Assassination of Salman Taseer - Valor or Villainy

Category: Asia, World Affairs Topics: Crime And Justice, Pakistan Channel: Opinion Views: 8544

The killing of Pakistani Governor Salman Taseer over his vocal opposition of blasphemy law by one of his security personnel generated mixed reaction among the public, media, and religious circle. The small secular and liberal part of the Pakistani population condemned the killing and termed it as religious fanaticism; it is taken by them as a setback for their liberal and secular aspiration for the country. However, for the most part, across the breadth and depth of the country, Governor's assassin is being acclaimed. The popular cheer came not only by the commoners' side but, as well, by the elite. When the killer was brought in the courtroom, lawyers kissed and showered him with rose petals. People shouted slogan praising his action. The religious scholars not only applauded his "courage" and "religious zeal", but also loudly proclaimed, "... there should be no expression of grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the Prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy."

Governor Taseer may have not directly committed the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet but his ardent support for the convicted blasphemer and labeling the blasphemy law as a "black law" was seen as giving support to blasphemy. Governor's extra judicial campaign to secure the release of the blasphemer, who was duly convicted under the law of the land, and have her flown out of the country was taken as a slap on the face of the judicial process and insult to Muslim sensitivity. Governor's role in the blasphemy episode was undesirable and uncalled for to say the least.

Indeed, Governor Taseer's efforts to have the convicted blasphemer released without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process; his disparaging of the law against blasphemy; and his notoriety for being heretical and openly and publicly impious made him a very much disliked and disapproved person among his countrymen. 

However, despite of all his failing and frailty, Governor Taseer's cold calculated murder in the vigilante style is not only regrettable but also highly condemnable. His murder is morally and legally wrong, the cheering should stop. An individual or individuals cannot be allowed take the law into their hands, play the role of a judge, prosecutor and executioner, and mete out punishments to wrongdoers, no matter how serious their transgressions are. It does not take too much of imagination to understand that punishing individuals without the recourse to lawful procedures is a dangerous recipe for anarchy and disorder. If a society allows such violent and summarily execution to take place, soon there will be a "war of every man against every man" and "the notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place". The result will be that lynch mob mentality will take over and innocent people will be dragged from their homes and violently punished and killed. 

The culture of vigilantism, that is taking root in Pakistan, is an indication of political-social crisis of high magnitude. The malady points to a loss of public faith in the state's ability and willingness to police and provide justice. It is a challenge to state authority and legitimacy. When people do not have any hope of seeing justice done, they resort to taking the law into their own hands. Salman Taseer's murder may be the first celebrated vigilante crime of political nature; however, it is not the first in the series of heinous vigilante crimes recently took place in Pakistan.

In a shocking incident of vigilante justice in Karachi in May 2008, residents of a neighborhood poured kerosene oil on three suspected robbers and burnt them alive unleashing their anger and frustration over the rising crimes and inability and unwillingness of the corrupt police department to prevent crimes. The irony here is that the residents showed no qualm about burning alive three human beings. Their rationale: If the suspects were handed to police, they would have escaped the clutches of justice by bribing the police and out on street looting and killing again.

Another extremely horrible case of vigilante crime took place in Sialkot in August 2010 when two teenaged brothers, mistaken as criminals, were mercilessly beaten with metallic and wooden stick by young and old in the crowd and dragged half-naked through the streets and hung upside down to die. 

These and other incidents of social decay are painful indication that the system of social control in Pakistan is corrupt and ineffective and the government is incompetent to response to country's intractable law enforcement crisis. If the vigilante violence is not nipped in bud and remains unabated, Pakistan will be heading for major chaos - vigilante with guns and machetes, scenes familiar in Nigeria and Rwanda, will roam the cities. However, there is no evidence that the present government of Pakistan is interested, willing, or capable to check and control the spreading crimes. It is an open fact that the bloodbath of innocent citizens in Karachi is patronized by the two major coalition partners of the government; the government, in the interest of political survival and to prolong its rule, looks the other way. 

It is surprising that lawyers, who are expected to uphold the constitution and the rule of law to promote peace and stability, were kissing the vigilante assassin and pelting flowers on him. Lawyers know better that the sentence for murder or "spreading corruption in the land" must only be given out by the order of the court of law, not the court of public opinion. The severity of the death sentence requires that clear and convincing evidentiary standards be met in an honest judicial process before pronouncing the guilty verdict. A law's supremacy must be maintained, it should exist for everyone and applied in all situations, no exemptions. 

No less surprising, the ulema were applauding the "valor" of the executioner. The scholars of Islam would know better that in the Islamic system of justice, individuals can not set their own court, pronounce guilt, and inflict the punishment, no matter how the noble the motives are; simply speaking it is unacceptable and unislamic. Ideally, the lawyers and ulema should have been in forefront in condemning the extra killing that lacks the due process of law. 

A wrong is a wrong, whether it is the secular left or the religious right that commits it. As Salman Taseer conducts were unacceptable, his murder was also unfair and condemnable. If we keep silence and do not boldly condemn a wrong act, regardless of who commit it, then our standard of right and wrong will not remain pure, it will get confused and blurry.

*****

Abdul-Majid Jaffry is a retired aircraft engineer and a freelance columnist.


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  9 Comments   Comment

  1. H.A. from Yathrib

    Media is wrong 66% of the time. No one knows the whole truth. Would be stupid to comment on things people do not know.

    Most Muslims do not know their religion. Same goes for Christian and goes and others.

    Chritians and other minorities must be protected in all Muslim countries. That would be practicing Islam.

    Pakistani gov't is a puppet of America. No sympathy for None in the govt. Benijir Butto and all others are or were thugs. They don't care about ordinary Pakistanis; care only about them and their familis and how many billions they can save in Swiss bank.

    None govern in the way of God.

  2. Dawood Haq from USA

    Thank you Sister Amina Mirzi.If Pakistan is an Islamic country then how come it can't find its way to peace and prosperity? It had over sixty years and look where it is today. Allah promised the Muslims peace and prosperity, not this miserable violence and destitution, both physically and morally.The author's reference to the people as 'commoners' and 'elites' underscores the idea that the true spirit of Islam is is second to tribalism and ignorance.Shame on them indeed.

  3. Sohaib Aulakh from United States

    I agree completely with Amina Mirza's comments.

  4. wasif sheikh from USA

    Nice article, I completely agree with you. But what can be expected from the citizens when the political leaders are guilty of the same crimes, being usurpers and unjust towards the common folk. Pakistan is my homeland, even though I have lived there for two years only and it hurts to see what has become of that country.

  5. Amina Mirza from United States

    I am disgusted that Islamicity, a reference point for Muslims looking for answers, would publish such an ignorant article. Blasphemy laws are anti-Islamic. Where in the Quran is there language supporting such laws? When did the the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing upon him, or any other prophet of Allah, peace on them all say, "So and so has maligned me, so kill them"? They all forgave, overlooked and were kind. RasulAllah would pray for Allah to forgive his enemies. And he even forgave Hamza's killer, and only said to him, "Do not come in front of me again," (after Mecca's conquest).

    What nonsense is this to pick on a man, doing his job as Governor by looking out for his constituent, a *poor* woman, a minority, abused by so-called Muslims, who stood up to those abusing the law to harrass a weaker person? The author ought to be ashamed and to ask forgiveness from Allah and Islamicity needs to withdraw this ridiculous nonsense immediately. Shame on the author and shame on Islamicity's editors!

    And here is a sign for you who condemn Shaheed Salman Taseer out of hand like this author: out of all his organs, his heart and larynx were not shot by bullets. His heart was the seat of his soul, now purified by martyrdom, and which held compassion for a poor woman; his larynx was used to speak out for the oppressed like the unjustly condemned woman - and with the threat of vigilante killings like this, court was *not* just to her - these organs were left untouched by Ar-Rahman.

    Again, shame on the author and shame on Islamicity's editors, and I would say particularly shame on Islamicity's editors! The issues here are abusing the law to commit the judicial murder of a poor minority woman and then to allow a murderer, who stalked his victim like prey, to be applauded and excused on the basis on a corrupt law.

    Shame on you all.

  6. Shuja from UK

    A beseiged community reacting irrationally. I am afraid such attacks only will increase with the presence of American or foreign forces. This is a natural, but wrong reaction from beseiged Muslims. The root cause of this problem is because of an all out attack by foreign forces to the Muslim lands. I also blame Muslim Scholars for the situation. The man who took the law has construed the governer's criticism of the law as an attack on Islam. That is a huge problem. Imran Khan has written a wonderful article on this subject in Guardian.

  7. Zubi Afghani from Pakistan

    This article is full of misconceptions. Pakistan is by far more secular than religious. Just look at the past 2 general elections. The tone of the aritcle suggests that the Governor brought this upon himself. That he is to blame for his own death.

    The typicaly Islamist thinking is that if a woman is raped then she herself is to blame, she must have done something to cause the man to rape her. The victim becomes the accused.

    No matter what Salman did or was going to do it does not justify his murder. Instead of blaming Salman the writer should have pointed out the abject stupiditiy of the murderor and his horrific crime.

    The blasphemy law is a "black law". It has harsh punishment for a victimless crime. The law itself has no basis in Sharia or Hadith.

    Just yesterday in Multan an Imam of a Deobandi masjid and his son were convicted for life under the blasphemy law for taking down posters containg verses from the Quran. The posters were advertizing a Barelvi gathering at a nearby village.

    Last, in a civilized society no person should be executed without the benefit of a trail and appeal process. So does Islam promote a civilized society or an uncivilized one where your neighbor can shoot you if they feel you are not a "good" Muslim.

  8. Muslim Sister from Canada

    How about adding the drone killing by America and Pakistan's government of the people of Pakistan.

  9. Romesh Chander from USA

    The author writes "The malady points to a loss of public faith in the state's ability and willingness to police and provide justice. It is a challenge to state authority and legitimacy. When people do not have any hope of seeing justice done, they resort to taking the law into their own hands.".

    Wrong. It is the State which created these Blasphemy Laws starting in 1980's and created Sharia Courts in Pakistan to adjudicate tyhe lawsuits. And it was the State (i.e., court) which ordered Aisa Bai's execution for Blasphemy. It was the State which was providing Justice to the Muslims, exactly according to the Sharia laws; though Christians felt otherwise.

    Taseer's murder cannot be considered vigilante justice because murder was committed by a muslim under the encouragtement of mullahs and Islamic political parties, and muslim community was not harmed; no pardon had bveen recommended (not to talk of issuing it).

    It is the environment which has been created, encouraged by the State during 1980's and never discouraged over the last 20 years, even during military rule; and that environment now encompasses even the educated community of lawyers, sad to say it.

    Will the environment change? I must be deluding myself. Hence condemnations and regrets are nothing but empty words; talk is cheap, and that is exactly a western educated author is doing in this article. Who is he trying to fool?

    Seems to me Editors either don't read the articles before they put them online or they agree with them.