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


  1. Think Pakistan became an Islamic Republic in 1956 and then it did not take long to go down the path that we are seeing.

    Those Pakistani's who chose India over Pakistan chose religion alone and now they have what they wanted. They find it easier to kill than face their demons.
    I wish this would serve as a lesson to all those who become fanatic about their own religion, specially in India.

  2. Happy Kitten,
    The sad thing is even the moderates and the liberals in Pakistan are not able to voice their opposition through a secular dialogue. Only by realising and saying out loudly that Jinnah is as guilty as Zia for this present intolerance that the liberals can think about facing the might of Islamists.
    Yes this is a lesson for India too. We should try to keep away religion from politics as far as possible.
    I have now added a quote from Aathish Taseer's article too in the end

  3. Cuss them as much as you like, but liberal-leaning blogs/articles like your's which take an 'interesting' position on such matters might have contributed to the shocking audacity of the fundamentalists.

    I'll play the role of a devil's advocate here.

    Let's go back to your Sep 2000 blog saying Prof. Joseph should be pardoned. Since asking for pardon implies an inherent mistake admittance, your view point (I infer) is that Prof. joseph has done a mistake and the mistake is insulting the prophet. (Even that is debatable, but let's say he did it).

    Now coming to Salman Taseer, his mistake was that he supported a person who insulted (allegedly so, but court says she did it) the prophet and he wanted future immunity from punishment for insulting prophet (he wanted to repeal the blasphemy laws, that is).

    Now, how do these 2 cases differ? As far as I can see, both case are same, insulting the prophet. So do you think Salman taseer did a mistake? If you think Salman Taseer did make a mistake (or in the future, he intented to), does he deserve a pardon a la Prof. joseph?

    Anyway, I was trying to point out that just like you say Prof. Joseph should be PARDONED, liberals in pakistan are saying Salman Taseer should be PARDONED implying that Mr. Taseer did make a mistake but should have been killed. That brings us to the next point.

    (I am relying on popular islamic sites for this info) In Islam, anyone insulting prophet should be executed even if the person repents it. So if the liberal people are saying Mr. Taseer or Ms. Bibi did insult the prophet, why shouldn't a true follower of Islam kill them? Not killing them means going against the very tenets of Islam. Good luck trying to change that, but the question is would anyone have the balls to even try.
    I find it funny when people deplore Mr. Taseer's killing and then go on to vociferously defend the blasphemy law.

    One good thing among all these is that we can (hopefully, atleast for a few months) see the end of the Pakistan love fest in TV. Not many will dare to say the obvious lie that the fundamentalists are an insignificant minority in Pakistan. Even the king of Bollywood said in national TV that Pakistan is a good neighbor and lets just love each other. Pakistan is anything but a good neighbor, spewing hatred even on school textbooks.

  4. Abhilash, I think you are very confused.
    In case of Joseph, I was referring to the action taken by the College authorities in dismissing him from service. My view was his was a lack of foresight in framing that question like that. If in a public speech or a written article Prof Joseph wanted to attack the Prophet I will support his right for freedom of speech,but he was not supposed to do that in College question paper. Actually he never wanted to do any such thing. It was a mis understanding,may be deliberate.
    I think the Pak blashemy law is against human rights,freedom of speech and religion.I do not think either Taseer or Aisa Bibi has done anything wrong.
    India should learn from Pakistan. If we give our majority communalists,namely BJP/RSS votes we may soon have something similar in India.Already artists and writers are hounded out by Sanghis and Islamists even though they are not in power. I cant imagine what will happen if communalists get absolute majority in Parliament.

  5. The problem with Pakistan is not only with the fact that it was created solely based on religion but also in the fact that it finds ways and means of distancing itself from everything that India is. It doesnt want to function as a democracy or give equal rights to women/minorities etc cos that would make it a liberal democracy like India.

    The very fact that Pakistan could be comparable with India seems horrific to the leaders in Pak. That is the root cause of problem. This has led them blindly on the path of Islam and the persecution of minorities to prove their belief in Islam.

    India also has problems with the Thuggerays, the chaddi gang members, the pseudo secularists, the CONgress, the morons who cut Prof Joseph's hands etc, but it also has an effective judicial system and enough public outrage (from the majority hindu public itself) which keeps the balance of sanity.

  6. Liju Philip, welcome here. Yes you are right. Pakistan trying to prove its separate identity from India is doing itself great harm

  7. I agree with Liju Philip.

    I also feel religion and politics should never mix, this combination seems to empower mobs and hooligans, and it silences moderate peace-loving majority. Extreme right in power always results in violence, arbitrary ruling and mob-justice.

    "...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."

  8. IHM, 'the Extreme right in power always results in violence, arbitrary ruling and mob-justice.'
    Very true.
    The way Congress government is wandering leaderless aimlessly we may soon have our own extreme right in power.

  9. I wonder why you like to make a careful exception for Prof. Joseph's case. If anyone is offended if the name Mohammed is mentioned in an unceremonious way, just don't leave the confines of the Madrassa. If Prof. Joseph writes that on an article, there is no religious sentiments hurt, if he does in a question paper, it does? How is that? This is not a govt college, no one is forcing you to study there. If your religous sentiments are so fragile, don't go to that college, Isn't it that simple? Just like "Freedom of expression" fans say just turn away when Husain's paintings are shown on national TV or in an art summit. Are you supposed to forgo an entire art summit if you are offended by one painting? How is that supposed work according to you, I would like to know.

    Anyway, it will be better if you are consistent in your views. Although unrelated to what we say discuss, I will point out something interesting. You are so vociferously supporting a mosque in NYC near WTC once stood. Because it is their right to do construct one. No one is disputing that. But how come you are getting so worked up (I got from your twitter msgs) when anyone is raising a national flag in Lal chowk, which is in Indian territory. Whatever BJP's intentions are, if the national flag that they are raising, and if it absolutely ridiculous and anti national to oppose it. No one is disputing their right, NYC mosque is more of a divisive issue because it was named cordoba house when they started the project. Flag raising is not a divisive issue, except for some anti-nationals (I wonder why such people ended up on this side of partition during 1947). Consistency, man, Consistency. You are in the side of separatists or you fear them. If flag raising will cause violence, why are you blaming BJP for that?

    I have another Q about your twitter messages on makaravilakku. But I don't want to create too much distraction here. Lets discuss what we have here now.

  10. The Frankenstein - religious bigotry and fanaticism was cultivated by the former dictator Zia. And Pakistan is throbbing from its death dance. Luckily for us here in India the monster that Indira Gandhi and Zail Singh helped rear its head in the form of Sikh terrorism and Bhindrenwale was effectively eliminated.
    Religion and politics should never mix, and similar sentiments are of no help in the present Pakistan. It is a failed State and fast deteriorating into savage ages and times. Only time will tell what is in store for us in India with fanaticism and madness ruling next door.

  11. Abhilash, I think you are bright enough to understand that framing of a question paper for an exam is not a route of expressing yourself. Also Joseph himself explained that he did not meant Prophet.So no issue of freedom of expression in that issue.
    I am honoured that you are reading my tweets. BJP's Tiranga yatra is just a political stunt. There is no bar for flag raising in Srinagar.Every year on Jan 26 and Aug 15 tri color is raised in Govt functions. The authorities are worried about law and order situation there that may occur if a BJP rally with provocative anti-muslim slogans take place.It can also alienate further the people in the Valley. Bjp it seems only need Kashmir as a geographic area in India devoid of its people. This rally can be a big impetus for the separatists.

  12. Anilkurup, welcome here.
    "Religion and politics should never mix"
    True Hope our politicians on all sides understand this. Communalisation of politics may give some short term gain. But on the long run it will gobble up the system itself.

  13. If a skimpily clad girl is raped, would you blame the rapist for committing the crime, or the girl for 'provoking' the rapist? The girl was doing something perfectly legal, whose fault is it ultimately?

    Anyway, coming to the flag issue, what if it is a political stunt, IT IS THE NATIONAL FLAG. what is so sacrosanct about lal chowk? For the fear of alienation of some people, you deny rights of others? BJP wants Kashmir devoid of its people you think? Really? I don't think you have the same concern for many Kashmiris living in rest of India, as refugees. If raising the national flag causes Kashmir to be devoid of its people, it is not BJP's fault. Impetus to separatists is not a reason to deny constitutional rights. What you are doing is pampering the separatists who drove the Hindus out of the valley with the slogan "Kashmir mein rehna hein to Allahu Akbar kehna hai". If their sentiments are hurt, why are getting worked up so much? Right to peaceful existence is there for the hindus in Kashmir too. 20 yrs and still the situation is not conducive for a return. BJP is not going there with an anti muslim slogan like the anti-hindu ones separatist use, they are going there with the national flag.
    Btw, you completely ignored the NYC mosque part in that paragraph. Your argument applies to that mosque - most locals are against it, it alienates a whole religion, it plays in the hands of anti-muslim groups; but still you chose to support it. What is so special about that NYC mosque that our national flag does not have? (I expect better arguments than "it is not really a mosque...").

    And about the question paper, of course he is not expressing himself, but what we have to ensure is freedom. Freedom to set the question. If anything was wrong, that was the language used hat was not suitable for polite conversation and there is no/should not be a religious angle. If you think there is a religious angle to that question, you are in the wrong country. Your blog seems to endorse the view that some religious sentiments are hurt. My point is, if it did hurt religious sentiments, just quit the college. After all, hindus are asked to turn away when the paintings are shown (rightly so, I feel. We are in a free country).
    If you do think that there is a religious problem to the question paper, that view can be extrapolated to Asia Bibi's case as well. She (allegedly) made derogatory remarks about prophet to a believing Muslim, in the face. Surely, that is just as bad? or worse? That automatically gives the authorities the right to kill her - according to Islamic websites. The more you try to argue that there is some religious sentiments hurt by setting that question, the more you will find yourself in slippery slope.

  14. Abhilash,
    Let me explain my view about BJP's political stunt in Kashmir. If I was Omar or the Central Home Minister I would have allowed a group of BJP leaders without their followers to hoist the National Flag at Lal Chowk as it happened in 1992 with Murali Manohar Joshi.Without doing that Omar and the leaderless center is playing to the hands of the BJP.
    Good to know you understood Prof Joseph's issue it is not a freedom of expression issue. I agree that we should not allow a situation to develpo in which teachers who set question papers have to send them to Religious fantics [whether it is Hindu Muslim or Christian] or Political Party Offices to ensure that it do not upset their 'fragile' sentiments.
    I do not agree that the question paper set up by Joseph hurts religious sentiments. I am sure that the reaction against it was deliberate and the handi work of extermists. That is why Government did not take any action against Prof Joseph and that is why I said Prof Joseph should be re instated.


Comments are welcome especially if you do not think like me. But anonymous comments behind masks and those not relevant to the post are not encouraged.