A man is executed for murder. Some believe that justice was served; others memorialized a hero. What no one disputed was that he had pulled the trigger. I am beyond disbelief that the act of murder is debatable.
Let me step back. The governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, tried to reform the blasphemy law. So strong was the sentiment of the extremists who opposed his move that the bodyguard of the governor shot and killed him. When he arrived in court, lawyers showered him with rose petals. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. The assassinated governor’s son, who was a witness at the trial was abducted, and disappeared. This was 2011.
The fallout: When the funeral prayer of the governor was held, only a few hundred people participated, either for ideological reasons, or because of fear of being targeted. When the murderer was executed, a hundred thousand masses poured out into the streets for his funeral prayer. They came not out of love for the murderer, but out of hatred for the fallen governor, says his son Aatish Taseer in this morning’s Op-ed in the New York Times, ‘My Father’s Killer’s Funeral.’ A week after the execution, as I drove through the streets of Rawalpindi, I saw banners paying homage to the killer, calling him a martyr. The judge who sentenced him, had to be spirited out of the country—with his family.
Pakistan is divided along ideological lines:
The Progressives: The killer was guilty of three offenses. (1) He committed murder; (2) He took the law in his own hands; and (3) He betrayed his duty as a bodyguard.
The Extremists: The killer was right because he silenced the man who wanted to [allegedly] allow people to insult the prophet and Islam.
The Progressives: Blasphemy should be decriminalized. We have the prophet’s example, that when a woman threw garbage at him, he went to visit her by her sickbed and prayed for her. The message: when someone insults you, treat them with kindness.
The Extremists: Insulting the faith or the prophet is the ultimate crime. The killer is a hero, defender of the faith.
Will the extremists drown out the voices of the progressives? Do the progressives have the power to reverse the wave of extremism? What will it take? Education? Poverty alleviation? Social justice? An end to wars?
I watched the news breaking story on TV just days after the execution: The kidnapped son, Shahbaz Taseer, has been reunited with his family after five year in captivity. Is the timing a coincidence?