It has been a week of tragic political violence in the United States, and as we collectively mourn our fellow citizens and brave public servants at home, it is sad but timely to recall that in another world the reaction to another assassination has been very different.
Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab was assassinated a week ago at the hands of his own bodyguard, in broad daylight, at Khosar market in Islamabad, a place popular with expats and elites. He was shot more than 20 times at close range, for the crime of defending a woman who was convicted under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Taseer, a progressive thoughtful voice for reform, of the Pakistan People’s Party, had filed a petition in defense of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who has been condemned to death for blasphemy, in a case that has sparked international controversy. Salman Taseer had also defended the rights of Pakistan’s Ahmadi community, who are ruled to be non Muslims, and spoke out against the misuse of the Constitution to persecute minorities.
It is a sad and disturbing comment on the current state of Pakistan that he died at the hands of those who were sent to protect him. It was shocking that arguably one of the most prominent politicians in the most prominent of states – Punjab, could be shot dead.
But the reaction in the wake of his death has been equally chilling. The Barelevi party, Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, issued a statement celebrating the killing and warning Pakistanis not to mourn Taseer’s death. And while thousands attended his funeral, the fear of violence was strong enough to keep President Asif Ali Zadari, from paying tribute, and public sentiment was strong enough to keep others like Nawaz Sharif from attending.
By contrast the 26 year old killer, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, was showered with petals, and feted by many members of the Lawyers Movement who had challenged the government of President Musharaf in 2007, and many others offered to defend him free of charge.
Acts of madmen do not speak for average Pakistanis anymore than they speak for average Americans. But as we honor the memory of Martin Luther King this weekend, and honor his legacy, we would do well to remember that human rights are still proclaimed at great sacrifice by people across the world in large acts and small in an unending tribute to reaffirm our common humanity.