A New Age Islam reader sent the following letter to the editor:
Here is a letter sent by Pakistan’s foremost progressive intellectual and physicist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy to a friend:
I am sharing with you some lines that I have just written for family and friends who are warning me:
Whatever one might think of Governor Salman Taseer's politics, he was killed this Wednesday for what was certainly the best act of his life: trying to save the life of an illiterate, poor, peasant Christian woman.
But rose petals are being showered upon his murderer. He is being called a ghazi, lawyers are demonstrating spontaneously for his release, clerics refused to perform his funeral rites. Most shockingly, the interior minister - his political colleague and the ultimate coward - has said that he too would kill a blasphemer with his own hands.
Pakistan once had a violent, rabidly religious lunatic fringe. This fringe has morphed into a majority. The liberals are now the fringe. We are now a nation of butchers and primitive savages. Europe's Dark Ages have descended upon us.
Sane people are being terrified into silence. After the assassination, FM-99 (Urdu) called me for an interview. The producer tearfully told me (offline) that she couldn't find a single religious scholar ready to condemn Taseer's murder. She said even ordinary people like me are in short supply.
I am deeply depressed today. So depressed that I can barely type these lines.
Yesterday a TV program on blasphemy (Samaa, hosted by Asma Shirazi) was broadcast (it'll be rebroadcast today). Asma had pleaded that I participate. So I did - knowing fully well what was up ahead. But I could not bear to watch the broadcast and turned it off after a few minutes.
My opponents were Farid Paracha (spokesman, Jamaat-e-Islami) and Maulana Sialvi (Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi and supposed moderate). There were around 100 students in the audience, drawn from colleges across Pindi and Islamabad.
Even as the mullahs frothed and screamed around me (and at me), I managed to say the obvious: that the culture of religious extremism was resulting in a bloodbath in which the majority of victims are Muslims; that non-Muslims were fleeing Pakistan; that the self-appointed "thaikaydars" of Islam in Pakistan were deliberately ignoring the case of other Muslim countries like Indonesia which do not have the death penalty for blasphemy; that debating the details of Blasphemy Law 295-C did not constitute blasphemy; that American Muslims were very far from being the objects of persecution; that harping on drone attacks was an irrelevancy to the present discussion on blasphemy.
The response? Not a single clap for me. Thunderous applause whenever my opponents called for death for blasphemers. And loud cheers for Qadri, the murderer. When I directly addressed Sialvi and said he had Salman Taseer's blood on his hand, he exclaimed "How I wish I did!" (kaash ke main hota!).
Islamofascism is a reality. This country is destined to drown in blood from civil war. I wish people would stop writing rubbish about Pakistan having an image problem. It's the truth that's really the problem.
Am I afraid? Yes, I'd be crazy not to be. And never more than at the present time. The battle for sanity has been lost. Many friends have written to me to leave Pakistan. How can I? One must keep fighting as long as possible. It is what we owe to future generations.
Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy is chair and professor in the department of physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he has taught for 38 years.