We never learned

Published: January 3, 2012

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Salmaan Taseer died and Mumtaz Qadri lived. Salmaan Taseer died and Aasia Bibi still sits in solitary confinement. Salmaan Taseer died and Shahbaz Bhatti died shortly after. Salmaan Taseer died and many celebrated. Salmaan Taseer died and lawyers showered his killer with flowers. Salmaan Taseer died and the media tolerated no introspection. Salmaan Taseer died and no discussion was had on the blasphemy law. Salmaan Taseer died in vain.

That is what saddens me the most. That a man who stood up for the rights of a woman who was clearly being denied those rights, was killed in broad daylight and we learned nothing from it. There was a brief moment of justice prevailing in the judgment handed down to Mumtaz Qadri, but given that he committed murder in broad daylight, in front of scores of eyewitnesses and then readily confessed to it, the fact that we were surprised with the outcome just shows how low our expectations are. The question that still remains unattended then, that Salmaan Taseer died trying to address, is the validity of the blasphemy law.

Last year, when he died and I condemned his killing (as did so many others), one person wrote me and demanded a clarification on how I could justify defending someone who attacked “Allah’s Law”. This was evidence, to me, of a fundamental ignorance of basic Islam. If we are willing to kill in the defence of our religion, wouldn’t it make sense for us to understand that religion first? The Holy Quran doesn’t state any punishment for blasphemy and the few Hadith cases used as vague justifications are actually more focused on not questioning the authority of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by people during his lifetime. The reference most commonly used, [Surah Al-Maidah 5:33], describes the punishment for anyone seeking to wage war on Allah and His Messenger. Even there, death is but one of four different potential punishments. Why did we decide it was our go-to option?

The second issue that comes up is, can you condemn a non-Muslim for blasphemy? A Christian, whether you like it or not, does not believe in Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Is then their entire existence blasphemous? Is everyone other than a Muslim committing blasphemy just by existing?

There is also, of course, the sheer audacity involved in presuming you can decide who is and is not a Muslim, a pastime Pakistanis love more than cricket. Such a judgment is God’s to make and one of the definitions of blasphemy is ‘the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God’. So haven’t those who called Salmaan Taseer non-Muslim then committed blasphemy themselves?

Unfortunately, these discussions are inherently academic because the law already is in place and its enforcement has already resulted in many innocents being victimised. I say “innocents” because I refuse to believe anyone would rationally dare to insult Islam or it’s Prophet in Pakistan. It just beggars belief.

The real issue here is what do the critics of the blasphemy law, in its current incarnation, want? Maybe some of them, in an ideal world, would like it gone altogether since they see the lack of sense in it. But no one is currently saying this. Everyone knows that such a change is not possible without serious, open discussion by the religious and legal authorities. Something unlikely to ever occur in Pakistan. Even Salmaan Taseer wasn’t asking for this. What everyone is asking for is that the law be amended. That it be written in a way that it protects against the possibility of misuse and puts the burden of proof on the accuser, not the accused. Currently, as it stands, it is a law which is open to misuse and often results in an abuse of the rights of citizens of Pakistan. Should Salmaan Taseer have been more careful in his phrasing? Definitely. But then it was his opinion and shouldn’t there have been debate with him over his use of the phrase as opposed to just shooting him dead? When we reach the point where we realise this and accept it, then we can say that Salmaan Taseer died and his death had an effect. Until then, we destroyed a life for no reason at all.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2012.

Reader Comments (42)

  • muhammad bashir
    Jan 4, 2012 - 12:10AM

    salman taseer got murdered and his murderer got showered with rose petals and his parents got rewarded with millions of rupees by the ‘mazhabi’ parties,he got hailed by society as a ghazi and as a hero.this tells you all you need to know about the depraved mentality of the majority of our society.the way they shower praise on any murder or any other crime done in the name of religion is mind numbing.Salman taseer died because too many people for far too long stayed silent out of fear in the face of a relentless attack by the forces of obscurantism and regression,taseer died because the state long ago surrendered before the religious brigade,taseer died because the media chooses to not criticise and highlight the atrocities committed in pakistan by the religious fanatics,he died because of our fear and our apathy,but one thing is for sure,he did not die invain,his sacrifice will be long remembered .

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  • Max
    Jan 4, 2012 - 12:17AM

    A society that does not respect human values and is consumed by religious self-rightness, or dogmatic/fascist ideology is anarchic, disorganized , and destined to fail. We started in a wrong way and we kept on going in the same direction No one should be surprised when we plunge. This has happened before in the history of nations, and is going to happen again but this time in South Asia.
    My heart goes to the bereaved Taseer family.

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  • adz
    Jan 4, 2012 - 12:24AM

    true…..u i believe are the first person to declare and understand that non-muslims donot believe in Prophet Muhammed…..and therefore a Christian or any non-muslim is free from the blasphemy law…..a non-muslim cannot insult Muhammed, but the muslims are doing it everyday…..Recommend

  • saadi awaam
    Jan 4, 2012 - 12:29AM

    Janab even PPP does not own their Jiyala. Why so annoyed of public? Public is no more than a puppet.
    When you really want to bring change, you present a proposal in assembly or at least have president pardon the wrongly accused. You cant bring change via television interviews, half of which contain PML-N thrashing.
    Salman’s heirs, who were supposed to continue his mission (if he was really honest in his attempts) are actually in courts for inheritance matters. So THIS is something you should be disappointed of.
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  • Parvez
    Jan 4, 2012 - 12:39AM

    Very well written. Its not the Quadris we should worry about so much as those who are responsible for creating such people. They are the real danger.

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  • Parvez
    Jan 4, 2012 - 1:10AM

    NIcely written and I agree with you.
    It’s not the Quadris we should be much worried about but those who are responsible for creating such people, who are the real danger.

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  • Talha
    Jan 4, 2012 - 1:20AM

    I would like to state that this so called ‘blasphemy law’ is an utter farce and it should be abolished.

    Very good article.

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  • Nagpuri
    Jan 4, 2012 - 1:37AM

    If you have to use religious argument to justify simple common sense, you have fallen into the trap of religious nuts. It will lead to circular arguments and counter arguments i.e. no where. It is nonsensical to use stupid laws on its face. Lot of things in all regilious texts are senseless at least in todays context. Most of the texts are usually cobbled together from various sources and is ultimately written by human(s) and not by God. If anyone takes it otherwise, ask them to ride camel and don’t use computers, internet, modern medicine, electricity, vehicles, etc. -most important guns. It will be purest form of living purest religion land of pure.

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  • Achoowehshi
    Jan 4, 2012 - 1:39AM

    Salman Taseer.. Respect! Sami.. Thank you for this piece! Mumtaaz and his Fan club.. I pray Allah grants you some sense and reason.. Aameen! :)

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  • Sak
    Jan 4, 2012 - 1:51AM

    Yeh jo dus crore hain, jehl ka nachor hain
    In kee akl so gaey

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  • JustAnotherPakistani
    Jan 4, 2012 - 1:55AM

    The title should be: We never Learn, but I won’t get into the intricacies of the English language. If it’s good enough for the sub-editors at the Tribune than who are we to complain?

    It’s outrageous that Qadri continues to live. He should be hung, drawn and quartered. Anyone defending his actions should be charged with inciting hatred and public disorder. I wish the government of Pakistan had the fortitude to carry out this sentence without further delay. It’s also outrageous that no politician in the National Assembly has had the moral fortitude to condemn this vile crime.

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  • fus
    Jan 4, 2012 - 2:46AM

    Very well said Sami.

    Fus

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  • Mirza
    Jan 4, 2012 - 3:30AM

    Qadri is the hero of most rightwing parties and their cronies. This says a lot about the future of Pakistan and its society. No rush to punish the killer, just like the slow pace of Abbottabad and Mehran Base investigation. Only important thing is an unsigned memo for both the generals and PCO SC. No other case, appeal or petiton has any priority.

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  • hedgefunder
    Jan 4, 2012 - 3:52AM

    The Pakistani society has lost all touch with reality, anything is acceptable as long as its commited in name of Allah !
    What happened to the educated urban and yet people of the faith who lived in secular society??
    How long is it going to be, before the mullahs are imstalled in the presidency, as its obvious signs of things to come when officers of court in the country were seen on TV worldwide showering rose petals on a cold blooded murderer of the most heinous crime as he actually was suppose to be the victim’s protecter from any harm !!!!
    Nice PR for the Nation.

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  • Basharit
    Jan 4, 2012 - 4:33AM

    Long live mumtaz qadri we love you and want you freed soon. The goverment should release qadri ASAP. PPP do something for your people before your end!

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  • Iron hand
    Jan 4, 2012 - 6:38AM

    “Is everyone other than a Muslim committing blasphemy just by existing?” You put your finger on the heart of the problem, because for the fanatics, the answer is a resounding yes!! Convert, pay the jizya and live as a dhimmi, or die!! This is today’s Islamist extremism at its essence. The rest, all the alleged grievances, Israel, etc. is just window dressing.

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  • Jan 4, 2012 - 6:46AM

    O.K., so a few Pakistanis say they condemn it. So what? What are they going to do about it? Nothing, right? It’s not like the liberal columnists and common folk are going to band together online and physically in protective communities and form an Abolitionist party, is it?

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  • PakiKaki
    Jan 4, 2012 - 9:54AM

    Thank you sami for writing this. it should be said and acted upon by our government but no one moves in the power circles regarding this issue. I respect your courage.

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  • sars
    Jan 4, 2012 - 11:51AM

    Very true and sad state of affairs.Mr Taseer was not afraid of stating his belief , which was true in the sense that a law prone to victimization of the vulnerable should be rethought.

    Maybe we will not learn from it now but as we progress as a nation, im sure this chapter will be re thought.So i would say even if he got people to start thinking rationally , he did not die in vain.

    Qadri on the other hand along with his supporters , will perhaps not recieve what he deserves in this life, but im sure will be held accountable in the hereafter.

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  • Amit
    Jan 4, 2012 - 11:58AM

    Even for liberal writers in Pakistan, the fear of the blasphemy law being applied to their free speech is apparent.Recommend

  • Abhi
    Jan 4, 2012 - 12:04PM

    I agree with Nagpuri.
    Using religious argument for non religious problem is counter productive. as they say
    Never argue with idiots, first they will drag you down to their level and then they will beat you with experience.

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  • Pakistani
    Jan 4, 2012 - 2:24PM

    We don’t need of extremism in our country. And media can play a vital role for this cause. But unfortunately they are doing nothing, because of fear factor. We need such brave writers like you to talk about on these issues publicly.

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  • Jan 4, 2012 - 4:01PM

    “We never learned” – It is rather “We will never learn”…

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  • Ahmed Bashir
    Jan 4, 2012 - 4:21PM

    A few corrections

    Salmaan Taseer died and lawyers showered his killer with flowers. only the ones belonging to hardliner groups. Not all the lawyers did it. There were many who opposed it. The majority remained silent due to fear like the rest of the nation. Not because they loved Qadri

    Salmaan Taseer died and the media tolerated no introspection. I remember media did hold talks, but then may be it wasn’t enough and fear prevailed.

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  • Baqar
    Jan 4, 2012 - 4:41PM

    The problem with the Muslims (by that i mean the peace loving moderate people of Pakistan) have very limited knowledge about Hadith books. When the point comes where we have to debate on such topics with the mullahs we are almost clueless as in what to say (including me). To dethorne these we need to read what they have read and bring out the true picture of this beautiful religion which have been hijacked. Recommend

  • Baqar
    Jan 4, 2012 - 4:47PM

    Voltaire once said: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

    Dedicated to all those wannabe mumtaz qadris. You dont have to be literate to understand that killing someone is a great sin, all you need is a heart.

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  • Omar Qadri
    Jan 4, 2012 - 6:04PM

    @Baqar:
    We don’t need to know the Hadith…stick to the Quran and you can never go wrong. It’s Allah’s word and comes with his guarantee. Hadith were written by men and certified by men and any that go against the Quran or adds to it is potentially inaccurate.

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  • Truth Teller
    Jan 4, 2012 - 6:38PM

    Blasphemy law is a “BLACK LAW” created to punish innocent non Muslims by Zia Ul Haq! What is sad affairs of our unfortunate country? Country going down the drain & nobody concerned about it!

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  • Waqar Sheikh
    Jan 4, 2012 - 6:47PM

    Nice articles. Nicely written words to my own sentiments exactly.

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  • Meera Ghani
    Jan 4, 2012 - 6:59PM

    What is missing from this debate is that firstly taking someones life is a crime and should be treated as such in front of the law regardless of the reasons why.

    Secondly baring false witness is one of the things the Quran explicating warns against. And those who use the blasphemy laws for their own agenda don’t do it out of the love for their prophet they do it to get even. It has nothing to do with Islam.

    Sadly no one after Salmaan Taseer has the guts to call a spade a spade. It is a black law (NOT GODs law) it is misused and should be amended if not repealed.

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  • Abbas from the US
    Jan 4, 2012 - 8:55PM

    The saddest part is that Salafi radicalism is now increasingly influencing even Sufi orders like the Qadris. The great majority of conversions to Islam in the subcontinent under the Sufi orders like the Qadris was induced by the tolerence displayed by what became the Sufi Saints in the folklore of the great majority of converts to Islam.
    The distinction of pluralism exhibited by the most tolerent groups is now being being overwhelmed by an ideology of hate, where the blasphemy laws are an excuse to enforce minority religious views on the majority still seeking peace in their lives thru the avenue of religion.

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  • Shah shaikh
    Jan 4, 2012 - 9:14PM

    Dear writer I don’t understand this article, it seems to me that even you are abit confused you live in an Islamic state therefor Islamic law should be respected you can not just ditch the blasphemy law because some rich got murdered who was never going to pay a visit to the court or to the prison. I have all sympathy with Mr. Taseer and his family but you should all ways be careful of what you say in front of anyone, as Pakistan is a Islamic state not a cercular state. There are certain issues which are very sensitive to people and they should not be discussed or defended publicly.

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  • anonymus
    Jan 4, 2012 - 9:54PM

    Best column written by you. the day he died was very sad day. unfortunately Zia’s children are thriving very well. there is no alternative narrative in pure part of pure land.
    several years ago there was painting exhibition”sensation” where Virgin Mary was ridiculed …… some people objected but exhibition went on well and right of speech was protected. it was level of tolerance that even when you completely disagree you accept othere’s right of free speech. one of the commentrators made comment on local TV that this is only possible in USA and mentioned specificaly “can that happen in any msulim country?”

    I was very young when I read the translation of ” right to heresy” written about 16th century germany. I could not sleep for three days and my body and brain twitched to think how intolerant we are in personal and social life. this is thirty four years ago when Zia just took over .and things have become worse thousand times now…..Recommend

  • saleem
    Jan 4, 2012 - 10:55PM

    Salman Taseer died in vain and we as a nation will remain in disgrace till we remove all such laws.

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  • Khan
    Jan 5, 2012 - 5:19AM

    @Basharit:
    Salman Taseer, a great hero, will live in our hearts for ever and ever. Well done Salman. You are the real ”shaheed” not that radical jaahil Qadri.

    very well written Sami Shah. We need writters like you. Good on you man, keep writing and keep on showing these radiacl Mullahs their real face.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Jan 5, 2012 - 5:59PM

    @Sami shah
    if u reading this then please write next about M F Hussain sahab why he got exilled from his
    home town india just painting few pictures man i think reliegen is very importent and dont hurt
    our feeling.

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  • Z Ali
    Jan 5, 2012 - 9:28PM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    What do you mean “don’t hurt our feeling” (sic)? What makes you so special that people cannot criticise you? Your “feeling” is not relevant to anyone except you – if you don’t like something, don’t read it. You have no right to demand that people restrict what they say or do.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Jan 5, 2012 - 11:12PM

    @Z Ali
    I am speaking a language of mejority u understand mejority first change the system in pakistan then talk these taseer and like him all the fuedals tax chore (thieves) we dont
    want them and if jinnah want it this kind of pakistan then we dont this pakistan too aag lagay
    us ghaith ko ho na moasser rotti jahan se.Recommend

  • hedgefunder
    Jan 5, 2012 - 11:20PM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    I think you are very right, and if Jinnah ever even visualised, what would happen to his dream, no doubt he would have been horrified ! I did not grasp your full statement, but guess its on that line.Recommend

  • Firaaq
    Jan 6, 2012 - 1:15AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    MF Hussain’s self imposed exile from India was indeed shameful and terrible.
    Howevever, there was and is NO dearth of public figures, commentators, politicians and jurists who expressed their sorrow at that incident and who roundly castigated the rabble that caused it.
    Hussain continues to be revered as an iconic artist in India and his memory lives on in public discourse.
    In any case, what does MFH have to do with the subject of this article ?

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  • Ali Tanoli with respect.,
    Jan 6, 2012 - 8:46PM

    We never learned when the fuedals of pakitan dont pay taxes and dont allows to open schools in there areas yes we never learned when dictators comes to power on the name of saving pakistan and then stays dozen years with fears yes we never learned when upper class dont know urdu and its a national language yes we never learned when some middle class trys to come some how in top but fuedals refused to sid with them yeas we never learned when upper class dont know there neigburs chidren did not eat evening meal is not shame and we never learned when some innocent child ask money and rich car maam sahab clesed the window of car we never learned we are shame less peoples and called our self Muslim or may be we should called Muzalim.Recommend

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