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Winning a lost battle

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown your own inner voice.
And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." A lot of people shared these words from Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement speech (June 2005) on Facebook and Twitter after the news of his death broke out yesterday.

These words reminded me of a man we lost nine months ago: Salmaan Taseer. On January 4, 2011, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was shot dead by one of his bodyguards. Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed murderer of Mr Taseer, did not just kill a man; he killed an ideology, he killed tolerance and reasonable debate in Pakistan. Taseer was known for being vocal on issues that many others dared not raise in public. He was hounded by the right wing forces for highlighting the plight of a Christian woman accused of alleged blasphemy.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws are flawed. Majority of those accused of blasphemy are innocent, but once the word 'blasphemous' is attached to someone, he/she either goes to jail, gets lynched and/or is killed. Though it would be ideal to scrap these man-made laws, considering the reactionary elements in the country, there were some voices that demanded these laws be amended at the very least. With Taseer's assassination, the debate on blasphemy laws too died a silent death. Liberal and progressive elements in Pakistan mourned Salmaan Taseer's death because he was someone who always stood up for his principles and never shied away from speaking his mind. The minorities wept at Mr Taseer's loss because he was one of the rare politicians who stood up for their rights. But then there was another sort of reaction to Taseer's assassination; that of apathy or glee.


Death of Justice? Supporters of Mumtaz Qadri protest in Lahore against
the court decision sentencing him to death. file pic


Mumtaz Qadri suddenly had a large following among the right wing. It was due to his support amongst the extremist sections of the society that his trial met with some hurdles. On October 1, Qadri was awarded a double death penalty by an anti-terrorism court (ATC). As was expected, his supporters were furious. Rallies were held in some cities by religious groups to denounce the verdict. The blood-curdling statements made at those rallies were shocking. Threats were issued to Judge Pervez Ali Shah, who handed down the sentence. A price was named for Judge Shah's head. His office was attacked by dozens of lawyers protesting against the judgement. "After [Monday's] protest and the attack on his office, the judge is not attending his office," said Malik Khalid Jawad, president of the district bar association, Rawalpindi. There are reports that Judge Shah has gone on an indefinite leave given the circumstances. More than 40 religious parties have joined hands to start a countrywide campaign in support of Mumtaz Qadri. That Qadri is a cold-blooded killer does not bother them at all. But then again, these so-called 'religious' parties are full of bloodthirsty murderers because their interests thrive on spreading terror.

Intolerance has penetrated the Pakistani society to such an extent that most people now choose to remain quiet on issues that might be deemed sensitive. Losing Mr Taseer was perhaps one of the biggest blows for the liberal Pakistanis in recent years. It was a grim reminder for the bold voices in the country that even they could meet the same fate. Yet it must be said that even in these dark times, there are several people in Pakistan who are determined to challenge the extremists and win this battle. We want to win this battle for ourselves and for our future generations. We do not want murderers and terrorists such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi's (LeJ's) Malik Ishaq, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba's (LeT's) Hafiz Saeed and countless others like them roaming freely on our streets. We do not want more Mumtaz Qadris killing people at will, just because they do not agree with someone's views. We do not want the religious right to impose its archaic and barbaric views on the citizens of Pakistan by brute force. This may sound like a regurgitated cliche but what we want is a secular, democratic, liberal, progressive Pakistan. It might be a lost battle but we have to win it at any cost, even if that cost means losing our lives in the process.

The writer is Op-Ed editor, Daily Times, Pakistan. Reach her at mehmal.s@gmail.com

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