Pakistan held hostage: Obscurantism and the death of Taseer

Published: January 10, 2011

The governor of Punjab was killed for what he believed in. Could one of us be next?

As numbness ebbs away after the fatal attack on Governor Salmaan Taseer, questions about the context of his murder arise. Confounding the discussion are the likes of Jamaat-i-Ahl-i- Sunnat, Tehreek-i- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and some other like minded clerics. This school condones, and in some cases, justifies the murder. Unlike the governor, liberal segments of society remain largely equivocal and cautious in their response after threats by TTP to treat everyone offering prayers for Governor Taseer worthy of death at the hands of vigilante justice for purported blasphemy. But given the sensitivity of the attack, and its broader socio-political implications, dispassionate analysis becomes necessary.

Condoning the governor’s murder, the fundamentalist school maintains that Mr Taseer committed blasphemy. This assertion is unqualified. While the governor pointed out that General Ziaul Haq’s blasphemy laws (amended during Nawaz Sharif’s tenure) are often misused to settle personal scores, Mr Taseer never insulted Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).  And he was certainly not alone in this regard. Islamic scholars like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi have been unequivocal in their condemnation of misuse of the blasphemy laws; even the country’s top Islamic body, Council of Islamic Ideologies (CII), proposed amendments to the current blasphemy laws.

In the particular case of Aasia Bibi, it is important to underscore that he was not alone in his stance. Oddly enough, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah (of rival PML-N) is on the record saying that Aasia Bibi was poorly defended in court. Regardless of this school’s views on Aasia Bibi’s case, the fact that it incited people to murder Mr. Taseer through fatwas and condoned his eventual demise make it morally complicit in the governor’s death.

Adding spice to the brewing mix of poisonous un-reason, obscurantists misuse religion in their rhetoric to justify using violent means against non-combatants to attain illegal ends. What really rankles is their inability to learn from the Prophet’s (pbuh) example of forgiveness and tolerance. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) forgave people of Taif who insulted him, showed magnanimity on the occasion of Makkah’s conquest against members of the Quraish who vilified him for eight years, and even asked after the health of the woman who threw garbage on him on the day sickness prevented her from doing so. His ability to forgive gave him strength over his enemies and helped bring bitter foes to Islam’s fold. Muslims following the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) should bear his injunctions about mercy and instructions to only attack combatants in mind. This does not mean that we ought to condone hate speech; but it does demonstrate the need for tolerance and mercy.

Above all else, Salmaan Taseer deserves commendation for calling a spade a spade at a time when others were not brave enough to do so. Ambiguous responses to his death are neither here nor there. As the tide of obscurantism attempts to hold the nation hostage, the peaceful and silent majority risks becoming extraneous by silence.

Today, Taseer was killed at the altar of unreason. Tomorrow, our families and friends will die. And if we fail to act in our individual capacities to check this trend, no one will light a candle for you and me.


Morial Shah

A student of International Politics and Security at the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University She tweets at @MoruShah.

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