It may be that the most eloquent words I can summon, in the wake of businessman and Punjab, Pakistan Governor Salman Taseer’s assassination, are these: “the death was received with shock in India.” Here I am quoting a Times of India article which is accurately headlined, “Taseer’s killing a warning to Pak’s liberal politicians.” It has been, or should I say, ought to have been, received with shock anywhere that people care about the advancement of good governance and peaceful coexistence, not only in Pakistan but all across our fractured and bloodied world.
We are told Taseer was killed over his vocal support of Asia Bibi and of the repealing of the hideous Blasphemy Law. Although this was doubtless the immediate and final cause, Taseer’s personal and political lives yielded to the Punjab’s dirty and hateful fundamentalists many useful speaking points. He was by culture, if not conviction, a Lahore Ahmadi; Part XII, Chapter 5 of the Constitution of Pakistan made it illegal for him to call himself a Muslim. (Recall that in May 2010 two Lahore Ahmadi mosques were attacked by members of the Pakistani Taliban.) His mother was a Christian, and he was married for a time to Indian journalist Tavleen Singhan, by whom he had a British-born son. All very bad things, if you view the world as a tribal fanatic. Examples of such an outlook are discouragingly easy to find on the Internet:
… his father MD Taseer was a literary person but like him who married with a Christian woman, all of his descendents love lust and passing licentious life style. Inherited immoral [i.e. Christian] genes of Salman Taseer pushed him to marry with a Sikh Indian woman in 1980, Talveen Singh, who works for Indian Express, born a son Aatish Salman Singh, who works for Times magazine.
Nasty stuff, and as you read this, Pakistan is being torn to pieces by it. Not only that, but as Taseer had the courage to say, the Punjab nourishes the disease and thereby guarantees its spreading well beyond Pakistan’s borders:
I worry about terrorism. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which is in government in the Punjab, has old linkages with and a natural affinity for extremist organizations like Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, and so many others. Let’s face it: terrorists need logistical support from within — somebody funds them, somebody guides them, and somebody looks after them — and that support is coming from the Punjab.
The Blasphemy Law, we should notice, is nothing more and nothing less than a Islamist-extremist weapon for use against rival sects and minorities, in the specific case of Bibi the Christian minority. Taseer knew well that in challenging the Blasphemy Law he was challenging the Punjab Establishment, which was itself behind a last-minute change in Taseer’s security detail and thus, it would seem, his death. Gopalapuram Parthasarathy, former High Commissioner of India to Pakistan, is quoted saying that the assassination is “a manifestation of a growing Islamist intolerance within the security establishment. The entire establishment has been swamped by rising intolerance.” Intolerance of what, exactly? As I argued in an article two days ago, of secular democracy, which undermines and indeed precludes the realization of any and all religious fundamentalist claims to absolute knowledge, absolute truth, absolute authority, and absolute power.
Salman Taseer, a far from perfect man, was trying to move his country into the future. Today there is one less person to stand for Pakistan. He was an individual of courage and principle, as well as of practical wisdom. His enemies, who will today claim a victory, are in every but one sense backward, looking forward only to the next murder.