Perseverance is perhaps the only rational way to deal with adversity. But it is toilsome, and so requires patience. Owing to the magnitude of our problems, our reactions are often impulsive. It is a natural instinct, understandable since everything we do seems pale in the face of rampant violence.
In the wake of Salmaan Taseer’s death, most of us found ourselves plunged into a dilemma. I confess that attending a vigil a day after Salmaan Taseer was assassinated did little for my optimism. One candle against 27 bullets. There we were a few hundred, marching around the press club with candles in our hands, demanding Taseer’s killer be punished. We chanted and we held banners, we called him a martyr. A few days later, newspapers carried pictures and headlines of around 40,000 men condoning the murder and demanding the release of the assassin.
It was impossible not to make the comparison. Analysis, scrutiny and comparisons followed. The one force that kept us bound together was our stance against intimidation. Our frontiers shrunk further, as those in favour of the assassin and those against the killing were now being minimised to labels. Almost infectious, even obituaries couldn’t refrain from using them. Not only is this counterproductive, it is also maligning the cause. Taseer was killed because he took a stance for a Christian woman. His stance was based on humanitarian grounds, those who incited his murder used the ‘liberal elite’ label to malign his cause, divert attention from the humanitarian adversity and later to justify his murder. It is then ironic that we continue to use these labels and marginalise the cause.
It doesn’t end here — like a reoccurring nightmare, just eight weeks after Taseer’s assassination, Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was also gunned down. His assassins left pamphlets and claimed his death was imminent due to his support for reformation of the blasphemy law. Bhatti’s death has brought us back to square one. Even though there are no celebrations or huge rallies in favour of the assassin, the writings on the wall are clear. It is worth recalling that rallies before and after Taseer’s death called for murder and listed three names. Two of the three have been shot dead.
It is important not to lose our sense of rationality even at the time of grief and loss. Following Bhatti’s assassination, MNA Asiya Nasir delivered a heart-rending address in the National Assembly. There was this one question she asked that needs to be answered: Why did the government fail to clarify that no committee was working on thereformation of the blasphemy law? It is ironic beyond belief that we find ourselves in the middle of such debates right after one of us is shot in cold blood.
In the cases of both, the murder of Salmaan Taseer and that of Shahbaz Bhatti, the murder itself was committed in broad daylight, it was televised and documented. We know them and their supporters. We know them by their names. Our silence now will only mean more blood.
Citizens for Democracy (CFD), a group comprising civil society members organised shortly after Taseer’s assassination, has stepped up to call for action. Their demands are simple: Upholding of rule of law; arrest and punishment to murderers of both Taseer and Bhatti; and no to intimidation. A letter campaign recently arranged by CFD members managed to get 15,000 people to sign a petition to the chief justice, the prime minister and heads of all political parties to take action against the brutal murders. This is perhaps the largest number of people that have showed their support with regards to this issue.
Criticism is inevitable. In this case, it is the question of a petition being the solution to our arduous problems. It’s true, a petition is not the only solution. It is, however, an initiation point for a much bigger action plan. These 15,000 people defied all labels and cliches. It was not about the liberals or the conservatives, but about Pakistanis uniting against violence and fear. It is symbolic of the fact that, contrary to popular perception, we are not a nation of vigilantes. The atmosphere of intimidation can only be countered by courage.
The next thing now is to strategise a way forward. We understand that it is zeal that gives the extremists an upper hand, and to counter that we must identify our driving force. Our support system is then our political parties. Much of the criticism after the assassinations has been aimed at the PPP, when, in fact, all political parties need to step up to the crisis. The assassinations are not just displays of vigilantism and lack of security but most of all they show is a failure of governance.
In fact, the PML-N needs more of our attention for it’s failure to counter hate campaigns against minorities in Punjab.
This brings me to the point about perseverance. In the wake of Taseer and Bhatti’s assassinations, we ought to realise that it is one bumpy ride from here on. We cannot allow ourselves to be reduced to labels or engulfed by pessimism. The call for upholding the rule of law and the stance against intimidation is a basic humanitarian right. It is a cause that is meant for and must appeal to all Pakistanis alike.