Developments around Tasser killing disturb liberal Pakistanis

The emergence of Facebook pages eulogising the assassin of Governor Salmaan Taseer and praise from Islamic clerics for the killer have outraged liberal Pakistanis.

Islamabad: The emergence of Facebook pages
eulogising the assassin of Governor Salmaan Taseer and praise
from Islamic clerics for the killer have outraged liberal
Pakistanis, who today said tolerance and space for discourse
on religious and political issues was shrinking.

Taseer was gunned down in an upscale market in the
heart of Islamabad yesterday by one of his guards who was
angered by the outspoken Governor`s criticism of the blasphemy
law.

Chilling footage aired on news channels showed Malik
Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the assassin, saying that the punishment
for insulting the Prophet Mohammed was death.

Within hours of the assassination, several
disrespectful pages popped up on social networking website
Facebook, celebrating Taseer`s death and praising the action
of Qadri.

One such page was titled: "Salute to the greatness of
Ghazi Malik Mumtaz Qadri".

Several pages gained hundreds of followers within a
space of hours.

An influential grouping of scholars and clerics issued
a statement praising Qadri and asking Muslims not to attend or
lead the funeral prayer for Taseer.

Taseer`s violent death was a "message that the space
for rational discourse on sensitive issues had shrunk even
further," said Raza Rumi, the editor of the Friday Times
magazine and one of Pakistan`s leading bloggers.

"This assassination marks a make-or-break point and
Pakistan has to make a choice. If the country is to move
towards progress, we have to go on fighting this mindset,"
Rumi said.

Both opponents and supporters of the blasphemy law
introduced during late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq`s regime in
the 1980s as part of his bid to appease religious hardliners
to strengthen his grip on power have used the Internet to
air their views.

Taseer, who aggressively used Twitter to air his
views, had made it clear that attacks from hardliners would
not deter him from criticising the blasphemy law and fighting
for the rights of minorities.

He earned the wrath of clerics after he openly backed
a call to pardon Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman
sentenced to death for insulting Prophet Mohammed.

Beena Sarwar, an editor of the Jang media group, noted
that several Facebook pages praising Qadri were taken down
following protests from the people of Pakistan.

This, she said, proved that a sizeable number of
Pakistanis had opposed the disturbing pages.

However, Sarwar too acknowledged that the space for
people to debate about sensitive issues like the blasphemy
laws was shrinking. "This space has been shrinking since the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan, when Zia-ul-Haq tried to Islamise
society.

"Subsequently, certain groups were propped as
strategic assets in terms of India and people have found it
difficult to speak out on issues," Sarwar said.

Taseer`s killing by one of his guards showed that even
the security forces could be infiltrated by extremist
ideologies, Rumi said.

"The assassination of the Governor was a shut-up call
to anyone who speaks out against bigotry and for tolerance,"
he said.

The influential Dawn newspaper noted in a report that
condemnation of Taseer`s murder by some quarters was "vague
and equivocal".

The political leadership was "willing to express its
sadness over the murder but less willing to comment on the
backdrop against which his death took plac," the report said.

Senior Pakistan People`s Party leader Aitzaz Ahsan
said Islam advocates tolerance but the Pakistani society is
fast giving up this virtue.

"This trend is detrimental to society," he told
reporters in Lahore.

Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian,
said a mindset that misused the blasphemy law was behind
Taseer`s assassination.

The assassination was a "barbaric act of religious
violence as he took a principled stand against misuse of the
blasphemy law," he said in a statement.

Bhatti said fatwas and the blasphemy law were being
used to victimise people belonging to minorities and political
parties should take a stand against this mindset that is
destabilising the country.

"Those who issued decree for killing should be
investigated and blasphemy laws should be reviewed to control
the increasing intolerance in society," he said.

PTI

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