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Taseer’s Real Killers: Two Extremist Pakistani Minorities
The blasphemy law is not an issue between Pakistani Christians and Muslims. It is an issue between westernized extremists and religious extremists. Both are wrong, and both are holding Pakistan hostage. Andboth need to be restrained.
AHMED QURAISHI | Monday | 24 January 2011 | The News International
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Salmaan Taseer was a good Pakistani, a self-made businessman who did not use his politics to create illegal wealth or stash it abroad like most other politicians. He revolutionized telecommunications, introducing wireless telephony, Internet and cable television to Pakistan. In college in Britain, as Ambassador Zafar Hilaly recalled on this page, Mr. Taseer read the Quran.
A week before his murder, he accused India of involvement in terrorism in Balochistan and defended Pakistan’s moral support to Kashmiris. The day he died, he was wearing a chain around his neck with Ayat-ul Kursi, one of the most inspirational verses from the Holy Quran. Despite being a liberal, he was not a ‘westernized extremist’ and never indulged in attacks against religious Pakistanis throughout his political career. He criticized a law written by legislators and lawyers, but did not question Islam’s death penalty for proven blasphemy. Showing support to a poor Pakistani Christian woman with young children who was not an intentional blasphemer was a humanitarian act, and very Islamic. He certainly was not a blasphemer.
Pakistan must prevent three different parties from hijacking the debate over the anti-blasphemy law and over Mr. Taseer’s murder. One is our own religious extremists. Two is our own westernized liberal extremists. And the third party is foreign governments and media whose statements complicate the internal debate instead of resolving it.
Unfortunately, there is no credible face in the Pakistani government that could step forward and put the issue in perspective. The anti-blasphemy law is not directed at Pakistani Christians. The anti-blasphemy law traps more Muslims in its net than Christians, as the recent case of a conviction of a mosque imam and his son indicates. This does not mean the law should not be amended or repealed. It must be either amended or repealed because it is being abused. For example, the 45-year-old mosque imam and his 20-year-old son were convicted for life this month because they dared remove a poster on their shop window advertising a religious event that contained Quranic verses. It is ridiculous. What mosque imam would commit blasphemy?
The real problem over the law is between an extremist westernized minority of Pakistanis, who ridicule religion, and between another extremist religious minority, that takes religion to extreme. The extremist westernized minority wants no religion at all and keeps talking about European secularism, which is misplaced in Pakistan. This provokes the religious extremist minority into paranoia and pushes them to extremes, as in the case of the 26-year-old bodyguard who murdered Governor Taseer. Caught between the two extremes are the majority of moderate, peaceful Pakistanis.
The US and other western governments make matters worse by openly siding with the extremist westernized minority in Pakistan, provoking reaction. Also, some of the foreign support is self-interested. Some of the foreign governments are using Mr. Taseer’s murder and the impassioned debate over the law to revive the falling legitimacy of the war in Afghanistan. Linking our internal debate with a disastrous foreign war is dangerous. Our debate over the law is similar to the US debate over abortion at one time that sharply divided the American public opinion and led to some violence. Outsiders must not be allowed to interfere in this debate.
The impression that foreign support is behind Sherry Rehman’s motion against the anti-blasphemy law provoked the other extreme. And her move to remove capital punishment for blasphemy is inconsistent with Islamic injunctions. It is an extremist position that does not appreciate and understand the religious sympathies of most Pakistanis which are legitimate and require no apologies.
On the other hand, Islam has blossomed for fifteen centuries without our made-in-Pakistan anti-blasphemy law, which contains procedures for trial, witnesses and conviction that are man-made and have nothing to do with religion. No one in Pakistan dares to commit blasphemy and this law creates the false impression of prevalence of blasphemy cases in our country. Most Arab and Muslim countries specify death penalty for proven blasphemy but do not have a law like ours. Leaders of religious political parties know these facts but chose to play politics and mislead gullible Pakistanis because they used this debate for popularity and recruitment.
Our overriding concern in this debate is to unite Pakistanis and stop a situation where Pakistanis go to war with each other because of two extremist minorities. We must stop anyone fanning this divide and try to bridge it with reason. Incitement to kill or to ridicule religion from either side must be sternly dealt with. We need to remind our people that a bigger travesty of our religion is to find a minister of Hajj, himself a clergyman, stealing pilgrims’ money. This debate can be redirected.
Column priginally published by The News International under the title, Taseer’s Real Killers.
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