Wednesday, January 05, 2011

POLITICS: Murderous blasphemy or blasphemous murder?

The governor of Pakistan's wealthiest province was gunned down. Salmaan Taseer was killed by his bodyguard at close range. The guard claims he shot his boss due to the latter's opposition to blasphemy laws.

UPDATE I: Here is a response from Huma Imtiaz. I have no idea who she is but I endorse every word of her response.

UPDATE II: The allegedly more "moderate" Barelwi school of thought has been even more virulent in its support for the murderer of Taseer. Apparently describing oppressive laws as "black" is a crime deserving extra-judicial killing in their eyes.

UPDATE III: Here are some more supportive responses.

UPDATE IV: Taseer was a severe critic of drone attacks on Pakistan. Then again, who wouldn't be. Imagine if the US started sending drone planes to attack civilians of its other allies? It doesn't help when 98% of those killed aren't exactly terrorists.

UPDATE V: Here is a video of a press conference which Taseer had with Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Apologies to those who cannot understand Urdu. I'll try to translate when I get a chance.

UPDATE VI: I'm not all that good at Urdu. With a small bit of help from my mother, who has a Masters in Urdu from Punjab University, here is what I could make of the first half or so of the video.

[Addressing Aasia Bibi:]
Here you have appealed to the President.

[Aasia Bibi places a thumb print on the appeal papers. Break, then Salmaan Taseer addresses the audience with Aasia Bibi seated to his right.]
I wish to begin with mentioning the name of God who is gracious and merciful beyond limits. I have come here to meet with Aasia Bibi. She has been imprisoned for some 18 months and she has been sentenced in a manner which I regard as extreme (saqat) and oppressive (zalim). She has appealed to the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari that she be pardoned. God-willing, the President will for the sake of humanity ... pardon this woman.

Let me also say that the Pakistan founded by Qaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah never had such a law and never could have been passed. Our religion also protects people’s conscience (aqaliyyat). The founder of Pakistan had a white ribbon placed on the Pakistani flag so that people’s differences of beliefs could be recognised and protected.

For this reason, the punishment to which she has been sentenced is, I believe, inhumane (insaniyat ke khilaf) ... She has approached me in my capacity as Governor of Punjab and has asked me to deliver her appeal to the President so that God-willing she will be pardoned.

In a country where 97% of the population are Muslim, it is impossible that any insult can be made to the purified name of the Messenger of God. Here we are all Muslims. I am convinced after studying her case that there was no such incident. She is a poverty-stricken woman who had no legal assistance or representation or the means to afford such representation. By placing such poor minorities through such legal proceedings, we are making a mockery of the foundational ideas of Pakistan and its founder.

UPDATE VII: Every time you think things can't possibly get worse in Sudanand Dhume's writing, along comes a piece to prove you wrong. Where do I start with this shocker?

Taseer's killer, a 26-year-old named Mumtaz Qadri, symbolizes Maududi's vision. In photographs, he's bearded and moustache-less, in the manner prescribed by fundamentalist Islam.

Actually, it is prescribed by certain elements in Sunni Islam. It is not prescribed in the Barelwi school of South Asian Sunnism, and it is Pakistan's Barelwi scholars who have been at the forefront of opposing Taseer. It is also not prescribed by Shia scholars. Muqtada as-Sadr has a healthy moustache. I guess that makes him a moderate in Dhume's eyes.

That Mr. Qadri could defy South Asia's usually rigid codes of hierarchy by murdering someone far above his station jibes with the contempt radical Islamists often feel for traditional elites.

What the ...? Is Dhume saying that people in Punjab never murder those richer and more powerful than them? Is he living in the world of the Ramayana?

The murder highlights anew the way in which Pakistan's English-speaking classes resemble a small island of urbanity surrounded by a rising tide of fundamentalist zeal.

So speaking English is a sure sign that one doesn't have fundamentalist zeal. Dhume dude, half my family are in the Jamaat-i-Islami. They speak fluent English and almost all have green cards. They belong to the same English-speaking class. I'm too scared to ask them what they thought of Taseer's death.

Mr. Dhume is a columnist for and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.

The AEI? I guess that says it all.

UPDATE VIII: Moronic religious parties joined by equally moronic lawyers.

UPDATE IX: Here's an interesting column from Jawed Naqvi writing from Delhi in Dawn. Particularly perceptive is the comparison between the role of religious extremism in India and Pakistan.

... Rahul Gandhi in the neighbourhood. India`s Congress party scion had made a valid point about the threat to his country from Hindu extremists — just as Pakistan is being wrecked by Muslim bigots — but instead of telling his countrymen about it, he whispered his worry into the ears of the American ambassador in Delhi. Nothing could be as self-defeating as not trusting your very own in the battle to defend your core ideals.

In a curious way, the fact that the young Gandhi mentioned the Hindutva threat to US ambassador Tim Roemer, in fact, added to his credibility. A public statement would in most likelihood be pounced upon by his detractors as a populist and a potentially communal ploy to curry favour with Muslims and so forth. That particular worry should, of course, be no reason to keep the nation oblivious of an ominous possibility.

Right-wing Hindus expectedly pooh-poohed Gandhi`s remarks to Roemer, which would probably never have surfaced but for the WikiLeaks` revelations. He contended that the Hindutva upsurge posed a greater threat to India than did Muslim extremism. The view appeared to be based on a simple and compelling logic. Muslim extremists threaten Pakistan because they are or were part of the state structures thanks to Gen Zia`s policies. Likewise, Hindutva and not so much Muslim bigots challenge Indian secularism.

The reason is not difficult to comprehend. Although homegrown Muslim fanatics in India, even those having links with Lashkar-i-Taiba from across the border, have a stake in destroying India`s secularism, they remain handicapped in their mission because of their total absence from the levers of state power.

Hindutva forces, on the other hand, like their counterparts in Pakistan, have penetrated nearly all the sectors of state that matter. Parliament is the only place where so far they cannot carry out subversion. Of course, it may not take long before they are emboldened to contemplate doing just that.

UPDATE X: There was a time when assassins were considered the enemy of Muslims, fought by governments and despised by religious scholars. They were forced to live in a tall tower in the middle of nowhere. Today in Pakistan they have become mainstream. Some say it is time to hail and cheer them. OK, he's being tongue-in-cheek.

UPDATE XI: The UK Independent reports that

Twenty thousand supporters of fundamentalist parties have rallied in the streets of Karachi in support of Pakistan's blasphemy laws as they escalated threats against liberal politicians who, like Salmaan Taseer, the slain governor of Punjab, want to see them amended.

Gee, that really is a huge rally. For Wollongong. Or for Canberra. But for Karachi, a city of around 12 million? The Independent describes it as ...

[t]he biggest muscle-flexing display by the religious right for years in Pakistan's largest city ...
And what proportion of Karachi-walas turned up to the second biggest? More than 0.16667%? Yep, these manic maulanas have plenty of support.