What Salman Taseer's assassination could mean for Pakistan
The outpouring of praise for the killer of Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab who was assassinated in Islamabad Tuesday, is intensifying concerns in Pakistan about deeply rooted religious intolerance.
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Taseer was among a handful of Pakistani politicians who had dared criticize blasphemy laws, which were created by the former dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. His support of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman currently facing the death penalty on what many legal observers believe to be trumped up, draconian charges, earned him the wrath of the religious right.Skip to next paragraph
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Sahabzada Abul Khair Zubair, a leading scholar of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan-Noorani, an Islamic body that supported the petition, told the Monitor: “Taseer did not respect the law. The blasphemy law must be preserved at all costs and all cases must go through the courts. If the courts are bypassed like Salman Taseer was trying to do, then these killings will occur.”
Zubair adds: “It's up to the courts to decide what happens now, and decide whether [Taseer's killer] was backed by some outside group or if he did what he did solely out of passion and love for the prophet. If that's the case, we are hopeful he will receive justice."
Such rhetoric is reflective of deepening intolerance for progressivism that stretches back to the 1980s and makes criticism of religious dogma nearly impossible, says Alam, the magazine editor. Indeed, as of Tuesday evening, a Facebook group dedicated to glorifying Malik Mumtaz Qadri had attracted some 2,000 Pakistanis before it was removed by the site’s authorities.
Not likely to give up the fight
On the flip side, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined other world leaders in condemning the killing on Wednesday.
"I had the opportunity to meet Governor Taseer in Pakistan and I admired his work to promote tolerance and the education of Pakistan's future generations. His death is a great loss," she said.
According to lawmaker Sherry Rehman, who proposed an amendment to the blasphemy law in parliament and has been subjected to numerous death threats herself, Taseer’s killing “puts all of us who are at the front lines at risk.”
“Salman Taseer was not challenging the prophet, he was challenging an unjust law. It’s shocking they are condoning a murder, and I hope they realize that,” she says. But, she adds, "We can't turn back. The stance we took was not political and it can't really be changed."
For Ms. Rehman, the anger now felt by liberals could galvanize them. But first, she says, they must overcome their fear. "I hope it's a turning point.... We're looking for sane voices but they're being silenced."