The Example of Shahbaz Bhatti


There are not a lot of countries which have to endure unpleasant occurrences such as the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, since which a year has passed on March 2 this year, but even rare are examples set with such crude nudity and such evident clarity that religious extremism can really plague a society like a cancerous tumor. Pakistan is one country that proudly boasts fundamentalism as a part of its dysfunctional constitution and law.

Like always, you cannot be absolutely sure about who did it but the evidence and the messages left at the spot clearly point towards the Pakistani Taliban, a separatist faction which wants to enforce its brand of militant Shariah in the country, which many argue is what the Shariah is, but that’s another subject. It is thought that Bhatti was assassinated for his criticism on the Blasphemy Law. Ever since he has been silenced, so have been most of the voices in the country who were outspoken about it.

In any case, this pretty much puts to rest any false assertions about the Islamic constitution and law, or at least an Islamic Republic, protecting minorities. Even if that is true in theory, it certainly is not in practice. This is usually what I tell Muslim Pakistanis, like many other people who support a Secular constitution and law, that no matter how much you are confident about the provisions in the Islamic law, or Shariah, to protect the minorities, that is not how non-Muslims see that law and that is precisely the reason why there should be an “agreed upon” and uncontroversial constitution and the law, which should not be disputed by any party. As a matter of fact, most of the non-Muslims will immediately raise objections as soon as they hear about the Shariah or the Islamic Law.

People may or may not agree with it, but Bhatti’s assassination has been an alarming point raising question marks about the kind of protection the law and constitution of the country offer to its citizens. I am not talking about communities and minorities here because it sort of disturbs me calling for the rights of this community and that community. Every citizen has their rights and we don’t really have to refer to people as minorities, as if they are not completely a part of the society.

The bottom line is that Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination has been a wake up call for the Pakistani state and especially the Pakistani people that only a secular constitution, which is not loaded with communal bias, is the foundation to the solution of the problems of the country regarding civil rights.

To remind you of the neverending need for protest and the great struggle for civil rights in Pakistan in the face of pointless religious extremism, leaving you with the best sign spotted in a Shahbaz Bhatti assassination protest.

Hope she gets heard some day.

One of the best signs ever seen in a Shahbaz Bhatti assassination protest rally. Source: Abid Nawaz/Express Tribune

Taseer Assassination: What Have We Learned?

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

                                                                                                                          – Voltaire


A year ago, on this very day, the Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by one of his guards. Allegedly, the guard killed Taseer for calling the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan a Draconian law and for advocating Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian who is still under arrest on charge of blasphemy.

What have we learned from this shocking event so far?

Although nothing can make up for the loss of the person of Salmaan Taseer and his role in the Pakistani society as an entrepreneur and a leader but on the bright side it made a rift in the Pakistani society. Many among Pakistani people realized for the first time that the monster of religious fanaticism was getting out of hand, despite several incidents of violence against minorities over the years.

Why is Salmaan Taseer important? He was just another politician who was probably more hated than admired, so why his death should cause such an outcry?

The reason why Salmaan Taseer mattered, and still matters, is because as funny as he was in his witty speech, he ended up touching some of the most serious and sensitive issues in Pakistan. He was the only politician, apart from Sherry Rehman, who challenged the authority of the Blasphemy Law.

Furthermore, his actions and especially his death has strengthened the beliefs of many that the remedy to Pakistan’s rapidly multiplying religious fanaticism is nothing but a secular constitution and brutal state action against hate preaching, something which most Pakistani politicians would give anything to block, even the so-called Pakistani secular parties.

There are people who would tell you that we should carry on the mission of Salmaan Taseer so that his blood does not go wasted. I would just say that Salmaan Taseer is not among us any more to care a little bit about what we think or do about what he stood for in the months before his assassination.

It is a matter of survival and progress of the Pakistani nation if it chooses or not to adopt the values that Taseer advocated pertaining to the Blasphemy law and Asia Bibi. As long as Pakistanis keep discriminating on the basis of religion and persecute its minorities, they will continue to build their society on the foundation of hatred, discrimination and inhuman values and further threatening the lives of its very own citizens, regardless of their community.

What we learn from the Taseer Assassination is that we have a long way to go as far as attaining civil rights is concerned. We have also learned that none of that would have happened if Pakistan had a secular constitution. We can prevent many more assassinations of brave persons like Taseer who would stand up against religious fanaticism if only we make a few adjustments in our textbook ruling the state, so that at least the state would offer protection to the persecuted.

But what has changed since Taseer’s assassination? Nothing. Actually, his assassin was garlanded. Asia Bibi is still in prison and perhaps it is better this way unless she finds asylum in a safe place where her life is not threatened. The Pakistani state seems least bothered about the Blasphemy Law, the persecution of the minorities and religious fanaticism. It is up to the Pakistani youth and teachers to take on this challenge and to propagate humanitarian values in the society.

The actual motive behind Taseer’s assassination can be debated but not most people’s insensitivity. Actually why be shocked if the assassin of Salman Taseer is showered with petals and hailed as a hero. That is all what we have taught our people and expecting them to act otherwise would be just like expecting a field of wheat when you have sown the seeds of poppy. When religious beliefs begin to overshadow humanitarian values, far worse things can happen. So what have we learned?

Maybe said a thousand times before.

The answer lies in humanitarian education and a bit of courage to question the absurdities of religion.

The answer lies not in despising people, but connecting to them.

Pakistan Needs Another Salmaan Taseer

Here we go again. Not for the first time a sane man is gunned down by obscurantist  and fundamentalist extremists.

While many despised Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, for his boldness and outspokenness, which to some was arrogance than anything else, the fact that they could never swallow was that he was successful.

He earned it.

I had been following the man ever since he took charge as the Governor of Punjab and while at times I considered some of his statements irresponsible (not the Blasphemy ones), I had at least not heard any lies from the man.

Some would wonder if he really was a politician.

He did not stand bullshit and always believed in saying what he believed in.

If his enemies are reading, especially those who killed him, this is one thing that they can learn from the man.

Oh, but wait, how could they?

The obscurantist religious fanatics stand for just the opposite.

To them, speaking the truth is just the worst thing in the world.

And if you do that, like Mr. Taseer, sorry, you have to die.

To me, Salmaan Taseer is a National Hero.

Why? Because he did what I don’t have the balls for.

He never shied away from speaking the Truth.

Publicly speaking against the Blasphemy Law and denouncing how terrible and nonsense it is.

This is phenomenal and needs to be recognized. Every Pakistan must recognize that.

The attack on Salmaan Taseer was not on an individual. It was an attack on sanity, and on the courage to speak the Truth.

We must not let his blood go to waste by going all quiet about it.

This is a historic moment and if our nation has a conscience, it should be shaken from the very foundation.

If this does not change Pakistan, I don’t know what will.

Even more painful was the reaction of those who approved and celebrated the death of the supposed “blasphemer”.

Are those who approve murder any better than the murderer?

See if some of you have bloods on your hand for brewing that hatred, or for plain inaction.

I have blood on my hands for not doing enough, not speaking out enough about it.

January 4, 2011, on the eclipse hour, came yet another moment when my pride for my country was eclipsed, and like never before.

I had to feel ashamed for being a Pakistani.

It is not the first time and I have a feeling, it won’t be the last.

This time they got the Governor, but they will get you and I and our children if we don’t renounce the doctrine the Mullahs preach.

Yes, the Blasphemy Law is a Draconian law and it needs to be repealed. The greatest way we can honor the late Governor is that we carry on with his cause.

Give life, not death.

It is the mass approval of murder which caused this death.

And no I am not writing this because he is dead. I have always admired his courage and will always do until I die.


Salmaan Taseer is no more. RIP.

But Pakistan is still alive.

It needs another National Hero to guide the misguided and the ignorant.

Pakistan needs another Salmaan Taseer badly.