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 blasphemy.
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 ignorance.