they cite religious reasons. On the other hand you have the liberals who in their own way are trying to infuse some sort of semblance into the life of common man.
Salmaan Taseer was gunned down by his guard yesterday in the busy and posh area of Islamabad’s Kohsar. He was travelling in his own car with security provided by the Elite Force as per his designation. It was, ironic, that one of these commando-trained security personnel would end up shooting him from throat to stomach and then surrender to the other two guards. That, why someone who was previously deemed a high-risk was put on as security detail for one of the most moderate voices of Pakistan, is another story altogether.
In the recent past, Salmaan Taseer made headlines for a slightly different reason – his opposition of death penalty for the accused blasphemer, Asia Bibi. Asia Bibi’s case was different because for the first time since Zia-ul-Haq’s brutal Islamization of the country – there was a woman who was on death row for allegedly blaspheming against The Prophet Mohammad.
While the Blasphemy law has been gravely and unjustly used since its inception, it use is also quite common. Members of extremist religious parties, sometimes even regular people for their own personal gain accuse someone of blasphemy and in complete discordance with Islamic laws; they are accused, charged, tried (mostly not) and usually end up in jail.
For the fear of mass religious backlash, no one has dared to stand up against the law – until Salmaan Taseer. To say that Taseer wanted to undo the law would probably be stretching it too far; he only wanted Presidential pardon for Asia Bibi who was, according to news reports, wrongly accused on trumped up charges of blasphemy. That, at the end, was what led to the murder of Salmaan Taseer.
Taseer was also one of the first few politicians of Pakistan who took to ‘talking’ with the public through micro-blogging site; Twitter. His regularly communicated with those who asked him questions and would mostly post amusing tweets. When the whole WikiLeaks situation came to light late last year, Taseer tweeted:
I’m ok wth my effigy being burnt and Fatwas against me but i’m really angry that I’m not mentioned anywhere in Wikileaks!
But perhaps what is now almost a prophetic statement regarding the blasphemy law, Salmaan Taseer tweeted on the eve of the New Year:
I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing
In a country where thousands die every year due to drone attacks, from suicide bombs and malnutrition of the body and mind – in a country where religion has now become a booming business; the horrific murder in broad daylight of one of the moderate voices has shaken the rest of the moderates of Pakistan to the core.
The punishment for the right to use the freedom of speech in a country which was formed on the basis of freedom, of rights to all regardless of their numbers – minority or majority – the very thought that something wrong needs to change – is wrong. When an idea, to change – an idea to bring betterment for the general public gets you killed, you have to know the hope is fast receding.
Salmaan Taseer, like many others before him, might not have been the symbol of piety we’re all looking for, but at least he dared to man up and say that the wrong needs to be rightened.
The murderer of Salmaan Taseer was cheered and showered by rose petals but even in times of insanity and the moral collapse that everyone seems to be talking about, there are sane voices that are speaking out against the murder in broad day light.
We’ve put together excerpts from the voices of regular Pakistanis who are willing to speak against the events that have taken place in the past few days. Here they are:
- “I do not want to live in a country where people can be executed for blasphemy. But I only get to choose my opinions. I do not get to choose my own facts. And the fact is that the people of Pakistan really want to execute people who they think have committed blasphemy. I can either accept that fact or I can seek to change it. But to act as if that fact does not exist is not sensible.”
- "After his brutal murder, there are many of us who are not too hopeful about this country, which will now be branded as one where people cannot dare to speak their mind. If the felicitations about his death are any indication, we are a truly doomed lot that celebrates a murder most foul."
- "Islam’s message is of peace and tolerance. Bigotry, aggression, and extremism have nothing to do with it. Those who promote the latter evils in the name of Islam are the real threat to the propagation of its message."
- "Plenty of media personnel and right-wing politicians in this country contributed to this with their constant “wajib-ul-qatl” (viable for death) refrain, not to mention equating support for blasphemy laws to support for Islam. All of them could technically be dealt with as inciters to violence (illegal in our country, and basically every other one out there) but they won’t. You get to say and do whatever you want, act with as much impunity as you want — as long as you have God on your side”
- "Remarkably a fight it is becoming, despite the apparently skewed numbers, despite the mullah brigade's desperate attempts to tamp down the debate. The munafiq-e-deen (hypocrites of religion) may bring out twenty or thirty or forty thousand ill-informed fanatics on to the streets to cow down everyone but it irks them greatly that it still does not stop people from saying what they feel and exposing these thekedaars' hypocrisies, because they know that they cannot win on logic or intellect."
- "So how do we deal with all this? I have heard a lot of dismay and hopelessness today and I can completely understand the feeling. For many people, this is another nail in the coffin of the idea of a viable future for Pakistan. The only option to counter this feeling of despondency, in my opinion, is to become more assertive and louder and to shame those who would stifle dissent. The problem of course is that wishy-washy liberalism cannot fight fanaticism. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Simply put, we can shut up, resign ourselves to our fate and disconnect from this country and society or we can fight back and refuse to cede the space that the bastards want us to. Nobody ever said it would be easy."
- "Too much space has been ceded. Too much PUBLIC space has been ceded. This debate cannot go underground. It must not be behind closed doors. We don’t have guns, and we don’t have bombs, and we don’t even want to kill anyone. We just want to talk it out."
- "The bigger issue, as we have been saying all along, is the refusal of society to see the inter-linkages of such acts of terrorism with the mindset that has been cultivated through the military establishment's promotion of jihadi outfits, the propping up of so-called religious parties whose only agenda is bigotry, the pusillanimous and opportunistic silence over the treatment of minorities such as Ahmadis, Shias, Hindus and Christians and indeed all dissenters (religious scholar Javed Ghamdi being one), the valourization of criminals such as the illiterate Ilm Deen (dubbed shaheed [martyr] because he was hanged in 1929 for murdering a publisher), the rejection of rationality and logic, the marginalization of the arts and cultural traditions as something alien to our society, and the tolerance for hate-speech and incitements to violence..."
- "the blasphemy law needs to be repealed because it is a blasphemy in its own self. it reduces that which is supposedly sacred into an idea so weak and powerless that only the most violent action can seem to save it. the blasphemy law is an insult to anyone who has faith, because it claims that an idea which requires blind belief can be shattered by something inconsequential."
- "even if you don't believe in the sacred history, the more or less accepted versions of historical islam admit that the Prophet bore some hardcore persecution of his people and his self without feeling the need to avenge them. so why is it that his followers 14 centuries on feel so insecure about any criticism thrown his way?"