It is quite likely that the tragic murder of Salmaan Taseer, much like the other violence around the blasphemy law, was the act of a lone wolf with acquiescence from co-workers. The security guard who shot the governor was not funded by a terrorist organisation or a political group; rather his motivations stemmed from a misguided conviction, a culmination of anger and hate and a clouded moral compass. Unfortunately the killer is not alone. He has millions of sympathisers, thousands of whom have expressed support through fan pages, tribute videos and SMSs.
This murder is a hate crime and nothing else. Let’s not grace attention to frivolous arguments which we would like to hear. The injustices in society, poverty, corruption and the lack of concern for the ‘awam’ by politicians had little to do with this act. What must be realised is that the public-servant-turned-killer hated the victim so much that he emptied over two dozen bullets into the governor. The smug smile on his face and his statements suggest that he firmly believes what he had done was right.
How did we get into such a situation? This hate has a long-term ingredient and an immediate cause. Intolerance has bred into our society for decades. One could point to reports such as the A H Nayyar Report which revealed that our curriculum promotes intolerance, or to the incompetence of our institutions which are unable to punish vigilantes or which prosecutes those who incite others to violence.
However the instant trigger must be kept in mind as well, which in this case is the information and views that the guard received. He was made to believe that Taseer was a blasphemer and that it was his duty to kill him. In reality Taseer did not say anything about the Holy Prophet (pbuh). The duty to award and execute punishments rests solely with the state. This is the reason Islam asks for four witnesses, for a competent qazi and the right of the defendant to argue his case.
The perception of the above false reality was the outcome of large sections of the media which acted irresponsibly. Many stories which do not merit to be consider news are played on the screens because they can be sensationalised. Over the past three odd years prime-time slots have been hijacked by political talk shows, hosts of which are constantly trying to make the politicians fight with each other and make fools of themselves. Through these Jerry Springer shows and Fox News-style reporting, the media has successfully created the perception that politicians are malicious, immoral and irreligious.
In their earnest to make a fool out Taseer, a particular talk show host on Samaa TV constantly traded accusations with him that put him on the defensive and gave the impression that he (Taseer) was somehow not being honest about his views on the blasphemy law. Add to this his press briefing with Aasia Bibi in jail and the common perception that he, a politician would never speak the truth, was reinforced. Soon, the average Pakistani must have begun thinking that Taseer was being defensive because he supported those who committed blasphemy. Sections of the media went a step further. They actively gave airtime to people who accused him of committing and this only confirmed the suspicion their irresponsibility had planted in the first place.
The madness doesn’t stop here. Disproportionate coverage was given to clerics who declared it an obligation on Muslims to kill blasphemers and offered cash rewards. Instead of being impartial, and arguably for the sake of improving ratings in cut-throat competition, many journalists very visibly sided with these extremists. Eventually someone who had access to Taseer pulled the trigger.
Sadly, this won’t end here. The media will continue to irresponsibly televise violence and continue to project the narrative that politicians are the reason why the country is a mess. If drastic measures aren’t taken by responsible citizens and the government to rectify this trend and a clear sense of right and wrong isn’t established things will get worse.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2011.