Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pictures of hope from Egypt

Egypt is at cross roads of its history. May be not only Egypt,but the whole of Arab world.
30 year old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak is being questioned by hundreds of thousands of ordinary Egyptians in the streets of Cairo,Alexandria,Suez and other cities. The ruling Party headquarters is in flames. while the protesters form a human shield to protect the National Museum. Mubarak's allies in the West and the Arab world were speechless and stunned.

The protesters were from all class,creed and religion.They included the rich ,the poor,men and women,jeans clad and burqa clad,blue collar workers and manual labourers.There were no anti-US or anti- Israel slogans.There were no ritual burning of US flags.It was mainly secular and peaceful protests aimed at just one thing- regime change and ouster of Mubarak.

Things are still fluid. Nobody is sure what will happen the next hour. But my hunch is regime change in Egypt will take place and Egypt will become a more democratic and liberal State.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The rot inside Pakistan

With the cold blooded killing of Salmaan Taseer by his Islamist body guard  few days ago, the rot inside the Pakistani society is ever too evident to be hidden.

In June 2009 Asia Bibi, a 45-year old Christian woman with five children,a farm hand from a village near Lahore was asked to fetch water; she complied, but some of her fellow Muslim workers refused to drink the water as they considered Christians to be "unclean".Apparently some arguments ensued. There had already been a running feud between Bibi and a neighbour about some property damage. Later some coworkers complained to a cleric that Bibi made derogatory comments about Prophet Muhammad. A mob came to her house, beating her and members of her family before she was rescued by the police. However, the police initiated an investigation about her remarks resulting in her arrest and prosecution under Pakistan's infamous Blasphemy Law. In November 2010  court of Sheikhupura, sentenced her to death by hanging.

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan acquired teeth during the reign of General Zia ul-Haq when the crime was made punishable by death. The international community and human rights groups argue that since then it has become a tool, used to settle personal disputes and to discriminate against minority groups. The abuse of the law is widely regarded as effortless because no proof is required – an alleged blasphemer can be imprisoned and even executed on the assertion of witnesses.

Although the death sentence for blasphemy has never been carried out in Pakistan, angry mobs have killed many people accused of blasphemy. In 2009, 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra, Punjab. At least seven Christians were burned to death in the horrific incident.  In July 2010 two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy were gunned down outside a court in the city of Faisalabad, while in custody.

Salmaan Taseer, a leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party and the Governor of Punjab province was a vocal opponent of infamous blasphemy law of Pakistan.
                                         Taseer's daughters with Asia Bibi

 He had recently announced that he will recommend Presidential pardon to Asia Bibi. The Islamic fundamentalists could not tolerate that and he was killed by his own bodyguard on the streets of Nation's capital Islamabad.

More shocking news were yet to come.

Within hours Taseer's killer became a hero to be worshipped for many in Facebook.
 Read what Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif wrote about 'How Pakistan responded to Salmaan Taseer's assassination".
 By the evening, Qadri's picture had replaced a thousand profile pictures on Facebook. He was a mujahid, a lion, a true hero of Islam.
So who are these people who lionise the cold-blooded murderer? Your regular kids, really. Those who have trawled the profiles of these supporters have said that they have MBA degrees, they follow Premier League football, they love the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Miley Cyrus figures on lots of these pages. And as the Pakistani blogger who blogs under the name Kala Kawa pointed out: "If you go through the profiles of Qadri supporters on Facebook, you'd think Justin Bieber was the cause of extremism in Pakistan."

See this Dawn report.

As PPP leaders and workers and admirers of the slain Punjab Governor Salman Taseer mourned his death and converged on the Governor`s House in Lahore for funeral prayers, his self-confessed assassin was warmly welcomed by a group of lawyers at the district and sessions court here on Wednesday.The lawyers chanted slogans in his favour, patted him on the back and showered flower petals on him.A power of attorney signed by dozens of lawyers was submitted as the killer`s counsel.

However, more astonishing than the lawyer`s welcome for a man who confessed to have killed the constitutional head of the country`s largest province was a chorus of support from major religious groups and parties and prominent clerics.About 500 religious scholars of the Jamaat Ahle Sunnat said no one should pray or express regret for the killing of Salman Taseer.

Maulana Shah Turabul Haq Qadri, a leader of the Jamaat paid “glorious tribute to the murderer… for his courage, bravery and religious honour and integrity”.

The clerics noted the “courage” and religious zeal of the killer, saying his action had made Muslims around the world proud.
Analysts say the assassination underscores how deeply religious extremism has penetrated Pakistan’s conservative society, with even the Internet-literate elite resorting to Facebook to rally support for the killer.

Nearly 2,000 Facebook users joined one group on the social networking site praising Qadri, and dozens of “fans” joined other pages set up in Qadri’s honour in the hours after the shooting.

In a sign of mainstream media opposition, Pakistan’s leading Urdu-language newspaper, Jang, ran a front-page story declaring: “There should be no funeral for Salman Taseer and no condemnation for his death.”

“A supporter of a blasphemer is also a blasphemer,” said a sub-heading, reporting that 500 religious scholars and clerics had paid tribute to Qadri

 Lahore's clerics were reluctant to lead funeral prayers for Salman Taseer.Even the chief cleric of the historical Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, who initially agreed to offer prayers, backed off at the last moment, saying he was going out of town. Finally, the services were led by a cleric of the Ulema wing of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

Declan Walsh wrote in Guardian

Yesterday on Twitter, the medium beloved of Taseer, liberal Pakistanis bemoaned the disappearance of "Jinnah's Pakistan" – the tolerant, pluralistic country envisioned by its founder, the lawyer Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in 1947. Still others struggled to remember when it truly existed.

And on the streets outside the celebrated silent majority – moderate Pakistanis who shun extremism and violence, and only want their society to thrive – were saying nothing. But in Pakistan, that is no longer good enough. Silence kills.

My Take

Did the problem in Pakistan started only with Zia ul Haq and the military regime as many liberal Pakistanis want to believe? Or did it begin with the origin of the Nation based on religion? I believe that Jinnah is equally responsible. When you set loose a demon of religion in politics you cannot remain liberal and democratic.

Edited to add

Let me quote from what Aatish Taseer [son of Salmaan and Indian journalist Tavleen Singh] wrote about his father's death and its aftermath.

And so, though I believe, as deeply as I have ever believed anything, that my father joins that sad procession of martyrs – every day a thinner line – standing between him and his country's descent into fear and nihilism, I also know that unless Pakistan finds a way to turn its back on Islam in the public sphere, the memory of the late governor of Punjab will fade.

And where one day there might have been a street named after him, there will be one named after Malik Mumtaz Qadir, my father's boy-assassin.

Aatish Taseer's article