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No justification for murder

January 06, 2011


On January 6, around 150 members of civil society gathered at the Karachi Press Club for a vigil in memory of the late Governor. It was a fairly decent turn out, especially considering the security risks involved. We took to the streets and went around the Press Club with candles in our hands, demanding an end to this state of lawlessness. Keeping in line with the idea of a peaceful protest, none of the protestors called out for death or blood but instead, demanded justice and respect for the deceased. Even so, there were only 150 of us when there should have been thousands more.

Whether you stand for the blasphemy law or against it, this blog is for you. It is a plea addressed to each of you regardless of your stance. In order to reach a mutual consensus on a debatable issue, it is important to have a holistic approach. Rather than obscuring and isolating the issue, we need to look at the larger picture, analyse every aspect before deciding on a stance. Unfortunately, when it comes to one of the most pertinent issues we currently face, we are wasting our energies in arguing, blaming and categorising the other rather than thinking rationally. Our own flaws prevent us from solving issues, which often get so out of hand that they are then dubbed controversial and thus, snubbed forever. The debate on the blasphemy laws in Pakistan is one of the many examples of how our myopic view has hindered any progress that might have been possible.

I cannot seem to shake off the image of Mumtaz Qadri, the 26-year-old assassin who killed Governor Salman Taseer, smiling with content, his words "Bus sarkar, qabool karlain" as he confessed to the murdered of Governor Taseer.

In his opinion and in the opinions of many others, Qadri is a hero because he had killed in the name of God. Again, the lack of foresight and fervor for martyrdom prevented hundreds of his supporters from condemning something that was nothing but cold-blooded murder. Islam does not allow us to take law into our hands. Whether you stand for or against the blasphemy law is insignificant, taking the law into our hands is a crime irrespective of the motive. Islam, by means of Quran and Hadith, strongly advocates against false accusations and the need for concrete evidence before any kind of punishment is ruled out:

"He who, in order to find fault, says something about a person that was not there, Allah will throw such a person in hell till he tastes fully what he had fabricated." (Tibrani)

Those who claim that Qadri was a hero conveniently overlooked that there is a reason why there are courts in this country. There is a reason why there is a proper judicial system to tackle any forms of crime. The reason is fairly simple: to prevent lawlessness and injustice. Taseer wasn't a blasphemer, he had never insulted the Quran, the Prophet (PBUH) or Islam but he was killed in the name of the blasphemy law that according to him, was “man-made.”

Governor Taseer was killed because he asked for mercy for a 45-year old mother of five. Twenty-seven bullets for taking a stance.  His murder highlights the abuse of Islam and Quran for the sake of power and authority. By encouraging such behavior we are promoting lawlessness and a state where people will be at each other’s throat on a mere disagreement. Is this the message of the Quran? Is this what Islam teaches us? How humane is it to rejoice someone’s death?

In the aftermath of Governor Taseer's murder and the confession, many considered the murder a victory for Islam, justifying the killing by Governer Taseer's opposition to the abuse of the blasphemy law. It was mind-numbing to see people using all forms of media to publicly advocate murder and justify blood in the name of religion. Let’s be clear on this: these people rejoicing weren't the Taliban and neither did a significant number of these individuals have links with terrorist organisations. Some television anchors resorted to using "jaa bahaq" rather than the more suiting (and often abused) "shaheed" (martyr) when talking about the murder. A Wikpedia entry and a few fan pages were created on Facebook in support of Qadri. Over 500 ‘moderate’ religious clerics, pronounced Qadri as “ghazi” while lawyers showered him with rose petals; one of them even embraced him as he arrived in Islamabad.

Governor Salman Taseer stood for tolerance and he was killed at the hands of extremism. There's no justification for his murder, and every single one who instigated violence, has blood on their hands. Governor Taseer's death highlights intolerance, hate and bigotry and speaks of a desensitised society where cold-blooded murders are justified.

We have been moving in the wrong direction for a very long time now. Our ideologies have become distorted and our vision, diminishing. The constant state of violence and the need to prove ourselves as pious Muslims and patriotic Pakistanis has engulfed our humanity. There are no rational dialogues anymore, only ego tussles, labels and death threats.

It appears that when religious sentiments are involved anything and everything is justified. This is not piety or devotion, it is pure insanity, inhumanity and barbarism.

The solution to our problems does not lie in striking each others head off, or battling for or against the blasphemy law, the solution lies in reasonable public discourse. Taseer’s death highlights the need for counter abuse laws to prevent wrongful accusations. Let us not talk of repeal and amendments but the need to fight abuse, to ensure that no one is allowed to use laws to settle personal vendettas, that violence is no longer justified in the name of religion.

As a practicing Muslim and a devotee to the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet (PBUH), I am outraged by those like Qadri who justify their heinous crime in the name of Islam. Nothing would disappoint the Prophet (PBUH) more than violence being justified in his name; nothing is more blasphemous than using Islam as a tool to justify violence.

Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices,  Asian Correspondent, The Guardian and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She was awarded the Best Activist Blogger Award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.