Guest post by UROOJ ZIA
Images aired earlier this month where lawyers and other citizens in Pakistan were seen garlanding and felicitating the murderer of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer might have made those involved look tasteless and crude, but their acts were far from shocking. All his faults aside, Taseer had stood up for a Christian woman who had been accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death by a district and sessions (lower) court. He was killed because he had referred to the blasphemy statutes as ‘black laws’ which are abused at will, and had called for reform. As such, Taseer was killed because he had stood up, albeit in a roundabout way, for secularism and basic humanity.
Secularism is an incredibly dirty word in the mainstream narrative of Pakistan. Over time, malevolent forces of obscurantism, bolstered by the deep state, have worked tirelessly towards transforming the connotations of the word in the national consciousness, until it came to represent, falsely of course, the absolute negation of spirituality.
To start things off, ‘secularism’ – the noble notion of protecting religions and religious minorities from the tyranny of the majority by ensuring that dogma had little to do with the direct business of the State – was translated into Urdu, the ‘national’ language of Pakistan, as ‘laa-deeniet’ (lack of faith). Secular individuals, therefore, were ‘la-deen’ – sans religion – ignoring the fact that many practicing Muslims in the country also upheld the concept. Repeated often enough, the ‘sans religion’ definition has today become a reality in the national consciousness. Few mainstream political parties or politicians associate overtly with the idea. Even the supposedly-liberal Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) manifesto claims: ‘Islam humara deen hai’ (Islam is our faith); inadvertently marginalising hundreds of thousands of Hindus, Christians and Sikhs even in the PPP’s own stronghold, Sindh. That Taseer, himself an old PPP stalwart, was brutally murdered for his secular credentials has done little to change mindsets within this party which has sacrificed many lives to the bloodlust of the deep state and its ‘non-state actors’.
Since Taseer’s assassination, Khateebs (clerics) have started going on a rampage every Friday during ‘Juma sermons’, decrying Taseer and anyone who supports or speaks up for him and his values, valorising his murder, and calling for repeat performances against all dissenters. And while their words can easily be classified as criminal incitements to violence, punishable under various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code as well as the Anti-Terrorism Act, little is done to bring them to the book. Intelligence agents, tasked with monitoring these sermons and providing evidence, collude with hate-mongers and claim that nothing ‘untoward’ was said. The police, meanwhile, condone these acts in their own way by refusing to lodge cases against the clerics concerned. They either claim to be helpless (‘we have no evidence!’) or openly threaten complainants for ‘going against men [and it is always a man] of Islam’. Those who dare to question these forces of obscurantism are derided and awarded inane labels such as ‘liberal extremist’ (as opposed to ‘religious extremists’) or – wait for it! – ‘liberal fascist’; thus conflating violence and real threats with merely speaking up for what one believes in.
Little wonder, then, that that seemingly normal, college-educated middleclass individuals claim to see ‘nur’ (divine light) in the face of Taseer’s murderer. Little wonder that a chunk of members of bar associations in Punjab offered to defend him in court, pro bono. In their war against the dirty ‘S’-word, the powers-that-be in Pakistan have ended up eliminating the basic humanity of a major section of the populace, converting people into sociopaths who valorise murderers and blame victims for atrocities committed against them in the name of religion.
(Urooj Zia is a journalist based in Karachi. contact at uroojzia dot com.)