Friday, January 7, 2011

Salman Taseer, a brave example to us all.

(Salman Taseer, murdered Governor of Punjab)

Tuesday's assassination of Salman Taseer, Governor of Pakistan's largest state, Punjab, was shocking not because political violence is unknown in Pakistan (sadly, rather the contrary), nor because of the commentary it provides on the state of the Pakistani State and the government of President Zadari (and it doesn't say much positive about that, either).

Instead, it was shocking because Governor Taseer was killed for defending the rights of an illiterate Christian woman accused of blasphemy, and his subsequent advocacy of repealing a repressive law. This is not a new campaign - see Prof. Akbhar Ahmed's WaPo piece from 2002, and political-religious violence in Pakistan has increased substantially since then.

It is worth remembering that the colonial-era blasphemy law was cynically revived by Zia ul-Haq when the military dictator was embracing Islamism to buttress the popular legitimacy of his illegal regime in the 1980s.

This happened in two stages; first, in 1982 section 295-B of the Pakistani penal code which made desecrating the Koran or making a derogatory remark about it punishable by life imprisonment, and then in 1984 section 295-C of the penal code made

"derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet ... either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly"

punishable with

"death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."

(It would presumably be a bit of a bugger to get a death sentence and a fine.)

In 1990, this was clarified by Pakistan's Federal Sharia Court, which ruled, "The penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet ... is death and nothing else."

Ignoring the inherent contradictions of all blasphemy laws (if your God is omnipotent, why does she/he require a law to protect her/him from insults from unbelievers?), Salman Taseer stood up for those without rights and standing at grave cost to himself.

May this courageous man rest in peace.

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