Salman Taseer, blasphemy and the West’s apparent incredulity
Salman Taseer was a leading member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). He was reportedly killed by one of his own guards because of his strong campaigning against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which make insulting the Prophet (saw) a criminal offence.
There has been a reaction of incredulity in the west. Politicians have condemned the killing and the media have portrayed Taseer as a martyr for liberalism. Pakistan has been described as ‘divided’ over the killing, and once again the issue of ‘extremism’ has emerged.
There are many questions and lessons to be learned from this incident, that relate to inaccurate views and comparisons being made in the western media about Islam, extremism, and the mix of religion and politics. We explore some of them here.
1. The condemnation of Taseer is hardly surprising. The people of Pakistan are Muslims who love the Prophet (saw). The secular PPP government’s attempt, supported by the western backers as part of their ‘War on Terror’, to enforce a system that would permit the wanton ridicule and insult of our beloved has pushed the situation to a fault line. This killing has to be seen in this context. The fact that Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri has been charged with murder and ‘terrorism’ illustrates the ideological nature of the ‘War on Terror’.
2. Pakistan is inherently unstable. People despise the rulers and there is little respect for the system. The respect for Islam and its adherence to the rule of law and the system doesn’t sit well with vigilantism. Islam places a strong emphasis on the method and process by which its rules are implemented. It doesn’t encourage people to take the law into their own hands and become – judge, jury and executioner. But such is the conflict between the Islamic values of the people and the secular system imposed on them, that such incidents will occur.
3. The western reaction will seem strange to onlookers. In this week’s news it emerged that approximately nine hundred people were assassinated in 2010 by unmanned US drones. Yet, there is little condemnation and few words that eulogise the victims who are overwhelmingly innocent civilians. Only last week President Obama’s sick humour was overlooked with little comment. It is then hardly surprising if people view the condemnation of Taseer’s death with cynicism.
4. The people of Pakistan are said to be divided over this death. In reality the overwhelming majority are indifferent or approve of his killing, whilst the ‘slither’ of the secular elite, backed by PPP die-hards, are the only ones who will find the death shocking.
To illustrate this the so-called hard liners who condemned Taseer included the ‘Brelwi’ school of thought, which is the school from which the western ‘moderate’ favourite Tahir ul Qadri hails.
5. The matter of blasphemy confuses people in the secular west. The respect and love for the Prophet is a non-negotiable for Muslims. The idea that Muslims should accept insulting the Holy Prophet Muhammad as Europe has learned to tolerate insults towards the Holy Prophet Esa (Jesus) – may Allah’s Peace be on both of them – is abhorrent. There is no comparison between Europe’s experience between the hegemony of the Catholic church and its use of ‘religion’ and ‘blasphemy’ to endorse its power. The Muslim world sits under the hegemony of secular regimes who are colonial agents – who use ‘democracy’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ to enforce their power.
Islam has no clergy, and commands the individual, groups and the masses to account political authority – which is why so many Islamic lawyers in Pakistan opposed Musharraf but support the Prophet (saw). Moreover Islam encourages debate and intellectual discourse and has a historical record to prove it. It is the absence of Islam under the Khilafah that has led to sectarianism in Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere.