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Pakistan: Salman Taseer's Tragic Assassination And The Blasphemy Law

In one of the saddest moments of Pakistan's battered political history, the Governor of the Punjab, Mr. Salman Taseer was assassinated in cold blood by one his own body guards while leaving a Cafeteria in one of the up-town markets of Pakistan's Federal Capital – Islamabad.

Governor of the Punjab Salmaan Taseer. Image by Flickr user Salman Taseer. CC BY-NC-SA

Mr. Taseer was known for his unique style of politics, hard-hitting, bold and at times humorous. He was also known for his uncomfortable relationship with the elected provincial government of the PML-N. He touched upon issues nobody else would dare to speak about, the Blasphemy law being one of them.

The arrested bodyguard Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. Photo by Sajjad Ali Qureshi. Copyright Demotix.

The body guard, who belonged to the Police Elite Force and gave himself up, claims he did what he did because of what he considered blasphemous comments of the Governor regarding the infamous blasphemy law.

Kalsoom at CHUP! – Changing Up Pakistan broke the news with this sentence:

Pakistan lost a brave man today.

The governor was an active user of Social media tools such as Twitter and Flickr and found some support from the blogosphere in Pakistan which has already been abuzz, mostly in favour of the repeal of or modifications to the blasphemy law. One of his tweets on the Blasphemy law is quoted below:

“I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy.Refused. Even if Im the last man standing” [His Twitter Account can be viewed here]

Kalsoom adds in her post:

Taseer became increasingly vocal against the blasphemy laws after Aasia Bibi became the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death, allying “with rights activists, critics and several government officials in urging the government to repeal or revise” the legislation. His courage to stand up against the religious intolerance in the country was met with protests, and the NY Times reported that effigies of the Punjab Governor were burned in protests last Friday.

20/11/10 – Governor of the Punjab Salmaan Taseer visits Aasia Bibi, Christian woman condemned to death under the Blasphemy Law. Image by Flickr user Salman Taseer. CC BY-NC-SA

Some people were of the opinion that the Governor over-reacted to the Aasia Bibi case, a woman who is currently under trial on blasphemy charges, and went a touch too aggressive with the words and the tone he chose to express his anguish. But regardless of that, his comments focused more on the blasphemy “law” that is manipulated by some, usually powerful, people to victimize others.

Farhan Janjua, a Pakistani blogger, opined in a Twitter message:

“Mumtaz Qadri [the body guard who shot at the Governor] cheated with his profession and can NEVER be called an “Aashiq e Rasool” [Lover of the Prophet], he should NOT be forgiven..”

Arsalan Mir, a telecom blogger from Pakistan, rightly put it this way:

“It was never about blasphemy law. It was and is about its right implementation #Pakistan”

Twitter was in a state of shock as “Salman Taseer” was on the top of the list of topics trending worldwide. Twitter users and bloggers from Pakistan were almost unanimous in denouncing and condemning this cowardly act in the strongest possible terms.

Osama Bin Javaid blames the media for the murder of Salman Taseer;

Salman Taseer’s murder underlines the strong current of religious intolerance and hatred; which the media apparently plays up. Critics I’ve spoken to argue that whether its the URS celebrations or violent protests by the clergy; the media indiscriminately gives them airtime.

While many see it as an individual act, conspiracy theorists will not simply over-look the fact that Pakistan's history has brutal examples of political victimization and assassinations. This incident and its timing, where the ruling PPP has lost its numerical majority in the Parliament, is sure to raise a few eye-brows in Pakistan.

Let us face it, proposing changes to the blasphemy law in Pakistan is a tough ask. It is a topic that is extremely sensitive to the masses in Pakistan. An open and broad-minded understanding of how the law is being misused is lacking, so is the will on part of the politicians to bring positive and acceptable changes to it.

Huma Imtiaz writes:

Let me reiterate this: the Blasphemy Laws, in the form and shape that they are in today, are used as a tool for murder. For over 20 years, this law has led to the deaths of scores of people. Thousands have been persecuted under this law.

It may be noted here that Blasphemy is not an Islamic subject in this context, it being punishable in Judaism and Christianity as well, the issue is about its implementation in Pakistan.

Sadly, what was witnessed today was cold-blooded murder which can simply not be justified in any way, in any form or by any religion in the world. The incident also reflects growing intolerance in the Pakistani society and the alarming influence unqualified ‘Mullahs’ exercise on immature and naive minds.

Never ending and inconclusive investigations will now begin, as has always been the case. We can only hope justice wins this time and sense prevails. The Pakistan government, on its part, is running short on time. Terrorism and home-grown extremism needs to be routed out and dealt with an iron fist.

Shahid at Tārikh-nāma ends his post with this phrase:

As a coward, I can only blog about him. For what it’s worth, let’s celebrate what he stood up for, and what was responsible for his brazen assassination at the hands of not one man, but an entire nation.

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