We buried a man not his courage

10Jan11

Photo published in the Express Tribune site courtesy Reuters

Ten years ago Pakistan was a different place. The country had many problems, and has had since its very inception, but it was not somewhere a man would fire forty bullets into an unarmed man’s back and be lauded as a hero. In the Pakistan of today there are rows of security checkpoints at every major street of the federal capital, and yet we feel unsafe, constantly asking for more police officers, who it seems will shoot us in our backs. Women have all but disappeared from the streets, and those that are visible are shrouded in black with only a pair of eyes to be seen.

But then again it was only ten years ago that September 11 happened, and the US waged two wars against Muslim majority countries creating a world of increasing polarization full of fear, suspicion and conspiracy. It also began the bombing of its most loyal ally, Pakistan, making drone attacks a daily occurrence.

Three decades ago Pakistan was even more different, for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had not yet come to pass, leading to the propping of the brutal military dictator Ziaul Haq who left us with the absurd blasphemy laws that exist now. Five decades ago, the pictures we see of this same land bear no relation to the world outside my window. That was before 1971 when through our own follies we lost a chunk of ourselves, and the nation was thrown into doubt over its very identity, the two-nation theory, the need for a separate homeland for Muslims. It was only after then that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto imposed anti-Ahmadiyya laws because let’s face it nothing makes you feel more Muslim than making others less so. And how about a little over a century ago when there was no concept of blasphemy laws in the Indian subcontinent for the British had not yet set us on that path of progress.

But all those things did happen, and the fact is that this is the Pakistan of today. However, it is also true that facts can change. In response to PPP’s MNA Sherry Rehman’s submission of a bill to amend the blasphemy laws, the Islamist parties announced two rallies — December 31 and January 9. The turnout at the former was unimpressive and the strike ineffectual especially in Lahore. According to news reports, the numbers at the latter went as high as 40,000. There is no doubt in my mind that the glorification by Islamist parties and mainstream media outlets of Governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, bolstered political Islamic sentiment.

But when these men came out onto the streets on January 9 to chant in support of the blasphemy laws, they knew they were the majority. Frankly, there is no real moral substance in that. When those opposed to these laws stand together and claim public space, they know their vulnerability. They are painfully and mournfully aware of their status — that of a disappearing minority. That has not stopped hundreds — a small number but large in strength — from coming out every day.

We cannot believe that the possibility of a progressive Pakistan was laid to rest with the murdered politician. Certainly, his daughter, Sherbano Taseer does not espouse that when she writes for the New York Times, “we buried a heroic man, not the courage he inspired in others.” We cannot let his words go to waste. Many of his tweets have been reproduced over the past week; I choose these prophetic words:

Now Maulana Fazal ur Rahman wants me out because of my views! [sic] Phir hamee qatl ho ayen yaaro chalo (Then let us be murdered; come, friends, let us go.)

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17 Responses to “We buried a man not his courage”

  1. 1 zameer abbas

    Very well-written Naveen. We were not a nation like this
    not too long ago. I am from Gilgit Baltistan and in my late 20s. We
    were alien to sectarianism here. Shia-Sunni marriages were common
    besides free movement. But thanks to Zia’s “Islamization “(He sent
    an Afghan contingent to wipe out the majority Shias from the region
    in 1988 ushering sectarianism), we are divided among ourselves. In
    the main city , Gilgit , Shia and Sunni majority places have
    virtually become no-go areas for both sect members after frequent
    killings. Its so disconcerting to see the courage of Mullahs today.
    One organization today even warning people about bringing out
    rallies etc in support of Salman Taseer.

  2. 2 Navaz Malik

    I still cant imagine what has happened to this society
    where 95% muslims stands… Today we must have to think is our
    Quran ever preaches us the thought of elemenation? But today what
    is going on is infront of all that muslim is killing other muslim
    & defending it by saying for the sake of Prophet(P.B.U.H)
    whereas Prophet (P.B.U.H) preached that bloodsheding of muslim is
    totally unacceptable, so how the people can justify this brutal
    crime..? Religion Islam is a religion of peace, forgiveness
    & tolerance which Prophet(P.B.U.H) quoted several times
    & this is a fact we all must have to realize… In my words
    RIP Salman taseer was a learned gentleman with nice sence of humor
    which our society lake to understand…!

  3. Quran is read by majority of Pakistan’s population! But
    only a few, may be 5-6 % reads the translation and tries to
    understand what it really means!!

  4. 4 wendeth

    As always I enjoy your blog Naveen…and I was actually
    awaiting your comment especially considering your last post.
    However, two things 1 I would have liked to have seen virtually
    ANYONE as the top photo other than the assassin…I realize he’s no
    hero in your eyes, nor to probably most of your readers…however
    any sort of “front page” homage is too much. I should have rather
    have seen Taseer if choosing between the two. 2. I may be
    incorrect, but I thought there was such thing as blasphemy laws in
    the Indian Sub. and the British actually had to work against them
    since they were Christian. I’ll have to read again where I found
    that, perhaps I’m recalling incorrectly. And while I agree it was
    the very law Haq himself brought into Pakistan….it has been
    Pakistan to keep the law. I am saddened the country has been taken
    hostage by what I consider a few. I say a few because realistically
    speaking the only people who have any concept of what is going on
    out there are those in the cities (for the most part). Then, if you
    take away those who have opinions simply because they are
    brainwashed mainly due to their illiteracy, and take away those who
    may be “educated” but have no care about such matters because it
    doesn’t involve making enough money then I’d say you are only left
    with a few men rallying over the whole country. But, these few will
    continue to create havoc because they are able to convince people
    that killing is the way to solve the problems. My heart goes out to
    the people in Pakistan who are just trying to survive. So much for
    the textile companies, the telecom companies, the farmers, the
    producers of any sort of income into the country—-how can they,
    when the infrastructure is not being supported by the so-called
    leaders. People are living minute to minute not simply because of
    violent hate-mongers, but because even if they can afford atta for
    roti, they don’t have the gas to cook it on.

  5. 7 Ali K Chishti

    Great Work!

  6. 8 wendeth

    thank you for your reply Naveen…and for taking the time
    to give some further information….I truly appreciate that and
    will continue to study

  7. 9 shahzad

    Its tragic. It must be mourned. We have lost the spirit to
    co-exist. We are heading to disaster. May Allah prevent us
    all.

  8. 10 Qamar Abbas

    I guess we have a lot to be blamed for. And by ‘we’ I mean, the people who call ourselves educated and progressive.
    I know it will raise a few eyebrows, but let me ask you:
    How long will we keep on blaming others for what we intrinsically are? We now blame drone attacks, US foreign policy etc. etc. for our reaction. Where were we when Pakistan Penal Code was overruled by Federal Shariah Court in 1990. The law stated before that the punishment for blasphemy be fine and ‘upto 5 years in prison’. FSC declared that ‘Penalty for contempt of Holy Prophet SAWW is death.’ A Christian Bishop filed an application at that time in Supreme Court. I used to be a student at Dow Medical College then. I recall that newspapers wrote derogatory comments about him and then there was anyway a fatwa from Aytaullah Khomeini for Salman Rushdie, which frightened the Bishop and he disappeared in woods. Interestingly, that fatwa was for apostasy and not for Blasphemy! but who cares!
    I am also interested to find out about the references put forward by clergy for this issue and am unimpressed from the reaction of literary circles. They so easily have twisted the documentary evidence from the history to say that Holy Prophet SAWW wanted a poet killed for blasphemy and noone has argued back!
    We have become a nation of mob mentality and it is frightening. Reasoning has gone out of window. If you want to even ask about such issue, you are deemed a ‘kafir’ and don’t you know, we have a right to kill every ‘kafir’ as ‘they cannot be your friends and that means they are your enemies.’
    Nisar main teri galiyoan kay aay watan kay jahan
    Chali hay rasm kay koi na sar utha kay chalay
    Jo koi chahnay wala tawaf ko niklay
    Nazar chura kay chalay jism-o-jaan bacha kay chalay
    Anyway, thank you so much for such refreshing blog.


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