The reaction to the death of Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab who was murdered on Tuesday by one of his bodyguards because of his criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, is revealing.
Taseer, Pakistan’s leading moderate politician, had supported Asia Bibi the Punjabi Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting Mohammed. Working in the fields with other village women she had offered them some water. Offended, because the touch of a Christian would make the water unclean, they abused her. In the argument which followed Bibi defended her faith which the Muslim women saw as attacking theirs. Later a mob of villagers raped her.
In the court case which followed it was Asia Bibi was who was adjudged the criminal. She was sentenced to hang for blasphemy.
Taseer visited her, publicised her case and called for a change in Pakistan’s blasphemy law. As a result Malik Mumtaz Qadri, one of his bodyguards, shot him 26 times in the back whilst the rest of the armed bodyguard looked on and took no action. “Salmaan Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer,” declared Qadri when arrested.
The revealing thing about all this is that this is not a case of militant extremists trying to pervert the ‘religion of peace.’ Rather it is Qadri, the assassin, who was protecting the religious status quo and Taseer, the moderate, who wanted to change it.
Many in the media in Pakistan have condemned the murder. The general public, however, have often rejoiced at the willingness of Qadri to execute Koranic justice. The initial hearing into the murder had to be moved from Rawalpindi to Islamabad and then back to Rawalpindi because of widespread popular support for Qadri. A Facebook page supporting Qadri has had to be taken down as it was attracting thousands of followers.
That is the reaction of the mob. What about more responsible elements in Pakistan?
Questions should be asked about the police authorities. Qadri himself volunteered to become part of Taseer’s protection team, and was accepted. This despite the fact that he had already been removed from another police unit because of his extremist Islamic views. Did no-one ask why a known Muslim radical would wish to be part of the armed guard of a secularising politician?
When Qadri was brought to court barristers scattered rose petals at his feet and are now lining up to defend him free of charge if his case should ever come to trial.
Jamaat-e-Islami, one of Pakistan’s largest religious parties, has declared the murder justified.
More significantly a group of more than 500 leading Islamic scholars representing what even the Guardian describes as ‘mainstream religious organisations’ have approved of the murder and instructed that no Muslim should mourn Taseer’s death.
They have warned government officials and journalists that the “supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy,” and so all should learn “a lesson from the exemplary death” of Taseer.
These scholars are described by Associated Press as representing the ‘moderate school of Islam.’
If these religious scholars are ‘mainstream’ and ‘moderate’ perhaps it is time we rethought the idea that Islam is a religion of peace which is in danger of being taken over by radical elements. If Islam ever was a religion of peace, and there is scant historical evidence for this, then it has been taken over by ‘radical Islamists’ long ago.
The saddest fact of all is that the Guardian is correct, these men do represent mainstream Islam in Pakistan. The frightening fact is that this happening in an unstable country which possesses nuclear weapons.