Shahbaz Bhatti – Another Martyr for Sanity

Shahbaz Bhatti (1968 - 2011) - Source: AFP

To some people the fact that the Pakistani Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated on March 3, was not a surprise after what happened to the late Governor Salmaan Taseer, but it is yet a huge and shocking tragedy. The pamphlets that were left behind at the site of crime were from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Punjab, the Punjabi wing of Taliban, which read that death was the only punishment for blasphemers of the Holy Prophet. This terrorist organization also accepted the responsibility for his assassination.

This is kind of confusing because Shahbaz Bhatti was not a blasphemer. But anyway, how many times have people discussed that. Some of the people also think that there is an international conspiracy behind his murder to defame Paksitan’s name (as if we need their help), but for the sake of argument, let us also consider that possibility.

But the question to ask, again, is what Pakistanis are doing themselves? What the religious leaders in Pakistan, and the silent moderate Muslim majority of the country fail to understand completely is that just stating that Islam is a faith that takes care of the security and rights of the minorities is not enough. The whole world can clearly see that it is not the case, since the recent protests against the proposed bill to amend the Blasphemy Law involved clerics openly calling for death of the people criticizing the law publicly.

Imagine what would have been going through the minds of every non-Muslim in Pakistan when he or she would have seen the Minister responsible for their affairs slain brutally by terrorists, which are harbored and sympathized by many within Pakistan. Even if foreign intervention is involved, it could play no more than, say 10%, of the part, as all the acts of terrorism are carried out by local terrorist groups, most of them religious in nature.

The lesson to learn from the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, who is yet another Martyr for Sanity in an insane country, is that we need to get our textbook right. Shahbaz Bhatti is the kind of Pakistanis we need at a time when religious fanaticism is on the rise ever since this menace grew out of all proportions in the dark reign of the military dictator General Zia ul Haq, who used his influence to force so-called Islamic laws on the country for his own political ends. He was the very same man in whose rule the Blasphemy Law found its current shape.

I am often asked by my close friends about what good would the secular amendments in the constitution do. It is simple. The people of other faith or that of no faith at all are not concerned even a bit about what your religion has to say about them, neither should they be entitled to even listen to, let alone the idea of complying with, the rules that you set according to your religion about them. That is the most absurd idea ever, and unfortunately, this is what has been happening in Pakistan.

You need to offer a common ground for every citizen in the state in a Secular constitution, so that each and every citizen, regardless of religion, sect, language, ethnicity or caste would be able to relate to it. That is the only way in which not even a single person will be considered left out. A communal constitution will always make minorities, and I hate this word by the way, think at the back of their minds all the time that they are not accepted in the country, no matter how many stories you tell them about the way some Muslim rulers had treated the minorities in their time. It is just not good enough.

Shahbaz Bhatti is a great loss for Pakistan because he was a sane voice and was bravely and openly defending the rights of the minorities. Unfortunately, he fell like Salman Taseer as well, among some of the few voices openly questioning the Draconian Blasphemy Law. While the PPP workers would mourn the loss of another comrade, they should be mourning even more that these heroes were not supported by the party leadership as they should have been. At least, they should have owned their efforts which are changing Pakistan right now.

While the minorities in Pakistan in general, and the Christian community in particular, would have felt that their voice has been silenced in Shahbaz Bhatti, there is still time for Pakistani political and religious leadership to concentrate towards building an egalitarian and tolerant society instead of one dominated by a particular community. The bureaucratic and military establishment should support them by all means possible for carrying this out, and let there be intolerance towards intolerance. Besides, they have been equally active in creating this mess during the Zia regime anyway.

I am not claiming I know all the solutions to this complex problem, but let us make a start. If all Pakistanis are united to prevent incidents like the assassination of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, there is no force in the world which could cause another national tragedy.


For now, Pakistan salutes Shahbaz Bhatti, a national hero.