This murder is a serious blow to anyone working for justice and liberal progress in Pakistan. It is a message to all others working for positive change to shut up or be blown up. The murder is also a sign that the war on terror is a failed attempt. We need to reexamine what is hapening. In a country like Pakistan, the solution is not to bomb the place with hopes to kill extermist ideology; the solution is not as simple as implementing secularism with hopes of ridding the country of religion, and; the solution is not to pretend that their is no problem of growing Islamic extremism; the solution is not to say that Islam has nothing to do with these problems; or, to simply stop at saying the extremists do not represent all Muslims. Instead the solution has to be multifaceted – one which is based on an honest understanding of the various agendas at play and one which includes members of all stakeholders.
Like many others, I sat in shock as I read the news of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, being murdered for supporting the revision of blasphemy laws. If you read any of my work, you know I am a staunch advocate for doing away with these unjust laws and you know that I am in favour of a progressive, liberal and tolerant Pakistan. As I saw the various news reports of so-called leader-spokespersons, who are usually men I might add, using this to further their own agendas, I began to feel very sad. The two main analyses that seemed to have surfaced were either that religious extremism was the main culprit and that the ‘war on terror’ must be fought even more ruthlessly now, or that religion, particularly Islam, had nothing to do with this murder, and ultimately that America is to blame. I felt even worse when I saw that the killer was being glorified and honoured for murdering one of the few progressive and outspoken leaders in the country.
At this time I believe it is important that the world see that Pakistanis condemn this killing. It is also important that young Pakistanis, politically disengaged Pakistanis, and impoverished and disenfranchised Pakistanis, see senior and prominent Pakistanis condemning this violence. Immediately after hearing about the murder I responded by making my voice heard and condemning this violence through whatever outlet I had accessible to me.
My message is simple: I am Pakistani and I condemn violence. I condemn the murder of Governor Taseer. I urge all Pakistanis everywhere to do the same. We must stand up and speak out each and every time there is violence and killing. You cannot speak out against certain violence but stay quiet about others. No matter what your political, religious, or national affiliations and no matter which way you look at it, murder is wrong and must be undeniably declared as wrong. Let us make it clear to the world once and for all that Pakistanis everywhere condemn violence no matter what justification is given and no matter who the victims are.
Pakistan is certainly in need of a new PR strategy but strangely, not everyone seems to be aware of this and not everyone seems to be for this. Those of us who sit outside the country see it so very clearly because we face first hand the response of the international community all around us. It is absolutely imperative that Pakistanis speak up and demonstrate our humanity. It is imperative that Muslims being of the religion of peace, as is claimed like broken-records, are seen in public speaking out against the misuse and misrepresentations of Islamic teachings. Where is the peace? Where are the people who keep the peace? Where are the people standing up for peace? We need to make ourselves visible.
On the other hand, if the only response from Pakistanis during an emotional time like this is silence, or blaming of the victim, or a complicated explanation of how the west is ultimately responsible for this murder, then Pakistan has lost the hearts of the people of the world and just given further ammunition to the US-led ‘war on terror’. Then, to feed into this hype, if Pakistani officials respond with increased support to this ‘war on terror’ with more drone attacks, the crisis becomes (and has become) a cyclical problem where one form of extremism feeds another. For the majority of the sons and daughters of partition, it is heartrenching to see the country being used and abused in this manner.
Having worked with the poor and victims of disasters in Pakistan as a social worker, I can tell you that faith, spirituality and religion is a huge part of life. Not only that, but it is a huge factor in survival for the people at the very bottom of the totem pole, which in Pakistan’s case is unfortunately the bulk of 180 million people. This is consistent with trends that indicate that the religiousity factor is the highest among the most impoverished parts of the world. Many humanitarian efforts in various parts of the world incorporate forms of prayer and other forms of devotion to a divine being (or beings). When there is no other sign of hope for people in this world, people often turn to mystical or holy powers for some source of hope to strengthen the self and to make it through the day. Given these conditions, a sad reality sinks in that Jinnah’s secular and admirable state of Pakistan, which professed no business in the religious beliefs of its citizens, is truly a mirage of the past. Instead a Pakistan full of religious intolerance does appear to be the present. Is there a way, then, to use the religiousity factor to support a movement towards a future of justice rather than to support this ghettoized murderous culture being mislabeled as a form of worship that is rapidly cropping up as Pakistanis go down the depths of despair? That is the question we must ask.
If you are Pakistani, I urge you to speak out loud and clear against violence, hatred and murder, and to organize your efforts. If you are Muslim and believe yours is truly a religion of peace, I urge you to reclaim your religion and demonstrate that peace. If you are from the west, I urge you to reexamine the real (yet not so visible) ‘war on terror’ objectives and outcomes and use your power as a citizen given your consitutions to influence your governments to develop a new strategy. I urge the people of the world to recognize that investing in Pakistan and supporting the Pakistani people is in the best interest of all of us. If not, then we can only join the millions of survivors of poverty, floods, and earthquakes, to say that only the power of God can help Pakistan now. I leave you with what a dear friend of mine often says in response, “God, Jesus, Mary, the Holy Spirit, Buddha, Allah, Lord Ganesh, Guru Nanak, all Gurus, and all forms of supreme being(s) [and before I get criticised here these are in no particular order and this is not a comprehensive list] all combined may not be able to help Pakistan. It is up to us human beings to clean up the worldly mess that we have made.”