By Imad Zafar
January 4, 2019
It has been eight years since Salman
Taseer, the governor of Punjab and a stalwart of the Pakistan People’s Party,
was assassinated on January 4, 2011, in the federal capital Islamabad. He was
shot dead by his police guard Mumtaz Qadri, who became a hero to the masses.
Taseer, however, was a blasphemer in the eyes of the majority of Pakistanis.
Taseer had raised his voice in defence of a
Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. Eventually, Asia Bibi
was acquitted by the Supreme Court last year, validating Taseer’s assertion
that she was the victim of a law tailored to exploit minorities and settle
personal scores in the name of religion. He called it a black law that was used
to settle personal scores and marginalize minorities.
Taseer is gone but he has left many
questions that still need to be answered. Will the religious clerics always
have the authority to declare anyone a blasphemer at their will and as per
their interpretations of faith? Will mob justice not be stopped in these cases?
Is it not a state’s responsibility to punish those who use the blasphemy law
for their own interests or who kill the accused without even giving them a
chance to explain?
Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan, while
sentencing Taseer’s killer to death, said loudly and clearly that criticizing
the blasphemy law – or discussing its implications – does not constitute
Qadri, Taseer’s killer, was an emotional
and uneducated man who was influenced by the propaganda of the religious cleric
Qari Hanif Dar. The faith mafia is still enjoying the benefits of exploiting
the religious sentiments of people like Qadri, as they have even successfully
cashed in on his grave.
Taseer was a self-made, successful entrepreneur
who served as an example for the middle class of the country. He started his
career with a small accountancy firm and made it one of the most successful
accounts and audit companies in the country. He sold the company when he
entered the world of politics.
Qadri spread terror, ignorance and hatred
in society, but the real murderer of Taseer is the kind of thinking that
supports and nurtures fundamentalists like him. And, sadly, even educated minds
fall prey to the ideologies of hatred and extremism spread by religious clerics
and the faith mafia. If you support Taseer, even the most educated people will
accuse you of blasphemy without knowing that it is actually the faith mafia and
religious clerics who are exploiting their blind allegiance to faith for
monetary and political gains.
Unfortunately, even the state seems
helpless in addressing the issue of blasphemy because of the emotional
attachment of the people. In fact, the state found itself in a situation where
religious clerics called the sitting government blasphemous when Asia Bibi was
acquitted by the supreme court.
So in a society where even the government
is hostage to religious clerics and the faith mafia, the killings of Taseer,
Shahbaz Bhatti and Mashal Khan are of no importance.
Religious fanatics have actually taken the
state and population hostage and are successfully making money and enjoying
power in the name of religion by playing the blasphemy card
This has actually given birth to the
millions of compliant minds who know nothing but their own interpretation of
belief and want to impose it on others with the use of force and violence. It
is high time for the state to act by denouncing the extremist narrative and
promoting a culture of debate in society on these issues. It should be taught
to our children that a real hero is not one who wages war or kills someone in
the name of religion or blasphemy but the one who contributes to the betterment
of humanity and peacefully negates the violent ideologies and thoughts by his
acts, just as Taseer did.
For the blind followers who are hostage to
the faith mafia and prefer to remain its captives, there is no hope in the
world. The world is not going to love the darkness of hatred and a self-loving
doctrine of “I am right, everyone else is wrong.” Society needs to give space
to the dissenting voices so it can have a broader canvas available where one
can see the difference between the darkness of ignorance and the light of
knowledge. There is a famous saying that the dangerous person is the one who
has only read one book and a large majority of people in Pakistan have read
only one book.
It is high time that we as a society stop
preaching to our children to honor God and protect their religion by murdering
dissenters. Religions were not established for people to kill in their name,
they were introduced to make individuals more ethical and responsible.
Taseer criticized the amendments in the
blasphemy law introduced by the dictator Zia-ul-Haq. Zia did this to gain the
support of the clerics. As a society, we need to seriously address this issue
and somehow need to make sure that this law cannot be used to settle personal
scores and to marginalize minorities. The authorities in Pakistan have to
decide whether we want to create heroes like Stephen Hawking or Thomas Edison
for our new generations or extremists like Mumtaz Qadri and Khadim Rizvi. The
choice is ours but the consequences will be faced by generations to come.
To do so the state needs to somehow end the
delusional state of mind of the masses so they can stop believing they are the
purest of the nations and the favorite people of God and that people who
dissent from this view deserve to be killed. Unless this mentality changes, we
will keep losing people like Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, and Mashal Khan.
Instead of living in constant fear of the
potentially fatal consequences of writing about or reporting on blasphemy cases
or holding candlelight vigils in memory of Taseer, we need to create a new
narrative by lighting a candle of love, peace and harmony. We can do it by
teaching our children to not to idealize the fanatics who kill other humans in
the name of religion or ideologies. To achieve that, we need to start the
debate on the importance of human life and peace.
A big question, however, remains: Are we as
a society and a state ready to open our minds to the light of peace and
knowledge, or do we still want to keep living in the darkness of hatred and