This article was first published on Naya Daur on January 4, 2020.
Jazib Rehman Khan writes about the legacy of late Punjab governor Salman Taseer who was assassinated for standing up for an innocent blasphemy accused. Media’s role in provoking the extremists which led to his murder should not be ignored, he argues.
On October 31, 2018, after witnessing a landmark decision by the apex court of Pakistan, the very first thing that popped up in mind was a tweet of a man with many enemies, “Hum ne gulshan ke tahfuz ki qasm khae hae.”
That day Salman Taseer – a man with 26 bullets in his body won against religious prejudice and fanaticism; the verdict of acquitting Asia Bibi proved that Salman was defending a person falsely accused of blasphemy. Among all the politicians, he alone had the courage to champion justice, despite facing immense pressure from his own party and religio-political groups in Pakistan.
Salman Taseer upheld the flag of humanity when like many others, a famous Barelvi cleric Hanif Qureshi based in Rawalpindi declared him apostate and said “we know how to trigger a gun, how to shoot somebody dead and how to behead those who commit blasphemy against our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)” while delivering a sermon on December 31, 2010, just four days before the murder of Salman Taseer in Rawalpindi.
In interrogation, Mumtaz Qadri admitted that he decided to kill Salman Taseer after getting inspiration from that sermon of Hanif Qureshi but to date, the cleric is roaming free and creating the likes of Mumtaz Qadri. Ironically, Hanif who declared Mumtaz Qadri as “Hero of Islam” and instigated him to kill Salman, later submitted an affidavit in the court that includes “I have nothing to do with this murder; I do not even know Mumtaz Qadri; I had no personal differences with Salman Taseer and; I condemn every act of terror as it portrays bag image of Pakistan all over the world.”
This is the state of so-called Islamic preachers in Pakistan, they are not only hypocrites but they also use religion for personal interests and self-glorification. Salman Taseer was against this exploitation of religion and inhuman blasphemy laws of Pakistan, which are primarily used to settle personal vendettas and to target already persecuted religious minorities of Pakistan.
Everyone knows that only criticizing the stringent blasphemy laws is like an intention to share the fate of late Salman Taseer, let alone asking for repealing them. Salman knew that he is inviting mob violence and vandalism, but he bowed down to none. He knew that this act of defending a Christian woman falsely accused of blasphemy will destroy his political career as well, but he did not stop advocating for justice.
Even the Lahore High Court ordered to prevent the presidential pardon and PPP refused to amend the blasphemy law at that moment, the then law minister Babar Awan said “there was no question of reforming the blasphemy law. As long as I am law minister no one should think of finishing this law” on November 26, 2010. But the man with resistance and bravery in his veins kept criticizing it.
We must not ignore the role of mainstream media in Salman Taseer’s murder. A prominent female journalist Mehar Bukhari in her show News Beat on November 26, 2010, interviewed Salman Taseer just to trap him and to put her words in his mouth. Mehar almost declared him a western agent who is doing all this just for the foreign appeasement and political point-scoring.
At many instances, Salman said that he is only against the man-made blasphemy laws and being a Muslim, he is not supporting the blasphemy of Islam or Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by any means. Despite that, Mehar kept on rebutting by loudly reading the fatwas given by different Islamic bodies against Salman. This was an absolute case of inciting hatred against the late governor and Mehar and Samaa TV should have issued a public apology. But not everyone has the heart to acknowledge the mistake.
One can be aware of Salman’s wisdom and intellect just by going through his Twitter handle. Here, I will quote one of his sayings “you can detain persons but u cannot arrest ideas which is why prisoners of conscience are always free”, he tweeted on November 14, 2010.
Nine years ago, today Salman Taseer was brutally murdered, today he is not with us, but his free ideas are; due to which many conscious people are criticizing blasphemy laws publicly are raising their voice for Junaid Hafeez – an intelligent professor who has been sentenced to death after being in solitary confinement for more than 6 years under blasphemy charges on flimsy grounds.
To pay tribute to the late governor, we must organize ourselves to continue his legacy of courage, resistance, humanity, and justice for every vulnerable and the marginalized communities in Pakistan. We must strive for the freedom of Junaid Hafeez, and for a society that guarantees critical thinking and the right to question laws, norms, and believes that are victimizing the innocent citizens.