Flight of reason

Published: January 9, 2011
The writer is head of BBC Urdu Service 

The writer is head of BBC Urdu Service aamer.khan@tribune.com.pk

We published two photo galleries on BBC’s Urdu website last Friday. One on the Jamaat-e-Islami’s youth wing Shabab-e-Milli’s tribute to Mumtaz Qadri’s father in Rawalpindi and the other on the candlelit vigil in Lahore in memory of the slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.

As expected, comments started to pour in almost instantly. The most telling among them simply said: “Please compare the crowd in the two, for every Taseer mourner, there are at least 50 Qadri supporters.” If nothing else, it says a lot about the state of siege in which liberal opinion finds itself, as more and more people flock behind Mr Qadri, a cold-blooded killer who had been painstakingly planning Taseer’s murder for weeks before he struck.

Irrespective of the number of people who gathered for the vigil in Lahore, I am stunned at their courage in standing up to a crazed mob that neither understands its religion nor the man who brought it to them. It is a mob of moral cheats that has become religiously, politically, intellectually and morally so bankrupt that it seems to have convinced itself that its only salvation lies in baying for innocent blood.

Let us give ourselves some idea of how courageous the dozens who flocked to the vigil in Lahore really are. Since the glowing tribute paid to Qadri by lawyers at his first court appearance, we have been trying to contact the lawyer leadership that spearheaded the civil society movement only three years ago to bring down General Musharraf’s dictatorship. In that movement, millions around the world saw the seeds of a politics that Pakistan has desperately been waiting for all its life — a politics that flows from the combined intellect of the mobile middle class instead of dynastic politics, hereditary constituencies and endemic corruption.

Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed, Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmed Kurd and Justice (retd) Tariq Mahmood became household names as tens of thousands of people rallied behind them wherever they went. For weeks, no political talk show in the country was considered complete without at least one of them in the chair. Since Taseer’s murder, they simply seemed to have vanished into thin air.

We finally managed to get through to two of them: one simply said that we are free to call him a coward if we want to but he doesn’t want to comment on the issue at all. The other one went even further: he said he would not even allow us to report that he was contacted for his opinion on the issue.

Predictably, Asma Jahangir was the honourable exception who not only spoke in detail about the atrocity against Taseer but was candid and unambiguous in her criticism of the legal fraternity’s sudden gush for a killer. But then, one has always known her to be one of the bravest women in the country.

Which brings to mind another brave woman who dared to bring a bill to the National Assembly aimed at amending some of the more draconian provisions of a law that has spawned nothing but injustice in the quarter century of its existence. Our crazed mob has distributed pamphlets advocating that she must meet the same fate as Mr Taseer. I am proud to have worked for her at Herald for six years. She was one of the bravest editors I know. Today, she has been forced into abandoning her public life by the tyranny of bloodthirsty criminals masquerading as religious zealots.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s administration has already surrendered to these criminals. It is pointless to expect him to fight this battle. However unfortunate as it may be for the liberals, they do not have the luxury to follow suit. They have to go on fighting even if their battle is far more dangerous than the one Pakistan has been fighting in its tribal areas for the last 10 years.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • asad jamal
    Jan 9, 2011 - 12:21PM

    well said. I think those who gathered at Qadri’s belonged to Shabab-i-Islami, not Milli of Jamaat-i-Islami. following entirely different schools of thought.Recommend

  • Syed Hussein El-Edroos
    Jan 9, 2011 - 1:27PM

    I totally agree with what Aamer Ahmed Khan has written. If we allow people, who do not follow even the basics of Islam, to set our values as nation we are in deep trouble. Islam teaches us that if you kill one person you have killed all of humanity, then how can those that kill others, can expect their actions to be condoned. Does not make sense.Recommend

  • Adil Mansoor
    Jan 9, 2011 - 2:22PM

    Aitzaz and Tariq Mehmood have already spoken against the law.

    I think it must be Wajeehuddin who called himself a coward. But Kurd? I’m stunned.
    And what about Muneer Malik and people like Ayaz Amir? Oh and intellectuals like Anwar Maqsood?Recommend

  • Aaliya
    Jan 9, 2011 - 7:22PM

    Oh, the author is head of BBC Urdu which on its website gave vox pops of people about Taseer’s assassination under the headline “Qatal najaiz tha, chand logo ki rai” as if murder can be legitimate as well. In the video “May Fatwo say nahi darta”, which BBC Urdu initially branded as Taseer’s last interview, the reporter is grilling Taseer sahib that why did he want amendments in blasphemy laws? The tone of the interviewer was as he was upset with what the governor was espousing for. The BBC reporter even asked Taseer sahib that how could you say Asiya Bibi was innocent while it was said that “us nay 150 logo kay samnay apnay gunah ka aitraf kia tha”. With questioning like this BBC also played role in bringing Taseer sahib in the line of zealots’ fire. I would like to know what BBC especially of its Urdu service thinks about blasphemy laws in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Sadaf
    Jan 9, 2011 - 8:10PM

    The writer says:
    “A crazed mob that neither understands its religion nor the man who brought it to them.”

    Mr. Khan, I would expect someone like you at least to have the courage and the intellectual prowess to make a case against the blasphemy laws without resorting to the same old self-defeating platitudes like ‘the extremists are not following the real Islam’. It is about time that we decided that that question is irrelevant and evaluate evil laws on their own merit without inserting the necessary apology clause. Recommend

  • Jan 9, 2011 - 9:20PM

    It is sad that feeling righteous and killing people seems to be an instant definition of being a good Muslim.Recommend

  • nadirrehman
    Jan 9, 2011 - 10:45PM

    You are right, we are living in a society where the killers are supported.It is dismaying that one of the enlightened part of the society the lawyers are paying tributes to a man who killed a the a Governor so brutally.Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 10, 2011 - 9:50AM

    @Asad They may be followers of different schools but clearly there is no thought left in them or their schools………
    @Everyone else… please do not try to argue the right or wrong of the blasphemy law or this killing on the basis of Islam (or any religion). Discrimination, murder, and denial of freedom (Even to blaspheme) are not negotiable. Even if there is God and He deems someone deserving of punishment; He is capable enough of doing that on himself (That is what hell is for supposedly).Recommend

  • iqbal
    Jan 10, 2011 - 1:28PM

    i feel the murderer and the farwah giving mufities should be charged under blasphemy laws as they haved violated against so many ‘mutfiqah alle’ hadiths. say
    1 After me, do not kill each other
    2 One who raised his weapon against a Muslim is not among us
    3 Muslims murder is only justified in three cases, killer, adulterer and reverting to another religion
    and so manyRecommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Jan 10, 2011 - 3:52PM

    All Along reading about the killing and the blasphemy( i had to copy the spelling from above i could not even spell or read it properly) law. I was wondering where is the military,
    if you checked the articles, you will not find the word ” military ” or ” establishment ” any where.

    And my next taught wondered to, is it SO DIFFICULT to repeal the blasphemy law?
    Is blasphemy law great or marshal law great?

    seriously, would like to know ? At least to gain knowledge ?Recommend

  • Jan 10, 2011 - 8:39PM

    A very well written piece. I, on behalf of the democratic people of Punjab salute all those who dared to stand against the blood thirsty criminals masquerading as religious zealots. Here in Punjab too we faced such communal fascist elements for nearly two decades. They killed the finest sons of Punjab, indiscriminately fired upon innocent peoples, raped poor girls, abducted the people to get ransom and projected themselves as religious warriors. History has been harsh on them. Similarly, the people like Qadri, his mentors & supporters will ultimately be thrown into the dust-bin of history. Reason, love and fraternity shall win. Today our numbers may be less. But tomorrow shall be definitely ours. Recommend

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