Karachi: A day after her father was gunned
down by an Islamist extremist, a grieving Shehrbano Taseer
wrote on Twitter, "A light has gone out in our home today." It
wasn`t long before the 22-year-old realized something else:
Her father`s death had lit a fire in her.
In the months since, the daughter of the late Punjab
province Gov. Salmaan Taseer has emerged as one of Pakistan`s
most outspoken voices for tolerance. Through her writing and
speaking, she warns any audience who will listen of the threat
of Islamist extremism, and impatiently waits for her father`s
killer to be brought to justice.
And yes, sometimes she gets scared. She`s received
threats from militants, who`ve warned her to remember her
"These extremists, they want to tell you how to think,
how to feel, how to act," says Taseer, a slim, elegant young
woman with intense brown eyes. "It has made me more resolute
that these people should never win."
Salmaan Taseer was assassinated on Jan. 4 at a market
in Islamabad by one of his own bodyguards. The confessed
killer, Mumtaz Qadri, boasted that he`d carried out the
slaying because the outspoken politician a liberal in
Pakistani terms wanted to change blasphemy laws that impose
the death sentence for insulting Islam.
To the horror of Taseer`s supporters, many Pakistanis
praised the assassin. Islamist lawyers showered Qadri with
rose petals, and major Muslim groups, even ones considered
relatively moderate, said Taseer deserved to die because, in
their view, speaking out against the blasphemy laws was
tantamount to blasphemy itself.
Taseer majored in government and film at Smith College
in Northampton, Massachusetts, and is by profession a
journalist. She spends much of her time now writing columns
and traveling in and beyond Pakistan to speak about Islamist
Salmaan Taseer, a father of seven, was not afraid to
be blunt a trait that attracted both enmity and grudging
respect. On Twitter, Salmaan Taseer openly taunted and trashed
extremists, once tweeting that he`d never back down on the
blasphemy issue, "even if I`m the last man standing."
His daughter, who tweets under the handle
shehrbanotaseer, is more gentle but just as firm. Her more
than 9,000 followers on Twitter often receive notes that
criticize Pakistan`s discriminatory laws, especially blasphemy
claims that have reached the courts since her father`s death.
Like her father and Bhatti, the Christian leader,
Taseer wants the blasphemy laws amended to prevent their
The laws are vaguely written, and often used to
persecute minorities or settle rivalries, rights activists
say. The state has not executed anyone under the law, but the
accused may spend years in custody. Some defendants have been
killed by extremists after being freed by the courts.
Unlike many Pakistani politicians, she`s willing to
criticize the role Saudi Arabia has played in funding numerous
hardline Islamist schools in Pakistan. And she`s quick to note
that the United States as well as Pakistan says little about
it after all, it needs Saudi Arabia`s oil.