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Posts Tagged ‘Salman Taseer’

First published and cross-posted from Huffington Post

I was in Kasur, a small town near Lahore, Pakistan, where the celebrated mystic poet Bulleh Shah is buried. Thousands gathered for the 254th anniversary of his death. Slogans chanted on that occasion would be branded ‘blasphemous’ by extremist organizations in Pakistan.

Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace.

Bulleh Shah penned these verses challenging religious extremism and orthodoxy that plagued Muslim society hundreds of years ago. He was exiled from his home town and, history has it, he was denied a burial in Muslim cemetery. His advice has clearly gone unheeded as my country is still yet to find peace. Not even the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah has been spared being labelled ‘the great infidel’.

Incidentally, the same ilk of religio-political parties who now manipulate public discourse were at the forefront of using religious narrative for political point scoring before Pakistan came into being.

4 January 2011 is a day I cannot forget. Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Pakistan’s biggest province Punjab, was gunned down by his bodyguard. He was killed for supporting a Christian woman accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. He was shot twenty six times.

For the entire week after the killing, I was scared. I don’t remember being in that state of mind since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. It’s not a very heartening sight to see fellow ‘educated’ countrymen glorifying a murderer and justifying his actions based on ignorant rhetoric. Scores of fan pages popped up on Facebook, many of my friends changed their profile pictures to one of the killer, Mumtaz Qadri, exalting a murderer as hero.

Very few turned out to pay homage to the slain governor in days to come, as ‘liberals’ arranged vigils in his remembrance. Yet thousands poured on to the streets to defend Mumtaz Qadri, his assassin. The media, which has been a primary tool in fanning conspiracy theories in public, had again played a pivotal role in enticing ‘religious’ emotions on this issue.

The killer of Salman Taseer had confessed proudly. The brave judge who sentenced him to death has gone into hiding and will not be re-appearing anytime soon.

7 March 2011. The start of another week of gloom and, if I’m honest, I was ashamed to be a Pakistani. We had arranged a protest to condemn the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities who was brutally assassinated on 2 March. He was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the only Christian in the cabinet. Only a few youngsters turned up.

When it comes to numbers, we can gather thousands but the ’cause’ has to be against India, Israel or America. Not many will show up if the demonstration is against radical organisations, or asking for introspection within.

Many who rallied for Gaza in early 2009 were not seen in protests condemning Taliban atrocities in Swat at the same time. Many who burnt down shops in anger at the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad never stood up for Parachinar, a small town near the border of Afghanistan where thousands have been killed in sectarian violence between Sunni’s and Shia’s.

9 October 2011. I was stuck on the Islamabad Highway, the main road that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi as it was blocked by flash mobs protesting for the release of Mumtaz Qadri.

Two decades and 40,000 deaths later which includes top politicians, generals and clerics – not many things have changed when it comes to checking radicalism within Islam.

Many attacks on places of worship of minority sects within Islam, recurring violent brawls between followers of different schools of thought, reaction to the murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, recent acts of violence in Baluchistan and the tale of Parachinar are chapters in recent history which expose the extent of radicalisation in Pakistani society.

Soon, we as citizens of a country founded because a minority felt discriminated against and followers of the great religion of Islam, need to face up to the challenge of the radical minded and their extremist ideology.

This is a war of ideologies and is inevitably a war that must be fought with opinions and ideas; it must encourage discourse and exchange of reason. It is a war that must form the basic pillar of a new and improved national paradigm for Pakistan

We as a society cannot ignore an emerging threat from radicalism within our ranks, because if it gets too late, there might be no ‘music’ left to face.

Follow Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ali_Abbas_Zaidi

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Dear George Fulton,

I grew up watching your amazing show ‘George Ka Pakistan’ on TV. You did an exceptional service to promote Pakistani culture and unveil the face of Pakistan, quite often ignored by the International media.

We, Pakistanis bow in respect of you and your work for this country. Let there be no second thoughts on that.

Today I read your emotional piece of Express Tribune. You have decided to call it quits and break up with your love, Pakistan.

George, the defining moment in your bumpy relation with Pakistan as mentioned by you was Salman Taseer’s murder which was cheered by thousands. Hope died for you with Salman Taseer being buried six feet under, with crowds garlanding Qadri, with thousands on streets glorifying a murderer. To be honest, it made me very sad too as I realized how polarized Pakistani society was and how extremist ideology stems deeper than we think it does.

But what made me did not lose hope was these amazing amazing men, women and children vowing to further the cause which took Taseer’s life. There were a few hundreds of those, out in streets, in Kohsar Market everyday, paying homage to the late Governor and among them was this beautiful little girl, who after your departure, I name ‘hope’.

And you are right. Our Intelligensia might still be protecting, projecting and ‘using’ extremist militant proxies to gain geo-political mileage in the region and beyond. But, George, which Intelligence agency in the world isn’t involved in ‘dirty’ games, seeking ‘under-cover’ advantage for its rather absurd objectives? Some of those have been spotted in Pakistan too. I remain to be a vocal critic of using ‘religion’ for anything political and there are many like myself, who openly criticize our Intelligensia’s politicization and abuse of this great religion. So, I am yet to lose hope there too.

We have been used, abused and left alone, more than once. We have sacrificed 30,000 only in the last decade to this ideology. We have lost top politicians like Benazir Bhutto and even, generals to this cancer. We have sailed through the worst humanitarian crisis in all of modern history and we still stand a strong chance in cricket world cup 2011 after all the drama.

It was never meant to be an idealistic perfect world; yes, our society still needs to introspect and build majority consensus on various socio-political and religio-political fronts but at the least we have something to begin with. [read: How long can we remain apathetic?]

The atrocious murder of Butt brothers, in Sialkot, had thousands protesting against it. The brutal murder which transformed your love into hopelessness had thousands protesting against it — my point being that though outnumbered, we still had some standing for sanity. We still have hope.

I know things are not perfect here. I know we discriminate between our citizens on the basis of faith, the very reason for which our forefathers demanded for a separate homeland. I know we are shrouded with too much noise as we embark on an ideological battle to redefine Pakistan. I know you leave us in melancholy and there’s nothing but love, from here, as always.

My last words for you would be to remain ‘friends’ after your divorce with Pakistan. Hope will remain to lighten our chests till the last man stands and we promise to infest hope in you, in your lifetime.

Love & warmest regards,

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi

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