By: Abid Suleri
I liked the Salmaan Taseer of the 1980s, when he resisted General Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship but felt let down when he accepted an offer to become interim federal minister during General Musharraf’s regime. I felt betrayed when the PPP government tipped his name as governor of Punjab after winning the 2008 elections. One could differ with Governor Salmaan Taseer’s political approach. His governorship might have been controversial; however, his bold stance against the blasphemy law was a reassurance that, despite his political compulsions, he would always uphold secular values.
His life was under threat. He was termed an infidel and a blasphemer. There were fatwas to kill him, with reward money for the killer. Yet one of his last tweets was: “Under huge pressure to cow down before rightist pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’mthe last man standing.”
He had courage and was bold enough to not be intimidated by so-called self-styled, self-made custodians of Islam and he was not only standing up, but also speaking openly against terrorism and against those who were misinterpreting religion. Many people have already said and written that his death was a shameful day in our history. He was killed because he chose to express his opinion on a law that has been much misused.
I am mourning not only his murder but also the murder of my own ideology – that of ‘live and let live’. And it is an ideology that is common in many religions. I didn’t know what to say to my nine-year-old son when he asked me why Salmaan Taseer had been killed. All I could think of in my mind was that Taseer’s life was as if he were trying to sell mirrors in a city of blind people.
One needs to understand the actors and factors responsible for spreading the cancer of religious extremism in our society. Our rulers, as well as civil and military establishments, have been misusing Islam (in their own way) to prolong their rule, to create ‘strategic assets’, to fight a proxy war and to blackmail the western world. Their shortsighted approach has poisoned society and state institutions to such an extent that not only the CIA and the Pentagon but even ordinary Pakistanis can no longer trust our law-enforcement agencies.
Just imagine the power of Islamic fundamentalist groups: the prime minister of the progressive PPP never publicly approved of Salmaan Taseer and Sherry Rehman’s stance of bringing reform to the blasphemy law and, in fact, the prime minister made it clear that the government would not change the law.
Perhaps Salmaan Taseer could have been alive had prompt action been taken against the mullahs who incited the Gojra carnage. He could have been alive had there been public condemnation by all political parties of the attack on Ahmadis in Lahore. He could have been alive had the government initiated an action against the mullah who announced a cash reward for killing Aasia Bibi. He would have been alive had our media promoted the cause of respecting religious diversity.
Silently bearing this pain will not help any of us. Extremist forces are trying to mute every voice of sanity. We need to say enough is enough and stand and rise against this monster of fanaticism in order to make this country a livable place for our future generations. Religion is a personal matter and we should not let fascist forces impose their version of it on us. We need to struggle for separating the state from religion in accordance with the vision of the founders of Pakistan – founders who were declared infidels and opposed by all Islamic parties of that time.
To me, the best way to pay homage to Salmaan Taseer is to pressurise the PPP government to complete his mission of reforming the blasphemy law. The question is, will the PPP-led government rise to the challenge?
We have to support sane voices like those of Taseer and Sherry Rehman to prove that Pakistan is not a barbarian land. Will Zardari and Gilani join us in paying homage to their deceased governor?