(Re)-considering Pakistan: Salman Taseer, Blasphemy and People

The extremely sad assassination of Salman Taseer has shocked Pakistanis throughout the world and is a shrewd reminder of how Pakistan’s state of affairs have reached a point that not a day goes by without a disturbing news. Living outside of Pakistan, I am trying as quickly as possible to hover all the details, and reactions about the tragic death of a well-renowned governor of the country.

There are articles over the net discussing groups that hold the assassin as a hero and others condemning the vileness that is attached with any murder. The incident is a sombre reminder of where Pakistan is coming from, and the direction in which things are leading. For me, it is an episode of bafflement, a reminder that things in the country are no longer wrong or right, they are chaotic and we have ended up in this in a complicated trail of events because of our own short-sightedness and lack of sensitivity.

There are speculations on whether the murderer acted under the instructions of a bigger “extremist” group (I hyphenate that word in this context for no particular reason but to remind myself how I don’t want to get comfortable using it anywhere assuming that it has the same meaning universally). There is even question of a third party incentive involved. What I am interested in however is the ability of a man to act with such conviction over the forthrightness of his action and the response of others supporting it.

I am in no way condoning the act nor claiming to be a religious scholar or even an expert in legal matters. I do believe that it is for the government to decide in an Islamic state on who is to be punished and who is to be redeemed and if people were to take law in their hands there would be anarchy.

The gap between those for blasphemy law and those against it has only widened and the issue remains as black and white between the two sides as before.

In Pakistan, an Islamic state with a Muslim ruler, they still continually take law in their hands and I have trouble understanding why. Is it because our people are too emotional, too zealous? Or is it that they feel they cannot rely on the authorities to take action? If the literary elite, the journalists, the opinion holders on the net and tv believe the blasphemy law is black law but the great majority of the public rejoices the action of the man who opened fire on Salman Taseer then what does it depict of the Pakistani society.

It is only sensible to feel that 26 or 27 bullets to kill someone is not just an act of murder but a form of statement to all those committing or supporting blasphemy in the country. In reality, perhaps, Salman Taseer's murder has probably won him more sympathy, even support than before. However, to the murderer and those who support his view that does not mean any thing and would not change their act next time. The murderer probably did this in all loyalty to his expression of love for the support of Holy Prophet and his faith.

Ever since the war on terrorism our lives have increasingly been entrenched in a conundrum where as time passes by it becomes more and more unclear where the war began and who is the enemy now? When Pakistan chose to ally with those waging the war on terrorism, it alienated it's own vast majority of people who saw more in common with their own people than the "western forces". Their worst fears maximized when drone attacks killed innocent Pakistanis in their villages. The government becomes as distantly cold to them as its ally forces bombarding their homes.

It could be this anguish that leads the common Pakistani to take law in his hands, to demonstrate vengeance. But to leave it entirely on that is over-simplification too.

Blasphemy law has existed for over two decades and reactions over blasphemy and religious minorities have always been rather strange even incorrect. A twitter user popular amongst the local bloggers on Twitter related how his driver asked if Salman Taseer was Qadiani commenting on this is how they think.

But what have the authorities, even private organizations or us the literary or literate elite done to change it? How many bloggers, columnists even vigil holders joined to demand more tangible steps to bridge the gaps between the "masses" and them? Have we tried to speak their language, to take steps that bridge the communication gaps? Perhaps dialogue is better than critique. Perhaps not assuming superiority over the other, we can try and "speak with" them not "speak to" the public.

An answer would be to support causes that promote education. The Citizens Foundation, Zindagi Trust and many other organizations are doing immense work to bridge the gap of education between the privileged and non-privileged. However, mere financial support of such organizations is not enough. An attitude change is required to break our bubble and those of others so that we can breathe the same air. There is a need to step out of our shoes and into others' to see the world through their eyes. Humbling of our thoughts and our opinions of ourselves is required so we can see whether we are looking down at others while talking to them or whether we are actually communicating. This is where dialogue will begin and this is where we will make everyone feel welcomed. When others will feel they have the whole country, the authorities, the powerful, the elite on their side only then will they have trust built in them, only then will they feel safe in their homes, only then will they not depend entirely on their instincts and feel the need to show others their anger by taking the law in their hands.

It may not bring Salman Taseer back and it may not stop all our problems in the immediate tomorrow either but we can at least be on the road to recovery from this mess we have made of our beautiful home.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Madiha W.Q. said…
While I completely agree with there being a need to bridge the gap between the educated elite and the misguided masses, and educating people who support Qadri's actions about the real faults/weaknesses in the blasphemy law, I have to disagree on the link between the drone attacks and the opposition to the law's repeal/ammendment. I strongly feel that the politico-religious sector (the Ehle-Sunnat jamat and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, etc.) have manipulated the blasphemy law long before the drone attacks. There are serious problems with a law that convicts a person without any solid proof other than the testimony of certain people, giving people with personal agendas against a member of the minority full freedom and power. We saw it happen in the recent case against the doctor in Hyderabad, who tore up a salesman's visiting card and was accused of blasphemy because the salesman's name included Muhammad, and we have seen it in Asiya Bibi's case, where the reason for accusing her seems to be sheer racism and hatred for a minority woman who the Muslim women looked down upon. While the Hyderabad doctor got saved because of his higher standing in the society, Asiya bibi wasn't so lucky.

For any follower of a beautiful religion rooted in forgiveness, kindness and mercy, it is ridiculous in fact that there is any hesitation at all in condemning the acts of people like this assassin. Taseer did not rebuke or insult the Holy Prophet--he simply condemned a widely misused law that has been clearly manipulated for decades. He did not deserve this.
Fiza said…
I definitely do agree with every thing you have said and realize it did not truly come out in the blog post. My focus was on why people take the law in their hands so continually in Pakistan. Why cant they rely on the government to make the right choice.

I am merely trying to point out that so long as the educated elite keep condemning the law and the misguided "masses" keep supporting it, the law perhaps could be changed but the mental divide between the elite and the not-so-elite will not change. It will not be killing over blasphemy, but something else - people will continue to take the law in their hands because people will sadly continue to feel alienated by the elite who speak another language to them.

So in the long run much dialogue, much progress needs to be made between the various peoples - our own intellectual beliefs will not change Pakistan for the better.
Fiza said…
PS: thanks for taking the time to read my blog and comment on it :)
Adnan said…
his is an excellent post and just like you i just tuned into this yesterday and have been trying to come up with some sort of a rational explanation for this in an environment which from the outside looks completely chaotic. having said that, i think there are people in the US that take matters in their own hands because they do not feel that the authorities/government are on their side. this has always existed here in the US as well whether it was the assassination of abraham lincoln or kennedy or the recent shooting last year by christian extremists at a jewish holocaust museum or the shooting by the muslim officer of US army personnel. so that danger always exists whether you're in pakistan or the US or Netherlands. thats the world we live in. however, its sadly wonderful to read that we indeed had an official government officer, a governor, who tried to do the right thing but was viciously eliminated from the discourse.

there are two things here that we should point out and discuss in the context of Pakistan:

1. our treatment of the minorities whether its hindus, christians or qadianis is dismal. the masses in pakistan need to change that attitude. unfortunately i think it starts at the very lowest levels of our education in islamiat courses. i have gone back and taken a look at the islamiat books that our children are taught (at least the ones available to me here in the US). the holier than thou attitude that is taught in these books, and btw that is the same message that was taught to me as well, seems quite one sided where everyone else except our interpretation of spirituality is blasphemous or shirk. there is very little room to disagree and we have cultivated that attitude over generations which is getting worse with time. this has nothing to do with the West or US and so forth. this has directly to do with our interpretation of Islam and the amount of tolerance that is taught for those with whom you disagree. again this is not particular to Pakistan. US also has its tea partiers and christian extremists. but instead of just accepting it as is, we do need to take a critical look at how we view people of other faiths and find ways to build bridges. i would contend that its worse than in other parts of the world. we kill other muslims who we consider un-islamic. i don't think that necessarily happens in any other society.

2. the above in itself will not happen over time especially without education being available to the masses. here again, where ngos are doing a great job, it is just a drop in the bucket given the challenge of education over 15MM children of school going age. this again is an area where a proper government led program to provide quality education to the masses is needed and budget and attention needs to be applied appropriately to it. the budget ask is not huge given how much we spend on the military. however the attention just does not exist. this again has nothing to do with the US/West and so forth but lies absolutely with us as a society to force our leaders to spend the capital needed to provide education to the masses.
Noaman said…
Very impressive! I exactly have the same thoughts on the incidence.

I can also assure you that this is a point of view that niether the liberal extremists will like nor the religious extremists
Monz501 said…
hey fizz, great post...A friend of mine and I were actually talking about how our society so easily becomes violent or takes the law onto their own hands. The killing of the sialkot brothers was shocking to so many of us and left us wondering about how certain people could exercise so much violence, yet others had no conviction to stop the madness.

While I agree with madi, about a certain faction of the religious right using the blasphemy law to incite hatred and get back at minorities even before the drones , I do think that the drones have helped the very same religious right to undermine the liberal point of view/non wahabi calling it American.

I further think that the west continues to simplify the face of religion in this country. Its continuously changing and I think we ourselves don't understand it. I think the debate in our country around the blasphemy issue has shifted from secular vs religious right. I remember going to Swat and talking to people in Matta who absolutely hated the Taliban along with the army, yet were still masjid going, head covering and some wahabi muslims.

Salman Taseer's murder is a crazy cruel act, but unfortunately its not just one of a religious extremist taking down the 'minority rights hero' but one of religion and its mis use, about law and order and its mis use, about enticement of fear, and confusion about martyrdom.

I liked this post by juan cole.

Fiza said…
Thanks Moneeza,

That post is very refreshing to read. I do agree with you - things due to the political climate, due to international affairs, our sad domestic politics, and economy have all made the problems so complex that its definitely all factions in society using one thing or the other to promote their point.

Although I know exactly what you are saying, for the general public I would refrain using "wahabi" in this context. No one in Pakistan is realizing that the people coming up and talking in favor of the assasin, glorifying the murder are the non-wahabi religious right of the society. They are the same people who curse wahabis and speak them down any minute and the same sect which historically has always been glorified as the peace-loving group of the society.

The so-called wahabis are opposed to the killing of a man accused of blasphemy at the hands of another man. However, blasphemy and religion will always remain complex problems. Someone rightly pointed out, in my opinion, that religious law is sometimes even more complex than the country's non-religious laws and the hue and cry on media and in public about it is not helping simplify it any further.
Abdullah said…
Why people take the law into thier own hands?

When Taseer took the law in his hands and made a mockery of the constitution by declaring that an under trial prisoner will be freed without the completion of the trial, nobody objected. Such blatant abuse of power resulted in the response by Qadri.

Blasphemy against the Prophet (Sallalahu allihae wasalam) is punishable by death and if a law is not in place to implement the shariah aspect of blasphemy and its punishment then obviously people will take the law in their hands.

Lets see both sides of the coin.

PS: Blasphemy law is not against minorities in fact cases have also been registered against people with Muslim names
yawar said…
The gap between educated elite and so called misguided masses can never be bridged because the educated elite always shun the ideologies that these masses hold dear as backward and superseded. Let us take this very article as an example. The author chose to speak out on the apparent cold blooded murder of the governor of Punjab but what of the events that lead to this extreme step.
People with basic religious values and concepts have no doubt in their mind whatsoever that Taseer did commit sacrilege when he uttered the words black law. We wouldn’t expect any social elite nor enlightened to speak up against this profanity and demand justice through a court of law, neither did we see any such instance. This in turn triggers revolt among the less privileged / less educated masses and forces them to act. The absence of justice triggers chaos.
So why are we so gob smacked about masses going berserk when we as a social elite are in fact contributing to the chaos by challenging the uneducated with educated prescriptions which they will never succumb to.

Popular posts from this blog

Why the urge to burn a Holy Book?

Celebrating my friends this Ramadan

You may be kicked for mourning in Turkey