This is no country for brave men. Words alone are enough to get you killed. Just testifying to the horrors perpetrated on the country is akin to signing one’s death warrant. Salmaan Taseer, unlike so many lily-livered politicians, never equivocated in denouncing those who are terrorising this country. He brushed off the threats to his life with grace and humour.
Our graveyards are witness to the politicians who spoke out against the militant menace, the men in uniform who battled them and countless unknown thousands who only made the mistake of trying to live a normal life in an abnormal country.
In the days to come, people will try to make sense of the unthinkable: that a person was killed because he spoke out against a law that is used to kill those whose speech and actions don’t meet the approval of zealots. I have no words of wisdom to offer, not right now. No thoughts that can explain how we have come to this. Like everyone else, I just spent hours staring at the television screen, alternately shocked and furious and always stunned.
There will be those vile creatures who try and rationalise Salmaan Taseer’s assassination. They will feign reasonableness and say he shouldn’t have poked his nose into the blasphemy law debate. Such people, already fastening their mikes and earpieces on TV stations, need to be repudiated loudly and frequently. Our stirrings words hailing democracy will be shown to be hollow if we don’t understand that without the freedom to speak our minds our liberty is a lie.
Then, we also have to contend with people who will try to dodge the issue. They will bring up Taseer’s social liberalism, which we practiced and preached with equal panache. Taseer’s family was dragged into the oozing slime by his political opponents during his lifetime. To allow that to happen again would be a grave disservice to the memory of a man who believed in individual freedom and who spent, and ultimately gave, his life in pursuit of that ideal. It may seem unattainable now, but to throw our hands up in despair will give Taseer’s killers comfort in knowing they can bend society to their will.
I say ‘killers’ because, even if subsequent investigations show that there was only one gunman, there is plenty of blame to go around. Arguments over the varied geo-political of different political groups are fine for academics and analysts. As citizens, we need to understand only one thing. The murderous ideology uniting too many Pakistanis is the ultimate culprit. We need to stamp out the virus that has infected them.
Let us begin that by honouring Salmaan Tasseer. He has already been awarded many titles and awards and more will follow posthumously. They will be richly deserved but won’t be enough. The party he served so faithfully, even spending a stint in prison for it during the Zia era, should pass legislation to ensure his death was not in vain. Too many people have already been killed by the hideous misuse of the blasphemy laws. Salmaan Taseer should be the last. His fight against the blasphemy laws was his last crusade. Repealing it now would be the greatest rebuke to his murderers.
Ignore those who will bring up any of Salmaan Taseer’s flaws. Now is not the time. Whatever flaws or foibles he may have had only show that he was human. Salmaan Taseer wasn’t killed because of politics. He was murdered in cold blood because of who he represented: innocent men and women who try to speak out against the evil that lurks among us.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2011.