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.

  • parvez

    Saying the obvious that has already been said many times over in these two or three days tends to become repetitious unless a fresh thought is put forward.Recommend

  • Haris Masood Zuberi

    if we fail to act in our individual
    capacities to check this trend, no one
    will light a candle for you and me.

    So well said…Recommend

  • Faria Syed

    Great piece, as always Morial.


  • Amjad Iqbal

    I have been reading different articles and comments of different people about the murder of Governor salman Taseer for the last five days.All can be grouped into two.i.e the liberal and the conservative.liberal people have no soft corner for the Mamtaz hussain while the conservatives are not ready to accept the liberal point of view about the the issue.Both are advocating their own point of view while analysing the issue objectively.what I feel that black and white decision is not possible when the emotions and ideologies are involved.Is it not the right time to think that why it happened? how it can be avoided in future?I believe that there are lot of answers to these questions that will not only be agreed by the liberals but also by the conservatives.I even believe that a sincere effort to find the answers to these and other such questions will be helpful in the solution of other problems that we are facing currently.The present event can be left to the independent judicial commision or judiciary while the job of the political leaders, intellectuals is to sit togeather to find the conclusion and recommendation agreed my the leftists as well as by the rightists to avoid the such events in the future instaed of advocating their own school of thought..And it is because that at least I am not satisfied at the steps taken by the government to avoid such events in the future that are mainly consists of the efforts of re-clearance of the security of the employees of the law enforcement agencies.The present issue is a big issue and it is being addressed emotionally and narrowly. Recommend

  • kevin
  • Ramisha

    Agreed. But what do we do? Please specify this. It is important for people to be guided in this country. No body knows anything here. Recommend

  • http://no faisal

    Daer readers;
    Please dont saying two deferent groups people of pakistan lebral and conservative clear. Islamic and secular this is two group after murder’s salman taseer. Recommend

  • Humanity

    We have enough analysis and lip service, already, please.

    The questions is what is the way forward and how?

    Each one of us shoulders the responsibility for this country and towards our fellow humans, both liberals and conservatives. What are you doing to fulfill your obligation towards your fellow citizens?

    Become a force of good by letting go the intolerance and hatred each one has in us for others who do not agree with us. Let Allah be the judge for our faiths. Let us worry about our duty towards humanity.

    Look at others with a compassionate eye and you will see them as humans ands not as devils who must be annihilated. Don’t get wasted in anger and hatred. Pick one ill in yourself and change it. The fever to do good will spread rapidly. Allah awaits help us, but we have to at least try to help ourselves first. We have to have faith and steadfastness in that faith.

    Please, let us arouse and espouse the humanity in us. This country yearns for kindness and caring love. The future generations depend on the actions we take today. Please let us live up to the expectations or our children and theirs.

    Thank for reading this cry for help. God bless this country and its people!Recommend