Remembering Taseer

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Intolerance lives

The murder of Salmaan Taseer, the outspoken liberal politician and Governor of Punjab, was a testimony to the depth of extremist sentiment in the country and the inefficacy of the ruling class. Taseer was gunned down by one of his own guards from the elite police force. Shortly afterwards, the murderer handed himself over to police, beaming with pride in front of cameras while confessing that he had killed Taseer because of his opposition to the blasphemy law. It is painful to remember that Qadri was not alone to rejoice in the barbarous act. As many as eight Facebook fan pages sprang up within a few hours, pronouncing Qadri a “hero” and a “son of Pakistan”. Clerics announced that Taseer’s death can’t be mourned because he supported a blasphemer. In one breath, television anchors described his death as a great loss at this time of political instability and questioned his stance on the blasphemy law.

The hate campaign against Taseer had started a month earlier when he expressed sympathy for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was an accused in a blasphemy case. This gave birth to fiery speeches by a section of the clergy who also issued edicts that justified Taseer’s s killing. Instead of bringing the perpetrators of the hate campaign to law, both the federal and Punjab governments ignored the provocations. This emboldened the handful of extremists agitating over the issue who then took out processions. The policy of appeasement continued even after Taseer’s murder when extremists were allowed to mob the court where the case was being heard. The judge who sentenced him to death received death threats and had to leave the country along with his family. Taseer’s family received another shock when his son Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped in broad daylight in the last week of August and still remains untraced, another example of the apathy and incompetence of the administration.

Taseer’s killing is a big blow for all who are working for an enlightened and progressive Pakistan. His murder is a message to everyone in the country who stands for justice and humanity, that unless all institutions of the state as well as civil society are mobilised to stem the tide of the intolerance, extremism and vigilantism could devour society and the state.