"Mera azm itna buland hai ke paraye shaulon ka dar nahin
Mujhe khauf aatish-e-gul se hai, ye kaheen chaman ko jala ne de"
[My resolve is so strong that I do not fear the flames from without
I fear only the radiance of the flowers, that it might burn my garden down]
— Shakeel Badayuni couplet referenced by Salmaan Taseer on Twitter, 8 hours before his assassination
I had been hoping that I could post something light-hearted, more entertaining at the start to the new year, but today's Pakistan it seems is not the place for these sort of things any more. Four days into January and we already have yet another tragedy that has evoked not only pain and sadness but also immense amounts of disgust at the depths to which we, the unfortunate inhabitants of this blighted country, have sunk.
Assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer: last man standing (Photo: APP/Dawn)
Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer's brutal and senseless murder in Islamabad today (Tuesday) is not only an intensely heavy blow for his family and friends - to whom our thoughts go out to - but also to the hopes for a saner public discourse about issues that certain people endeavour to keep out of the conversation altogether. He often said things that many think but are unwilling to say in public out of fear or aversion to stoking argument. Whatever anyone may have thought about Taseer's personal life (not that it's any of anyone's concern) or his business practices, there is absolutely no doubt that he was a brave and outspoken man who did not compromise his personal beliefs for the sake of cowardly politics. Along with barely a couple of other politicians on the national level (Sherry Rehman being one), his was a rare voice that was willing to take on the rightist mullah mindset in the public domain.
And contrary to what his detractors claimed, he did so with full awareness of the moral responsibilities of a public figure. In a recent interview, he was asked why he chose to raise the issue of the unjust blasphemy laws when he knew that he would receive brickbats from the rightist parties and become the target of the extremists. He replied: "Because if even I don't, how will others get over their fears?" On December 31, he tweeted:
"I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy.Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing"
In Salmaan Taseer's untimely death we have all lost a truly courageous individual. Those within his party who opposed his just stand on the abhorrent misuse of blasphemy laws, moral pygmies such as Babar Awan, should hang their heads in shame.
The face of fanaticism: Malik Mumtaz Qadri (Photo: Reuters)
At the same time, one must also feel disgust at those who have either valourized Taseer's self-confessed lunatic murderer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, or used their weasely arguments to somehow try and justify the outrage. So-called-intellectuals like Irfan Siddiqui and bigots like Jamaat-e-Islami's oily Fareed Paracha and the ever-slimy Ansar Abbasi tried their best to claim (on Geo) that Taseer was somehow himself responsible for his fate because he had raised a "sensitive" issue. I am not of the opinion that one should not speak ill of the dead only because he or she is dead, curse Zia ul Haq with every breath as far as I am concerned. But these gentlemen's basic argument was this: even expressing your opinion about a warped law made by a warped dictator and endorsed by his warped proteges is enough to condemn you to death, so everyone should keep quiet about the misuse of religion and leave it all up to the mullah brigade. It's time to tell them to shut the fuck up themselves.
But the disgust does not end with a couple of morons trying to silence all discussion about religion to and other fanatics praising a criminal. The bigger issue, as we have been saying all along, is the refusal of society to see the inter-linkages of such acts of terrorism with the mindset that has been cultivated through the military establishment's promotion of jihadi outfits, the propping up of so-called religious parties whose only agenda is bigotry, the pusillanimous and opportunistic silence over the treatment of minorities such as Ahmadis, Shias, Hindus and Christians and indeed all dissenters (religious scholar Javed Ghamdi being one), the valourization of criminals such as the illiterate Ilm Deen (dubbed shaheed [martyr] because he was hanged in 1929 for murdering a publisher), the rejection of rationality and logic, the marginalization of the arts and cultural traditions as something alien to our society, and the tolerance for hate-speech and incitements to violence such as that of this monkey. It is this mindset, which has been cultivated by the state looking the other way at - if not directly promoting - acts of radicalization, that allows an entire police squad to see nothing wrong in one of their own planning to commit the murder of someone they are assigned to protect. (We now hear via Geo that Qadri had in fact confided to his colleagues in the Punjab 'Elite Force' about his plans and had even requested them not to shoot at him, a request they honoured.)
Our real disgust should be directed at all those parts of society that cannot put two and two together despite the evidence staring them in the face. We will inevitably hear a lot in the media about security lapses and administrative efficiency lapses that led to a criminal being part of a protective force (incidentally, Geo is also reporting through its sources that Qadri had been sacked from the Punjab Police's Special Branch a few months ago because he was dubbed a 'security risk'). But the only void that I think we really need to focus on is the one in our society's collective brain.
So how do we deal with all this? I have heard a lot of dismay and hopelessness today and I can completely understand the feeling. For many people, this is another nail in the coffin of the idea of a viable future for Pakistan. The only option to counter this feeling of despondency, in my opinion, is to become more assertive and louder and to shame those who would stifle dissent. The problem of course is that wishy-washy liberalism cannot fight fanaticism. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Simply put, we can either shut up, resign ourselves to our fate and disconnect from this country and society or we can fight back and refuse to cede the space that the bastards want us to. Nobody ever said it would be easy.
As a start, let us declare Qadri, all those who support Qadri and murderers like him, the Khatm-e-Nabuwat movement and its ilk as outside the pale of Islam. Let's see how they like being referred to as blasphemers and murtids. Nobody said the fight would not be dirty.