On this first anniversary of the assassination of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, we must take stock of how much moral backbone the country has lost by acquiescing in the persuasion of terrorism and the creed of extremism activating it. Two agencies or two professions must be held responsible for the downfall of the conscientious in the country: the media and the lawyers community. One puts to shame the brainwash of the fascist regimes of history; the other must give the judiciary a pause when re-evaluating the role played by the district-level lawyers in its restoration. Governor Taseer did not insult the Holy Prophet (pbuh); he simply protested a flawed legislation that causes the victimisation of the disadvantaged communities in the country. The role played by the media and the lawyers scared off the sane elements in society and the political party in power. Instead of making Taseer the emblem of our righteous objection to a very controversial law, we allowed the murder to go by default. Prominent citizens expected to uphold his cause, absented themselves from his funeral and clerics ran away from their duty of leading the janaza. Later, as if to confirm the moral backsliding of the nation, Taseer’s son was kidnapped from Lahore and is still being held for ransom.
There is much that the media must hang its head in shame for. The fact that some opinion is eschewed because of fear of being killed — and some good journalists have been killed or thrashed — can be overlooked; but the fact that many media persons actually share the world view of the murderers cannot be forgiven. The case of Governor Taseer was a false reality manufactured by a large section of the media which acted irresponsibly. The default practice is to get the politicians to hate each other and fight in public view; or to frame the politician in such a way that s/he becomes a target of hate crime. A particular talk show host constantly traded accusations with him that put him on the defensive and projected Taseer as someone actually inclined to blaspheme. The fact was that he was not guilty of blasphemy; he was made to look like defending a community that is assumed to be blaspheming. The media followed up by actually giving airtime to people who accused him of committing blasphemy. The violence of words usually leads to violence of acts. And this is what happened. A policeman thought he could win the adoration of the nation by killing Taseer. What he killed was the reputation of Pakistan as a sane country.
The lawyers usually come from the small districts where the writ of the state is weaker than in the big cities and there is a lot of violence used by the local strongmen to impose their order on the rural communities. After becoming successful there, lawyers usually relocate to big cities to educate their children and to escape the yoke of feudalism, police brutality and victimisation by an errant magistracy. But their minds remain arrested in the intolerant paradigm of religion, mixed with politics of power. Salmaan Taseer’s killer was lionised by the lawyers of the Rawalpindi Bar Association who showered him with flower petals and condemned the anti-terrorism judge who convicted him. The violence that the lawyers committed all over Pakistan — intoxicated with the sense of power imbibed from the restoration of the top judiciary — had reached its evil acme.
Taseer’s death has signalled a new low point in our collective conscience. And we are reaping the tragic harvest of this depravity in the further killing of undefended communities. Taseer defended a poor Christian woman targeted by fanatic elements buttressed by a frequently-misused law. Today, a number of helpless women of the Hindu community in Sindh are being victimised without much reaction from the Muslim majority. The Muslims themselves are punished with internecine violence for this dulling of the sense of social justice. The state releases the dogs of sectarian war from jail only to have them kill members of the Shia community. Taseer wanted us to have a liveable Pakistan and he paid for that with his life. Today, as Pasban Jafaria activists gather in Karachi demanding justice from the government, we are reminded of a sacrifice in 2011 which we allowed to go waste.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2012.