First Published in The Guardian
It was less than a month ago that a Muslim cleric from Peshawar, Yousaf Qureshi, publicly offered money to anyone who would kill Aasia Bibi; kill in the name of the blasphemy law. Despite the public announcement and incitement to murder for money, no action was taken against this man. It was overlooked as an emotional outburst.
However, these public incitements to murder and violence do not always end there; there are many waiting to carry out such acts in the name of religion. On Tuesday, one such man gunned down Salmaan Taseer, Punjab governor, business tycoon and a vocal critic of abuse of the blasphemy law. Taseer was shot dead outside a restaurant in Islamabad by one of his own guards, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. Shortly afterwards, he handed himself to police, beaming with pride in front of cameras while confessing that he had killed Taseer because of his opposition to the blasphemy law. As Taseer’s bullet-riddled body was taken to hospital, later to be pronounced dead, Qadri’s confession was broadcast on television. A young bearded man, smiling, staring right into the camera while confessing a murder. There was no sign of remorse, only an uncanny smile reflecting reassurance that God will accept his great deed.
Shamefully, Qadri is not alone, as many as eight Facebook fan pages sprang up within a few hours, pronouncing Qadri a “hero” and a “son of Pakistan”. Clerics announced that Taseer’s death can’t be mourned because he supported a blasphemer, Bibi. In one breath, television anchors described his death as a great loss at this time of political instability and questioned his stance on the blasphemy law.
The interior minister, while talking to the media, spoke about the need for added security for government personnel and emphasised the importance of better scrutiny of those who join the elite forces. However, the real cause of Taseer’s assassination was only whispered, minced with other issues, when it should be the only thing on our minds. His death is more than just a political loss, it is a reminder of the extremism, bigotry and intolerance that has been brewing in the very heart of this country. The roots of this can be tracked back over three decades, when murder became justified in the name of religion, when killing someone for having an opinion became a law in this country.
His death indicates the strength of the forces Pakistan is up against. It highlights the inhumanity that is propagated by these draconian laws. As an activist, I will not allow his death and the cause he stood for to go in vain. We can’t afford to succumb to extremism. His murder is a message to everyone in Pakistan who stands for justice and humanity, that the intolerance, the extremism, the vigilantism has devoured us all as a society. It is a threat to silence all those who stand for justice, to make them kowtow to extremism or have their heads struck off in the name of religion. Civil society in Pakistan and everyone else who has been struggling for justice needs to come forth stronger than before.
Taseer’s assassination was orchestrated through public announcements, hate speech on television, text messages and even by distributing pamphlets. Each one of these actions was overlooked, eventually leading to Taseer’s cold murder. As for the authorities in Pakistan, they should realise that no amount of security will help, when the extremist mindsets and factors that cultivate them continue to be tolerated. Until the state takes firm action against the hate campaigns, many more Qadris will spring up ready to gun down anyone who dares to speak out against injustice.