By Bushra Zulfiqar
21st January 2011
Once again no condemnation of the brutal assassination of Salma Taseer Shaheed is enough. As a debate has encircled in and outside of Pakistan about the extremist and the moderates Muslim identity, once again the country is at cross roads. People suddenly are under pressure to declare themselves as liberals or fundamentalists minded followers of religion. In the weeks following the assassination, reactions have also been confrontational and completely poles apart. There is the clerics segment and secretarian crass glorifying the assassin, rewarding him with superior titles like ‘Gazi’ and yet there is another section of larger civil society and social activists openly denouncing this crime and the celebration that followed. There is also a huge majority sitting on the fence and not siding with one or the either, largely due to the fear of being silenced like the assassinated Governor. It is coward of the Government to openly declare that this oppressive law of blasphemy will not be amended. It is giving up to a very harsh and unforgiving Mullah mindset, which is the farthest thing from real Islamic ideology. How can one guarantee no misuse of the law without rectifying it at first place? This is one of things which need to be protested against. The state of Pakistan cannot abandon the religious minorities their right and basic entitlement to a free and fair course of justice. Not getting it right and doing away with the death penalty will make religious minorities vulnerable and exposed to victimization and harassment and that too shamefully in the name of our beautiful religion of Islam. In a Muslim majority country, where there is no record of religious minorities inciting hate towards Islam, such a biased and blind law kills the essence of living in a democratic republic. What is even more ironic is that, this is contrary to the protection and liberties that Islam guarantees to minorities. In essence, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in their current shape not only damage the human and civil rights of minorities but also re-enforce State imposition of religious beliefs and restricts the freedom of thought.
In this day and age of horrific news, lack of moral courage and the environment of fearful silence, we tend to get distracted as everyday there is another breaking news or emergency like situation. We seem to be living from one crisis to another; the country’s domestic politics probably has never been murkier, corruption scandals and price hike has escalated but first things first. We must not forget Asia Bibi. A lot of blood has been spilled; too much insanity has been unleashed from left, right, top and the bottom. In a very obvious and direct confrontation between the divided segments of our society, let us please not allow Asia Bibi to escape from our mental radars. What is important is to let the stand Taseer took and that very noble cause for which he lost his life, reach a fair and just end. Asia Bibi must not be forgotten, left and abandoned in the aftermath of Taseer’s assassination, which has generated all kinds of debates around Islam and led our Prime Minister to make that cowardly announcement of not tinkering with blasphemy laws. Justice should prevail and in this clash of extremism and moderation, it is sanity which should prevail. This is a critical juncture for us and the fate of Asia Bibi will play a defining role in determining the future of minorities Pakistan. A long term struggle should follow from here onwards to put the country back on a progressive path, true to the Islamic principles of love, humanity, peaceful co-existence. The extremist mindset in the society has to be discouraged, if not eliminated in the short run. Spreading hatred in the name of religion is the most bizarre and painfully ridiculous thing that has ever happened to us. To justify a murder in the name of our Prophet PBUH would dis-appoint him, the most. To continue with the blasphemy law in the same manner, would means state perpetuated brutality, and too directed at minorities. Islam and the honor of our Holy Prophet do not need to be defended by vicious and biased laws. Victimizing, harassing and hanging people who are already week (in terms of numbers and economic status) will only defame our religion. It goes against the teachings and practices of our Holy Prophet (PBUH) and a huge dis-service to his message of universal love.
Therefore, it is imperative to push for the immediate release of Asia Bibi, a poor, weak and oppressed woman who cannot do much to protect herself but is the cause for which Taseer was silenced. Let us not forget his courageous stand and give up our fight for justice.
(Bushra Zulfiqar is a writer and development activist from Pakistan. She studied at the London School of Economics and works for the welfare of minority groups, including women and children.)