Who’s afraid of Mumtaz Qadri?

It is difficult to retain perspective when only 2,000 gather outside Governor House to protest death of Taseer.


Fifi Haroon January 14, 2011

I am suffering from writer’s fatigue, despite not producing a column this year. Largely because I have been tweeting up a storm with like-minded Pakistanis, outraged by the sickening apotheosis of Mumtaz Qadri, a coward who shot an unarmed man in the back and walked away a celebrity. What could I possibly add that my erstwhile colleagues Fasi Zaka, Mosharraf Zaidi and the bloggers at Five Rupees have not already articulated to their readers in the Pakistani blogosphere and English language press?

Silence, however, is not an option for anyone who believes that what Pakistan needs today is loud, sane voices. It doesn’t really matter if these voices are few. What does matter is that they exist and those of us who have access to any kind of national forum must put in our dissenting vote. So, for the record, this is where I stand and, like countless others, I will not be browbeaten.

Rudimentary democracies are often subject to the tyranny of robust displays of crowd clout. It is difficult to retain perspective when approximately 40,000 people turn out in Karachi to noisily extol vigilante justice and only 2,000 gather outside the Governor House in Lahore to protest the death of Salmaan Taseer.

Look again. Electorally impotent religious parties in Pakistan are known for organising marches of fascist proportions as a show of strength. But when 2,000 people turn up to participate in a candlelit vigil, despite the nagging uncertainty that there might be more trigger-happy Mumtaz Qadris out there, it is significant. That Saba Hameed — a famous actor whose audience may well incorporate some of the 40,000 who marched in Karachi — appears on television openly condemning Taseer’s killing, is noteworthy. PPP MNA Sherry Rehman’s refusal to leave the country, despite ominous warnings that extremists are out gunning for her, carries psychological weight. Don’t let the math fool you. There are people of moral fortitude still out there.

Still, that those who approach serious debate over ideological positions have to be unerringly brave to survive in Pakistan is a shocking indicator of how far off-track we have gone. The rowdy conflict over the blasphemy laws has deepened the nation’s ideological fissures. Assuming that Pakistan’s political polarisation is new is politically naive. The country’s original vanguard consisted of a liberal, largely secular Muslim League, led by a westernised Jinnah. But it spoke to its largely uneducated rural vote-bank in populist language, feeding its fear of the Hindu middle class. The seeds of polarisation were not sown by Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation of Pakistan; rather, the General deviously magnified an inherent conflict in the country’s body politic. Mr Jinnah knew he was courting danger but possibly assumed the ramifications could be controlled. Clearly, he was overly optimistic. So here we stand today, as a nation divided between what some columnists have called Mr Jinnah and Ziaul Haq’s Pakistan. The nation’s future may depend on how successfully our politicians are able to negotiate the middle ground.

Politically, liberal Pakistan has been abandoned by realpolitik advocates. Even the PPP, a left-of-centre party in spirit if not in practice, has had to admit that the centre itself has shifted. Amidst the embarrassing shouts of ‘political murder’ from official circles, strong words from an unexpected source: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairperson of the PPP, spoke out in London, saying that his party would not be silent or frightened. To give weight to such proclamations, his party’s government would have to commit itself to criminal prosecution of anyone who incites extra-judicial killings or hate crimes.

Mumtaz Qadri is not just a man, he’s a mindset. But it takes a government of strong convictions to make sure that this mindset does not yield more of the same ilk. Unless there are clear legal signals that inciting murder — on any grounds — is intolerable, religious vigilantes will continue to roam our streets, looking for fresh causes.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2011.

COMMENTS (39)

mona | 10 years ago | Reply Loved the article and especially the part where mumtaz Qadri is not just a man but a mind set that hit it home!!!!!
Jawad | 10 years ago | Reply Salam Taseer was brutally martyred that was a quite sad day. I only want to raise the point about the creation of Pakistan. My opinion was same as you have written in the article, but with the last few days I am trying to figure out what was in the mind of the people who were part of it. It appear that Allama Iqbal had the ideology of having the separate land for Muslims where they can reshape the Islamic values and laws which are in practice for the last ten centuries. And then He convinced M.A Jinnah who was than in England fed up by the situation here. But when He came back and reorganize the party they also had with them people who were business man and feudal views and have there own interest in creation of new state.For the QuaideAzam you can certainly say that He was convinced that the Islamic rules will be applicable but can't say about the ideology of the people around Him. I am not in any way saying that out of these religious party have any idea what M.A. Jinnah had in His mind as it higher than their intelligence. I think it better to go to the root and than try to figure out some solution and point out the black sheep in our ranks. Tc
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