Dangerous Narratives and Murder of the Pakistani Politician Salman Taseer


In a recent and commendable decision, Pakistani Supreme Court has thankfully upheld the death penalty awarded to Mumtaz Qadri, his own police guard, who about four and half years ago had slain Pakistani politician, Salman Taseer.

Salman Taseer, a politician and Governor of Pakistan's most populous province Punjab, was an outspoken man and was murdered by Mumtaz Qadri for speaking in favor of repealing Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, according to which a person found guilty of blasphemy can be sentenced to death. Salman Taseer had also asked for official pardon of an illiterate woman, Aasia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death by Pakistani courts after being guilty of blasphemy.

However, even this humane gesture was construed as blasphemy by the religious lobby and they started to agitate against him. The drop scene finally came when Qadri, his own guard, shot him and surrendered himself to police.

Later in embarrassing scenes which have been permanently ingrained in the memory, he was showered by rose petals. After his arrest he went to the court where finally he has lost his appeal.

But why it happened? Why did Qadri shot Taseer and why was he showered with rose petals subsequently?

To some extent the murder of Salman Taseer happened due to the extreme reverence attached to religion and the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). Outright religious fanaticism is of course responsible and perhaps the only cure in the long run is desensitizing people from religion. I will not dispute this obvious reality.

But this only partially explains the complex situation. Reverence alone does not lead men to commit murders. It is what the society explicitly or implicitly expects with respect to actual demonstration of reverence (particularly when the revered figures and symbols are perceived to be under attack) which often leads to adoption of a particular action.

These expectations are not always spelled out clearly but nevertheless articulated through loaded slogans and narratives which project some real life individuals as heroes and villains.

Extremely pervasive as well as loaded slogans like "Hurmat-e-Rasool per Jaan be qurban hai" (for the honor of the Prophet (PBUH) we are ready to sacrifice our lives) actually expects that honor of the Prophet (PBUH) should be protected even if one has to give his/her life. Slogans such as these become extremely dangerous with respect to their potential impact. I am not saying that they affect every person in the same way but it merely takes one individual to get affected in "that" way to do the unthinkable.

Moreover, such slogans and the related literature also lowers the threshold of the desired level of "reverence" as that line where so called blasphemy starts, becomes blurred and it is left for the individuals to simply decide what they consider as blasphemy.

I think this is important because such acts are often committed for personal glorification which the society is willing to bestow on such individuals. Yes, Mr. Qadri courted possible death when he fired upon Taseer but he also looked towards widespread hero worship and "immortality' in the similar vein of Ilm-ud-Din ( a hero for some Muslims) who had killed had stabbed a Hindu in 1929 on publishing a supposedly blasphemous book which had contained derogatory remarks about Prophet (PBUH). He was tried and court and hanged but over time has achieved a legendary status.

His act was subsequently glorified and his legacy has been immortalized in the following words of Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan: "This uneducated young man has surpassed us, the educated ones".

The narrative around Ilm-ud-Din is that he did the right thing and today he is respected a lot. This in my opinion is a dangerous narrative as it is projecting wrong kind of heroes.

In a society where Ilm-ud-Din has been made into a legend and a "Shaheed", murder of Salman Taseer is hardly a surprise. Mumtaz Qadri, in his head was going to heaven and on his way to attaining the same legendary status when he fired shots at Salman Taseer despite the fact that latter had only asked for a presidential pardon of an illiterate woman accused of blasphemy. And yet Mumtaz Qadri took the decision, a calculated one, and literally got away with it. And the subsequent showering of the rose petals, demonstrate that he was not wrong in his calculations.

No society is monolithic as it is composed of numerous individuals and has so many cultures and sub cultures. It would be totally wrong for me to say that actions of Mumtaz Qadri were supported by all and he is a universal hero. I know that many hated his act. And many of those who did not support his act were devout Muslims. I personally talked to many and found that apparently a large number was utterly shocked by Mumtaz Qadri's act.

However, those many never came out to protest. Immediately after his act, it was the Islamists chiefly belonging to the Brailvi sect who thronged the streets. And they were celebrating and threatening that any review of the controversial blasphemy law would be met with severe resistance.

The vigil which was organized by those protesting Taseer's murder barely attracted a few hundred and those who attended look so different from the rest of Pakistan. The size and the appearance of the crowd contrasted so much from the processions of the "other" side. There could be no greater disparity between the two groups.

So called moderates may be more, but it is the hardliners to whom the street and the weapons belong. And by the word "moderate" too is relative to hardliners only. If we start judging with respect to Western standards then an overwhelming majority is hardliner.

We need to reexamine the narratives here about people like Ilm-ud-Din. Why do we try to narrate story of men like Ilm-ud-Din in a consecrated manner? By such narrations, we may not be converting the entire population into fanatics but nevertheless a critical mass is getting "motivated" And all what the hardliners need is that critical organized mass which is ready to even adopt violence.

In the end, I would like to make a humble plea to all my Muslim brothers and sisters.

When you kill in the name of Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) then you are portraying Islam and his legacy in an extremely wrong way. World will and in fact already is judging Islam by the way Muslims behave in the name of Islam. If we want the world to consider Islam as a peaceful religion then remember act in such a way. Being violent, endorsing violence, giving apologetic defense to violence and then also demanding that world should not "stereotype" Muslims and consider Islam as a religion of peace, won't work.