Dr. S. M. Rahman

Condemning acts of terrorism is one thing but unearthing the deeper motives that precipitate such acts, as cold-blooded murder of the Governor of Punjab Mr. Salman Taseer on 4th of January 2011, for his alleged condemnation of the law of Blasphemy and dubbing it as a ‘black law’, needs a much deeper analysis of the psyche of the killer. What impelled him to do so? All sorts of motives are being attributed by two sharply polarized segments of the society. The PPP die-hard activists smelling rat give simplistic explanation of a sinister design and a political motive to destabilize their government.

Conspiratorial theory simply comes to fill the vacuum in the mind, which in the absence of clarity with respect to the real factors that determine the act of the killer, comes in handy to find ‘meaning’ into the ambiguous situation. That the real killers were the political party’s higher ups in power in Punjab who were utterly fearful of the insane bravery of the governor, a much too controversial a man, for his ‘biting’ comments against the Muslim League (N) government in Punjab and particularly, its party chief Nawaz Sharif. The impact of the Governor’s incessant character assassination of the Sharif brothers had crossed the tolerance threshold and that the assassination of the Governor was done, not in Lahore but in the federal capital of Islamabad, was to escape the blame. The argument further goes that by eliminating the Governor, the Punjab government would function with relative ease and comfort. This mind-set of die-hard supporters of PPP government is mainly utilitarian in nature, as they enjoy power and positions due to their ‘loyalty’ to the party.

It appears rather ridiculous that any political party would select this time to eliminate the Governor, when there was a political upheaval and the PPP government was quite wobbly and a change of the Prime Minister was in the offing. With the fall of the Federal Government, the President and the Governors could also be the casualties. In fact, the murder of Salman Taseer, if any thing it helped the present government as the political climate cooled down quite a bit and the issue of no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister got deflected. The PPP government quite successfully persuaded MQM to rejoin the federal coalition and the Muslim League (N) provided opportunity to the Government to abide by some of the norms of good governance. The Law Minister’s naïve allegation hurled on the so called ‘Takht-e-Punjab’ (Punjab Government) for providing poor security as a deliberate motive to eliminate the Governor, appeared a farcical contention, as the responsibility of security fully rested on the federal government and not the government of the Punjab. It betrays the ignorance of the Law Minister, with respect to legal implications of the murder.

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The killer Mumtaz Qadri has confessed that he murdered the Punjab Governor for religious reasons and that he had no accomplice in this act. The murder comes under religious terrorism quite different from nationalistic, separatist or secular ideology. Religious terrorism has become a very common feature as during 1995, 25 out of 58 reported cases had religious motivation and that 42% of known incidents were due to active international groups, who had very clear religious agenda (Nuclear Terrorism by Gavin Cameron 1999 p. 77). They were different from IRA, FTA or Armenian Groups, as even though they had religious component in their motivation they were essentially nationalists in orientation, Sikh militarism in India has a mix of religious and nationalistic aspirations but a typical religious movement is essentially different from secular and nationalistic groups. Hezbollah for instance is wedded to a single Muslim community, transcending Arab or Ajam identities. Qadri’s case is different from organised religious movements, as it adheres to preservation of the law of Blasphemy, which exists in the Constitution of Pakistan, to protect the dignity of the holy prophet Muhammad (PBUH) based on the supreme love and respect, the believers have for him.

As he is the last messenger of Islam’s basic tenets and the holy Quran being revealed to him, any defiance and disrespect to the holy prophet tantamounts to disbelieving the Quran and the revealed divine faith and as such one becomes a disbeliever – ‘Murtad’ – liable to be hanged as per Blasphemy law very clearly laid down in the Constitution of Pakistan. Under conditions of excessive anger one gets prone to kill ones wife on suspicion of infidelity, a very common phenomenon, the West not withstanding. Anger sees no logic and seeks instant justice. That instead of killing the Governor, a case could have been instituted in the higher courts of justice is quite sensible but the religious extremists are a different breed. Seeking martyrdom is their favoured passion.

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Any attempt to do away with the blasphemy law as being also propagated by Pope Benedict XVI or to make some amendments therein would be viewed with grave indignation. The Governor’s alleged condemnation of the blasphemy law was beyond the tolerance threshold of a strong believer, based on sermon of religious preachers. Such individuals do not suffer from any attitudinal conflict between life and death. They are not the ones who are prone to making compromises in life. Ideals make their choices easy. ‘Violence’ is perceived as a means to an end. Any liberal or secularists view on blasphemy is viewed as affront to the holy prophet (PBUH), who stands as an ideal to be emulated. Ilam Din Shaheed was not a fanatic believer, but he could not bear the denigration of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by a Hindu, who wrote a scandalous book about him. He therefore killed the sinner without any remorse. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had offered his legal services to defend him but during the British period ‘Secularism’ gave license for the so called ‘freedom of expression’, which led to the hanging of Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed.

According to Gavin Cameron “The upsurge in religious terrorism, especially since 1988, can in part be attributed to the wide-spread belief that the groups’ respective religions lie at a vital historical point. This stems from increased globalization, and the perceived erosion of traditional values along with wide-spread economic and political upheaval and inequality leading to heightened feelings of fragility, instability and uncertainty about the future (p 78). Religions, therefore, become a barrier against such irreligious forces. This is true of all religions, with the exception of Buddhism, who use violence as a corrective mechanism. Both the Old and the New Testan and the Hindu Mahabharata are full of violent episodes. Christian White supremacists are as religious fundamentalists as are some Middle Eastern Muslims. The ‘saffron cult’ is a great promoter of violence in modern India. So are the Israelis, exceptionally violent in killing the Palestinians and illegally occupying their territories. A big change has occurred in the internal dynamics of the western countries where rise of the Right is a predominant factor. “The fall of parliamentary seats into extremists hands represents the biggest shake-up in European politics since the disappearance of communism.” (Newsweek, Pakistan October 2010, p. 34).

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Liberal ideology, must, therefore, tame itself to accept the religious factor as an essential element of Pakistani ethos and ideology. Accommodation between the two extremist groups is the basic challenge for a confident leadership to unite its splintering communities. Alas! that leadership is on the wane.

Dr S. M. Rahman is Secretary General FRIENDS founded by General Mirza Aslam Beg, the former Chief of Army Staff,

Pakistan. He is widely acclaimed for his intellectual and scholastic contributions through various mediums. He is widely travelled and has lectured in many renowned universities of the world and Think Tanks.

He has authored several books in global and regional issues. Now he is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker