Jan 4, 2012
Salmaan Taseer was no angel. Like you and I, he had his shortcomings. He was human.
Unlike many prominent Pakistanis, Taseer had the courage and moral sensibility to stand up for a vulnerable woman accused of an act of blasphemy she probably did not commit. Salmaan Taseer rose up in defense of Asiya Bibi, a Christian woman, because he was human.
The late governor of Punjab was killed by a man claiming to act in God’s Name. His murderer and those who condone the wretched act allege that Taseer blasphemed by criticizing the laws that put Asiya Bibi on death row as a “black law.” But Taseer’s comments were focused on man-made legislation claiming to adhere to Islam. This legislation was added to Pakistan’s Penal Code by a military ruler, Zia-ul-Haq, during the 1980s. Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws besmirch the religion they seek to protect. They create an environment of persecution, not tolerance, where Christians involved in property disputes can be easily taken out of the picture with a simple accusation of disparaging Islam.
Salmaan Taseer did the right thing. Sadly, instead of being lionized, he was reviled. Many in Pakistan celebrated his death or condoned his assassination. Others were afraid to publicly condemn his murder in unequivocal terms.
The tragedy that unfolded one year ago in Islamabad was not simply that Taseer was barbarically killed by a madman. The tragedy was also that millions of ordinary people indulged in the same self-righteous lunacy as the madman.
As outsiders peered into Pakistan during those January days, many must have wondered whether this country of 180 million was not a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims, but an insane asylum for them, penned in between the Hindu Kush and the western edges of the Thar Desert. That Pakistan is now a metaphor used to describe a country that has fallen to antediluvian marauders is something Pakistanis should not dismiss defensively; they should take it as a valuable appraisal of what their homeland has become.
Pakistan will be a safer home for its citizens when Salmaan Taseer is recognized as a hero within and his murderer as a shameless fanatic; when its weakest have strong advocates among the powerful; and when it realizes for itself the tolerance and respect for human rights it expects of others, particularly the West.
How Pakistanis perceive Salmaan Taseer is a litmus test for the country’s collective soul. For how human it is.