We are looking at the wrong horrors. There is terror to be found, no doubt, in the bullet smashed corpse of the Governor. There is even fear to be elicited from the grotesquely smiling face of his killer. But the act of murderous violence and the casualty it resulted in are not the horrors that should keep us screaming into the night. After all, how can you be afraid of something you expected? Salmaan Taseer expected it. He knew he could die of this cause and we knew he would be killed by it too. Nor will this be the last life lost in the clash between intellectual humanism and religious savagery. The act itself, of killing someone who tries to make a stand against bigotry and hatred, is as old as the human need for freedom from oppression.
So don’t look at the assassination with horror. Understanding what it represents in terms of sacrifice maybe, but not horror. That sense of foreboding, that sheer bowel-loosening, heart-crushing fright; that should be reserved for the reactions to the death. Scream so hard that your throat bleeds when you hear the joy in every Barelvi scholar’s voice as he praises the murderer. Bite your knuckles until teeth scrape bone when you realise the same scholars have never once raised even a whisper of sympathy for any of the children raped, women beaten and burned or minorities killed. These are the self-styled authorities of religion and this is the belief they peddle. And yet they scare me even less than the masses who huddle around them, inhaling deeply the toxic vapour of fanaticism that is on offer. These are the ones who make me so scared that when the fight or flight instinct is triggered by looking at them, inevitably flight wins out. Like zombies that feast on hope, they are rising up out of every shadow, spreading their infection with every bite. For too long, we thought we were safe from them because they were too easily recognisable. Their fanatical intent displayed with pride in their appearance. But they have shifted into more subtle creatures, more disturbing in their casual hypocrisy. Look around you now, they are everyone you see.
They create pages on Facebook celebrating the killer. They claim to love religion while refusing to develop any understanding for what it may preach. They celebrate extremism while refusing to see how it will swallow them whole, just as it will those who condemn it. They are pausing between bouts of hysterical laughter to justify the murder. They are intellectual suicide bombers who kill rational thought and humanism with each explosive idea formed in their originality-starved brains. They are Meher Bokhari, Aamir Liaquat, Irfan Siddiqui, Fareed Paracha, Ansar Abbasi. They are your co-worker, your friend, your mother. They are ignorance. They are stupidity. And worst of all, they are legion.
I remember in Islamiat class once, years ago, the teacher started listing signs of the Apocalypse. The one that he stressed was: “Religious (Islamic) knowledge will be taken away (by the death of people of religious knowledge), and religious ignorance will prevail.” He explained this as people ignoring the prohibitions of alcohol and illicit fornication. I now understand this was actually referring to people using a religion created for enlightenment and respect as a weapon that dispenses bigotry, hatred and oppression.
I won’t be frightened by Salmaan Taseer’s death because I know there won’t be time to stare in horror at everyone who died, and will die, while making a righteous stand. We will have time to reflect on our suppressed fear when Aasia Bibi is freed. When the blasphemy law, is amended so it cannot be used as a force of discrimination and abuse. Then, and only then, can we look upon horror and say we were not scared by it.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2011.
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