The seventh anniversary of Salmaan Taseer’s death was celebrated in an atmosphere of fear. The ex Governor of Punjab was shot dead in 2011 by his police guard Mumtaz Qadri. Eventually Qadri became a hero to the masses while Salmaan Taseer for the majority of the population of this county became a blasphemer.
Such was the fear of the extremists that even his own political party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, did not own him and no one from the top tier leadership attended his funeral. In contrast, the funeral for Tasser’s murderer was attended by hundreds of thousands of people. This actually reflects the state of fear one has to live within a society incapable of understanding the power of knowledge and logic, and where the dissent and difference of opinion is considered as blasphemy or treason.
Salmaan Taseer raised his voice for the Christian lady Asia Bibi who was accused of blasphemy. He criticized the law and termed the law of blasphemy a black law that was meant to settle personal enmities and to marginalize the minorities’ society where people blindly follow the mere sloganeering, rotten thoughts, self proclaimed interpretations of faith and where a man who is a critical thinker or has a head on his shoulders cannot live freely. Somehow if the people with logic or civilized thoughts come forward and challenge the faith mafia or rotten self proclaimed ideologies they meet the same fate as Salmaan Taseer.
Taseer has gone but he has left many questions that still need to be answered. Will the religious clerics always enjoy the monopoly and authority to declare any one a blasphemer at their will and as per their interpretations of faith? Will the mob justice not be stopped in these cases and is it not a State’s responsibility and duty to punish those who use the law of blasphemy for their interest or who kill the accuser without even giving him a chance to give explanation?
Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan, while awarding the death penalty to the murderer of Salmaan Taseer, said it loudly and clearly that to criticize this law of blasphemy or to discuss it for the better implications is not blasphemy. Sadly the majority of the people in Pakistan, who under the propaganda of the religious clerics consider a murderer like Mumtaz Qadri a hero, know nothing about the ground reality of most of the cases of blasphemy including Salmaan Taseer’s.
Mumtaz Qadri was an emotional and uneducated man who under the influence of the propaganda of the religious cleric Qari Hanif Dar killed Salmaan Taseer. 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.
Salmaan Taseer was an example of a self made successful entrepreneur 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 then left the ownership of the company when he actively joined politics.
Whereas Mumtaz Qadri spread the waves of terror and ignorance of hatred among society, the actual murderer of Salmaan Taseer is the thought that actually supports and nurtures fundamentalists like Qadri. And sadly even educated minds also fall prey to the ideologies of hatred and extremism spread by religious clerics and faith mafia. You support Salmaan Taseer and even the most educated will start threatening you with the accusation of blasphemy without knowing that it is actually the faith mafia and religious clerics who are only exploiting their blind following of 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 the situation where religious clerics termed the sitting government as blasphemous, it only taking a few hours of unsuccessful operation from the government to disburse protesters into riots. Even the government had to then bend to its knees and fulfil the demands of the fundamentalists.
So in a society where even the government is hostage to religious clerics and the faith mafia, Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti or Mashal Khan’s murderers and lynching hold no importance. The fanatics in the name of religion have actually made the state and population hostage and are successfully making money and enjoying power in the name of religion and by playing the blasphemy card.
This has actually given birth to the millions of useless 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 that the state acts now by denouncing the extremist narrative and by promoting the 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 real hero is one who contributes towards the betterment of humanity and peacefully negates the violent ideologies and thoughts by his acts, just as Salmaan Taseer did.
For the blind followers who are hostage to the faith mafia and prefer to remain their captive, 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.” You need to give space to the dissenting voices so you can have a broader canvas available where you can see the difference between the darkness of the ignorance and the light of knowledge. There is a famous saying that the dangerous person is the one who has only read one book.
It is high time that we as a society stop preaching to our children to protect God and religion by murdering the dissenters or lynching them. The religions were not being made to kill people in their name, they were introduced to make individuals more ethical and responsible.
Salmaan Taseer actually criticized the amendments in the blasphemy law introduced by the dictator Zia-ul-Haq to gain religious support from the clerics. We need to seriously address this issue and somehow need to make sure that this law cannot be used to set personal enmities and to marginalize the minorities. We have to decide whether we want to create heroes like Stephen Hawking or Edison for our new generations or extremists like Mumtaz Qadri and Khadim Rizvi. The choice is ours but the consequences will be faced by our generations to come.
Let us stop living in the denial that we are the purest of the nations who are the favourite people of God and the world and that the people who dissent are eligible to be killed. Until and unless this mentality is changed we will keep losing people like Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and Mashal Khan.
Instead of living in constant fear where hosting candlelight vigils in the memory of Salmaan Taseer is even considered a risk of life, we need to build a narrative of lighting a candle of love, peace and harmony. We can do it by at least preaching to our children not to idealize the fanatics who kill other humans in the name of religion or ideologies. For that we need to start the debate on the importance of human lives and peace.
Salmaan Taser refused to live like a lamb and broke his silence, he was killed but at least he was able to light the candle of peace. It is our turn now to break this silence of the lambs and make sure that no one else in future can be killed like Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti or Mashal Khan.
Imad Zafar is a journalist based in Lahore. He is a regular Columnist/Commentator in newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, political, policies and media related think tanks.