Salmaan Taseer’s fight against blasphemy laws is slowly fading

Published: January 4, 2013

After the assassination of Mr Salmaan Taseer, the space for debate on the law has narrowed down exponentially. PHOTO: SALMAANTASEER.COM

Intellectual hegemony is a concept introduced by Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci. In simple words, it means an ideology that is so prevalent and widespread in society that it is considered the ultimate truth or “common sense” and any other ideology that is different from that particular dominant ideology is considered heretical. In this way, status quo is maintained.

Let me explain this in Pakistan’s context. A few years ago, speaking out about the blasphemy law – originally instituted by the British and made stricter by Zia and Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) – was not considered life threatening.

After the assassination of Mr Salmaan Taseer, the space for debate on the law has narrowed down exponentially. Today, no one is talking about the brutalities committed in the name of that law (dozens of extra judicial killings) anymore.

I find it tragic that his mission has not been carried forth by his supporters.

I was never a big fan of Mr Taseer’s politics but I admire him for his courageous stand on the blasphemy issue. Numerous friends of his state said that he was foolhardy to pursue a hopeless cause. But don’t all worthy causes look like lost ones?

A pertinent quote from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird glares at us today:

“Just because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.”

In my eyes, Salman Taseer was a hopeless romantic, and that for me is the best kind of romantic.

The idea that whatever is written in the blasphemy law is final and can’t be amended at any cost is a symptom of intellectual hegemony. Any action taken under the umbrella of blasphemy is legitimised in the eyes of the general public — like the recent open and shut case with YouTube.

Similarly, there is a version of history that has been propagated by revisionist textbooks and reinforced on daily basis by vernacular press is considered as absolute truth. Anyone who dares challenge or criticise that version is a traitor and an enemy agent.

This version would not let you know that Pakistan was the instigator in almost all wars against India, that our esteemed Jihadis had little role in the breakup of the mighty USSR, that Taliban were created by Pakistan’s deep state, and that India awarded us status of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) in 1995. It won’t tell you that Pakistan has got the maximum number of Fulbright scholars studying in the US on US taxpayer money, that Osama changed several houses before settling in at his last abode and many of such truths because they contravene the intellectual hegemony.

Pakistanis didn’t believe that 9/11 occurred. We didn’t believed that Osama bin Laden was killed in the Abbotabad operation, that Taliban are sworn enemies of Pakistan and its state, that Malala was attacked by Fazlullah’s men or that Bashir Bilour was assassinated by Taliban.

All these assumptions exist because it doesn’t fit the narrative that has been fed to the public day and night by rabid TV anchors, the vernacular media and conspiracy theorists.

Someone on the internet explained the situation very well;

“[…] When Malala was attacked, Taliban accepted responsibility. Girls in her van told what had happened, heads of state, parliament and army visited her in the hospital, but people still believed it to be a drama. On the other hand, we readily believed in the water kit. This is our calibre as a nation.”

I couldn’t have said it any better about the national confusion than Mr Feisal Naqvi when he wrote;

“We killed BB; they blamed Musharraf. We shot Malala; they blamed the US. We beheaded an SHO in Peshawar and I thought people would compare us to Grendel; we didn’t even make the front pages! We attacked the Peshawar airport and people worried about tattoos. We killed polio workers and even a Harvard-educated lady senator thought it could have been a conspiracy. I swear the next time this happens, I’m going to set someone on fire outside the Islamabad Press Club! Maybe that way we’ll finally get some respect.”

In the last year, we have experienced countrywide shutdowns leading to a ban on YouTube, disruption during concerts, violent attacks on polio workers, desecration of Ahmadi graves, blockage of mobile services on special days and painting exhibitions getting cancelled.

There has been no national outrage. There has not even a debate about all this. That is intellectual hegemony at work. A few years ago, there was some discontent due to excessive loudspeaker usage; even the government took action then. With time, the writ of state has eroded and, like other things, there is no stopping the incessant din of loudspeakers from mosques of different denominations. Voices of dissent are few and far between.

The few dozen ‘liberals’ left in Pakistan have been rendered redundant as they don’t reach out to the local language newspapers. If that wasn’t enough, they have yet to properly organise themselves for a more ‘grassroots’ approach to problem solving. Instead, all they do is complain without really getting into the nitty gritty of things which our ‘right wing’ actually does a lot.

YouTube is not coming back anytime soon, and I am afraid, neither is sanity.

Our liberal intelligentsia has its own intellectual hegemony in place. Recently, there was a blog piece against the ruling party published by The Express Tribune. The outrage that it evoked on Twitter and discussion forums about ‘attacks on democracy’ was a vivid reflection of that hegemony. Why have certain things become so important to us that we can’t even tolerate discussion about them?

Today is the second death anniversary of Mr Taseer and I am ashamed to say that his party abandoned his mission and there is scant chance of its revival now.

Read more by Abdul here or follow him on Twitter @abdulmajeedabid

Abdul.Majeed

Abdul Majeed

A final year medical student with interests in history, political economy and literature. He blogs at abdulmajeedabid.blogspot.com/ and tweets as @abdulmajeedabid

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Pessimist

    It’s a shame that Taseer is forgotten but his killer is hailed as a hero. This shows you everything you need to know about our sorry state of affairs.

    And no, don’t blame it on a lack of education. Even the most educated & elite of the people applauded his death.

    I remember when his death was announced I was in office and a few people shouted praised God for this murder. What’s even more sad is that his son (?) is still kidnapped and absolutely no one gives two hoots as to where he is!! Shameful..

    I wont write anymore, there’s absoultely no point in it.Recommend

  • Sid

    @Author: and what have you done to keep it alive?Recommend

  • kanwal

    Yeah we have lost the battle of blasphemy law even before thecfight started. But i wonder why it zhould nt be the y it is today? Withaggressors like Mehmud Ghaznavi and Bin Qasim in our text books as heroes, wat else do we expect the children to grow into? Toleant citizens? Long shot. Recommend

  • Mj

    I have always liked reading your articles and this piece is no exception. Pakistan is sliding into an abyss and it is unfortunate that the nation is still bickering over trivial matters instead of fighting the battle for our very existence. We are essentially now brainless and heartless, as not even the brutal attack on Malala could wake us up from slumber. At this point I don’t even know what factor to blame, whether its the centuries of consanguineous marriages, hateful curriculum, antiquated creed, propagandized and conspiracy-laden media, or nefarious puppeteering by the ‘deep-state’.Recommend

  • Nadir Naeem

    One of the greatest Jewish religious scholar wrote that the most and only fundamental truth above all the truths is that God is the only truth.
    Now considering this fact as a Muslim, Pakistani and a Law abiding human being let one thing be made sure .. It is the moral responsibility to deny and protect everything that goes against Islam. Pakistan or Humanity. Having said that you ask yourself that if someone is responsible and accused under any of such… Should be left unattended? What is your religious obligation in the court of God almighty? How would you deny his orders in his court? As a Pakistani we were left with only half of our country and the whole turmoil is eating our roots since 1947 onwards. There would be only common sense to see what’s going on. You can write your point of view but Justice providers in Law have there moral. Religious and nationalism at stakes as well. Recommend

  • xunera gul

    Brilliantly written! You seem to have a clear idea of what you want to say, and you have delivered with absolute clarity. one of the best pieces i have read on ET. and couldn’t agree more with you. Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/987/danish-zaidi/ Danish zaidi

    Brilliantly Written !

    Janay kon kisay mar de kafir kah kar,
    Shehar ka shehar Musalman hua phirta hai.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com Anoop

    Very strongly worded blog.. Well written and beautifully explains the psychology behind the phenomena.Recommend

  • Totally failed.

    Good article. Ours is a brainwashed society, and will remain that way for a long time, because we do want wish to face the truth. We fashion our views to be in line with our narrative of ourselves and the world. But this narrative is only a facade, it cannot hold, our values are fake, totally wrong, very badly misplaced, how long can a system which is based on total brainwashing exist. Our school history books are skewed, misleading, false. This narrative leads to a failed society, failed nation, failed country, failed state. This is another name for Islamic Republic of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Salman

    Wow! how aggressive the author is? you should calm down and believe, do not lose hope in the Democratic government and SC of Pakistan for your justice and the whole conspiracy that you think is going around your mind…Recommend

  • Nadir Naeem

    @ Abdul Majeed. As you mention that you are interested in gaining knowledge…please read the Quran completely. Once you are well read you would know the code and the truth. We all as writers try to have shortcuts to fame and read all besides religion. To disscuss religion u should know what it is in the first place.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The higher one rides the deeper is the fall. Mr Taseer did not deserve to die by the bullets of a third rate flunky. He need not have been outspoken on matters which was the concern of the administration controlled and run by his own political mighty party.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Akhter

    Shame on the PPP for giving in to the fundamentalists agenda,Recommend

  • GrimmJow

    Amazing Write up! I never miss a chance to read your blogs. :) :)Recommend

  • gp65

    Brilliant blog. Should have been in the OpEd section. Did want to make one point though.

    “A few years ago, speaking out about the blasphemy law – originally instituted by the British and made stricter by Zia and Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) – was not considered life threatening.

    The blasphemy law itself did not have death penalty in the British version (Section 295, 295-A). In fact maximum punishment under that law was 3 years in jail. It was also neutral to all religions. Thus sytematic blaspheming of someone like Glulam Mirza Ahmed would be considered blasphemous under that law. It is the Zia addition (Section 295-B, 295-C) which singled out blasphemy towards Muslim symbols of reverence and increased punishment to death punishmentRecommend

  • http://www.salmanlatif.wordpress.com Salman Latif

    Excellent, excellent article. Very well put!Recommend

  • Nadir Naeem

    Some people would read worldly knowledge but know least about religion. To discuss religion one should be well versed properly, Reading the Holy Book “Quran” would certainly help.Recommend

  • Parvez

    You have started of 2013 with a bang………..excellent . This deserves to be in the serious ‘Opinion ‘ section. You have spelt it out clearly leaving little to doubt.Recommend

  • Ismail

    You nailed it. Brilliant!Recommend

  • Web

    Taseer’s struggle for whatever he was fighting for availed him nothing…………… in both worlds! and this is a lesson for every repeal or amendment of blasphemy law to never even think about it ! Peace ! Recommend

  • Abdul Majeed

    @nadir i’ve read the quran cover to cover many times, and didn’t find any justification in it,of assasinating a person for raising a voice of dissent,so unless you want to follow Taliban’s version of Islam, there is no way you can justify the brutal murder of Mr Salmaan Taseer.

    @gp65
    i have read the history of Blasphemy law and thats y i mentiond that the british instituted it, as there is a widespread misbelief that blasphemy law is a divine law.the fact that people who dnt agree with our concept of ‘divinity’ passed this law should be told to people so that they understand their faulty premise. Recommend

  • burjor

    A society as brainwashed, as intolerant, as ignorant, as fanatical, nothing else is expected.Recommend

  • Ali S

    Slowly fading? I’d say it’s well deadRecommend

  • akt

    @author , Keep it up , Martires never die, so is the fact associated with them . The delay is increasing the cost of ractification which the nation has to pay . Be safe and play the required role for a change to reduce the said cost .Recommend

  • RH

    I have to agree with some of the other posts above, this is one of the most clear-headed opinion articles I’ve read on ET. Well done!Recommend

  • abc

    Shaheed Salman Taseer ki jaffa o jurrat ko mera salaam Recommend

  • http://salmanzq.blogspot.com/ salmanzq

    We have our pens (or keyboards) and need to continue writing against this mindset. You’ve done the nation a favor by putting this blog up. I just hope no one shoots you for even bringing this topic up!Recommend

  • No Body

    The Reason why his son is still kidnapped is for the main reason that no one comes up with this topic again . they want it to fizzle out . this way they are controlling the govt
    Why isn’t the supreme court doing anything ?
    why isn’t the GOVT Hanging this QADRI ?
    we all want Justice Recommend

  • “Incessant din”

    The “incessant din” has to reach down south to Antartica, up north to Siberia, west to Europe and East to Japan. How else will people know, which creature lives in this part of the world???.Recommend

  • http://cktextras.com sha

    @abc:
    lol shaheed lollzRecommend

  • sherrry

    shaheed???

    qadri’s wrong does not justify TaseerRecommend