Salmaan Taseer was a lot of things to a lot of people, many of whom have articulated their sentiments in columns, obituaries, talk shows and the like. He was a man of many parts, and those parts have not gone anywhere and continue to remind us of the man who remains with us. So how are we going to mourn Salmaan? We have written and said things to comfort his family and ourselves, we have praised his courage and his humanity and vowed to not let his sacrifice go in vain. But what does that mean? Does it mean that we are not made of the same metal? If we can see, acknowledge, appreciate and salute courage and humanity in another, surely we see it in ourselves as well?
It’s not about waking up and being fired by energy and enthusiasm for a short while and then retreating, saying it’s all hopeless; its time to bring that courage and humanity out and let it define not only us but our society. Rather than let fear overtake us and allow us to cede more and more space to those who seek to destroy the world as we know it, we need to take back space already lost. Sounds easy but it’s not, it means overcoming fear, a real and palpable fear, it means finding leadership or becoming a leader, it means being counted — not one or two but in the millions.
We need to redefine the debate. Surely it’s not about liberals versus the rest? Do conservatives believe it’s perfectly all right to take the law into your own hands and do as you will, when you don’t agree with someone else’s point of view? I think not, and the sooner we all realise that every one of us, liberal, conservative, left wing, right wing, PPP, PML-N, religious or secular, is in danger, the better. If the response to having an opinion is not another opinion but a hail of bullets, we all better be worried. Worried enough to realise that we need to find that thread of commonality that will allow us to function as a society.
Lives have been taken over religion, politics, lifestyles, and even over the choices we make in life, like our partners. These are taken arbitrarily and usually by those seeking to enforce their own personal writ. If we are to live by the writ and at the pleasure and whim of another, then what is the use of a state, a constitution, a set of rules by which society is organised. Raising our walls and arming ourselves may be some temporary stopgap measure but by no means will it provide the solution.
It is time we realised that for there to be rule of law, for it to have any effect and enforceability, it must apply to all and it must apply equally. There can be no exceptions, for that is where the power game begins, as those who want to control the rest of the populace think it necessary to keep themselves above the rest and to control power structures.
So how are we going to mourn Salmaan Taseer? Will we let everything go back to the way it was before, or will we acknowledge that we have a problem and work on a minimum common agenda, which surely must be that the state has a responsibility to protect all its citizens, to provide them with basic facilities like education and health care, to devise a foreign policy that cuts across party lines and to agree that we need to create jobs and revive the economy. Putting aside our petty squabbles and personal agendas may be a tall order, but a minimum agenda, that acknowledges that one’s own survival is dependent on it, may actually work.
Each one of us needs to stand up and say that we want a society that adheres to the rule of law; that we, too, can make sacrifices and learn to live within the law so that the ultimate sacrifice made does not go in vain.
In the end, it is about being willing to live by what you believe. As Salmaan used to say, “kuch shehr dey log ve zalim si, kuch sanoo maran da shawk ve si”.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2011.