Raza Habib Raja
It has been three years since Governor Salman Taseer was slain. As some commemorate his bravery, this is also a time for reflecting on why it happened. And more importantly why there were actually people throwing rose petals on the murderer, Mumtaz Qadri and why there was little to no public condemnation when he was murdered.
To some extent the murder of Salman Taseer happened due to the extreme reverence attached to religion and the Prophet (S.A.W). Outright religious fanaticism is of course responsible and perhaps the only cure in the long run is desensitizing people from religion. I will not dispute this obvious reality.
But this only partially explains the complex situation. Reverence alone does not lead men to commit murders. It is what the society explicitly or implicitly expects with respect to actual demonstration of reverence (particularly when the revered figures and symbols are perceived to be under attack) which often leads to adoption of a particular action.
These expectations are not always spelt out clearly but nevertheless are articulated through slogans which are loaded and narratives which project some real life individuals as heroes and villains.
Extremely pervasive as well as loaded slogans like “Hurmat-e-Rasool per Jaan be qurban hai” ( for the honour of the Prophet we are ready to sacrifice our lives) actually expects that honor of the Prophet (S.A.W) should be protected even if one has to give his/her life. Slogans such as these become extremely dangerous with respect to their potential impact. I am not saying that they affect every person in the same way but it merely takes one individual to get affected in “that” way to do the unthinkable.
Moreover, such slogans and the related literature also lowers the threshold of the desired level of “reverence” as that line where so called blasphemy starts, becomes blurred and it is left for the individuals to simply decide what they consider as blasphemy.
Let us not forget that Salman Taseer never abused the Holy Prophet (S.A.W). All he did was to demand a pardon for a poor woman accused of blasphemy and question the blasphemy law. And yet, that was enough for Mr. Qadri to do what he did and then boast about it in front of the camera. And later in those embarrassing scenes-which have become permanently ingrained in our memory- he was showered with rose petals.
Rather than simply brushing it aside as emotional adulation of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) I think the act committed by Mumtaz Qadri and the subsequent reaction of some Pakistanis, merits serious introspection. Did Mr. Qadri commit it because of anger alone or he actually expected adulation of this sort subsequent to his act.
I think this is important because such acts are often committed for personal glorification. Yes, Mr. Qadri courted possible death when he fired upon the Governor but he also looked towards widespread hero worship and “immortality’ in the similar vein of Ilm-ud-Din.
I think, the Ilm-ud-din incidence and its narrative are extremely important here and one can actually draw parallels of Mumtaz Qadri affair with it. Ilm-ud-Din also committed a murder and ever since his death through execution, he has always been revered and called a Martyr. There are some who would disagree and say that Ilm-ud-Din’s case is totally different but this is frankly not true. Ilm—d-Din also killed and he did not even kill the author of the controversial book ( though that too would have been unforgivable)but the local publisher.
His act was subsequently glorified and his legacy has been immortalized in the following words of Iqbal ‘Aaj yeh unpadh ladka hum sub padhe likhon se aage nikal gaya hai” (This uneducated young man has surpassed us, the educated ones).
Pakistan’s most revered poet and the actual ideological founder had praised Ilm-ud-din, in words that would actually define the latter’s legacy. And he was also adulated and praised by other leading Muslim nobles of those times such as Zafar Ali Khan in the following words: “Alas! If only if I had managed to attain such a blessed status!”
This is the legacy of Ilm-ud-Din.
Let me quote a paragraph which one of his fans wrote about Ilm-ud-Din and let me assure you that such words are extremely common.
“When the body of Ilm Din was exhumed from its grave, it was found to be the intact without any change whatsoever. The kaffan (shroud) had not changed its colour. This occurred on 14th November 1929 — a full 15 days after the hanging. After a two-day journey, the body arrived in Lahore. Muslims from the whole city and millions from adjoining areas attended his funeral. Ilmuddin’s father requested Allama Muhammad Iqbal to lead the funeral prayer and this shivered Dr. Allama Iqbal who replied that I am a sinful person not competent to do this job to lead the funeral of such a matchless warrior. 200,000 Muslims attended the funeral prayer which led by the Imam of masjid Wazeer Khan, Imam Muhammed Shamsuddeen.”
Every country and society has some heroes whose deeds are glorified so that the young can hopefully emulate them. In a society where Ilm-ud-Din has been made into a legend and a “Shaheed” rather than being called a murderer, murder of Salman Taseer is hardly a surprise. Mumtaz Qadri, in his head was going to heaven and on his way to attaining the same legendary status when he fired shots at Salman Taseer. And like Ilm-ud-Din, his attempt did not even target the actual accused. Salman Taseer had never committed any blasphemy; he had merely asked for a presidential pardon of an illiterate woman accused of blasphemy. And yet due to the Ilm-ud-Din legend and no clear cut definition of what exactly constitutes as blasphemy, Mumtaz Qadri took the decision, a calculated one, and literally got away with it. And the subsequent showering of the rose petals, demonstrate that he was not wrong in his calculations.
No society is monolithic as it is composed of numerous individuals and has so many cultures and sub cultures. It would be totally wrong for me to say that actions of Mumtaz Qadri were supported by all and he is a universal hero. I know that many hated his act. And many of those who did not support his act were devout Muslims. I personally talked to many and found that apparently a large number was utterly shocked by Mumtaz Qadri’s act.
However, those many never came out to protest. Immediately after his act, it was the Islamists chiefly belonging to the Brailvi sect who thronged the streets. And they were celebrating and threatening that any review of the controversial blasphemy law would be met with severe resistance.
The vigil which was organized by those protesting his murder barely attracted a few hundred and those who attended look so different from the rest of Pakistan. The size and the appearance of the crowd contrasted so much from the processions of the “other” side. There could be no greater disparity between the two groups.
I have heard a number of times that in Pakistan the religious parties hardly get any vote and that their appeal is in the fringes and therefore Pakistan would ultimately come out of this self reinforcing circle of hate and violence. However, I beg to differ here. Religious fanatics do not need mass support to execute their agenda. They are not trying to bring Islam through electoral process. All they need is a critical mass and a few impressionable men and women who are willing to die. This is all what is needed to ensure that anyone speaking against bigotry and misuse of religion is exterminated. And considering the fact that those who speak against controversial religious laws and tools of oppression are very few in numbers, it becomes alarmingly easy task to make a horrible example of them. Salman Taseer was punished for his outspokenness and for calling the current form of Anti Blasphemy law, a Black law.
So called moderates may be more, but it is the hardliners to whom the street and the weapons belong.
The incident showed that we need to at least discuss what exactly constitutes blasphemy. Irrespective of whether some liberals disagree with the entire concept ( as I do) it still needs to be discussed and for that matter the religious right has to be engaged. Once we have determined what constitutes it, then we can debate over whether it needs to be punished or not and by whom.
In the presence of such vagueness, anyone can simply construe any statement as blasphemous and then act to indulge in self glory. And although his act won’t be supported by all, it will by many. It therefore becomes important to actually determine what sort of speech is blasphemous.
Of course, it does not mean that supposedly blasphemous speech has to be punished by death or by anything for that matter but at least let’s try to determine the boundaries here. Let me make my point of view clear here: I am against any act of aggression against any person accused of blasphemy. Even if Salman Taseer had committed blasphemy ( which he clearly did not), he did not deserve to be murdered.
But even more importantly, we need to reexamine the narratives here about people like Ilm-ud-Din. Why do we try to narrate story of murderers like Ilm-ud-Din in a consecrated manner? By such narrations, we may not be converting the entire population into fanatics but nevertheless a critical mass is getting “motivated” And all what the hardliners need is that critical organized mass which is ready to even adopt violence.