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This is not a clash of civilizations but an internal conflict between moderates and extremists

A recent report in Time explains the huge significance of Salman Taseer’s killing. “The manner of his murder reveals a truth that many Muslims still deny: This is not a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West but an internal conflict between moderates who advocate inclusiveness and extremists who preach hatred,” says the report, adding “For Pakistan, that struggle is titanic: The winner will determine if Islam in the country retains its soul or loses it.”

There is every explanation that the assassination of Salman Taseer, by his security guard is emerging as a momentous issue in the politically inconsistent country. Not only has the killer been applauded and honored by thousands of fanatics, among them lawyers and journalists, he has also been felicitated at a well-attended rally in Karachi. Crowds gathered to shower him with rose petals when he was produced in court.

Taseer’s unequivocal liberal stance offended the country’s increasingly powerful obstructionist religious base.It further escalated when religious political parties and banned organizations vowed to “take the law into their own hands”. The divide between the extremists and moderate circles of Pakistan is deepening and minorities and the oppressed classes will be feeling more insecure now, as the state fails to end this phenomenon and due to these sorts of extremists trends today no other country on earth is arguably more dangerous than Pakistan.

Salman Taseer’s biggest crime was his liberal approach & western views on law and democracy and he questioned legislation of General Zia-ul-Haq. History tells us that the law made strict during Gen Zia’s period of rapid radicalization of vast swaths of Pakistan and Afghanistan to dispense an ideology that one could use to help motivate younger generation, and often times teenagers into becoming freedom fighters against the Soviet Union and it was also an attempt to gain legitimacy by posing as a defender of religion. The laws have led to horrific communal violence and have been applied against an ever expanding range of victims. This is why Taseer repeatedly criticized law and believed it was pivotal in determining the country’s future.

While most of those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are Muslims, non-Muslim religious minorities suffer disproportionately: Though approximately five percent of the population, they are half of those accused, and the testimony of one Muslim is sufficient to convict a non-Muslim. They also suffer increasing attacks by extremists. On August 1, 2009, after a Christian was accused of burning a holly Quran, a mob connected to the banned extremist group attacked Christians in Korian and Gojra: They indiscriminately killed seven Christians, six of whom (including two children) were burned alive. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that police knew of the intended attack but did nothing to prevent it. And while the state has so far not executed those convicted of blasphemy, dozens of accused people have been assassinated by fanatics, even when their cases ended in acquittal.

Salman Taseer said that he had also showed his solidarity with minority communities who were being targeted by that law and, in doing so, I had sent across a strong message.

The terror is amalgamated by the knowledge that 500 leading Muslim scholars not only celebrated the murder but warned that no Muslim should mourn Salman Taseer’s murder or pray for him. Despite all these threats and warnings, Christians, minorities and human rights campaigners mourn Salman Taseer; the main churches in Pakistan held special prayers for Taseer amid their Sunday services to pay tribute to Taseer’s advocacy for minority rights and his position on blasphemy laws.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rioghts Michael H. Posner arrives in Islamabad today (Saturday) on a three-day visit to Pakistan for talks on human rights issues in Pakistan, including protection of minorities and the use of Blasphemy Act.

During his stay in the capital, Posner will call on President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, federal ministers Mumtaz Gilani and Shahbaz Bhatti and representatives of the civil society. Talking to American media before departure for Pakistan on Friday, the assistant secretary of state said the United States supports religious and personal freedom and democracy.

As per the news published in various newspapers the President Asif Ali Zardari also vows to protect minorities in Pakistan, where it concerns the rights of the non-Muslims is seemingly the worst of anywhere in the Muslim world.

President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday asked Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti to continue consultations with scholars and clerics to build “consensus against misuse of laws against the minorities and vulnerable groups”.

Zardari asked Bhatti, a Christian, to hold consultations with scholars and clerics of different faiths and denominations for the exercise, said a statement issued by the presidential spokesman.

The government “will protect the minorities at all costs in accordance with the vision” of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Constitution, Zardari said.

He told Bhatti, who called on him at the presidency, that “no one would be allowed to take the law into their own hands nor will anyone be allowed to misuse the country’s laws.”

Religious hardliners have targeted critics of the blasphemy law and warned the government against repealing or amending it.

Salmaan Taseer’s dastardly assassination by his own bodyguard ‘Mumtaz Qadri’, illustrate the level of religious extremism and radicalization that has spread in society and it also reflects that Pakistan is gripped by extremism and religious fanaticism. Moreover, not only do all these threats by the extremists to suffocate and suppress not only the religious and personal freedoms, but also our abilities as a developing society.

Religious fanaticism is woven into the fabric of Pakistani society and the murderous mood prevailing in Pakistan:

Assassination Threat To Sherry Rehman

The threat of assassination for the very same reason that caused Salman Taseer’s death hangs over the head of Sherry Rehman, a Member of Parliament, who has submitted a private member’s bill to reform the blasphemy laws. Her bill has led clerics to call her an infidel. The imam of Sultan Masjid, one of Karachi’s biggest mosques, went further and declared her “wajib-ul-qatl” (fit to be killed) while delivering a sermon after Friday prayers.

Other Islamic hardliners have also issued a pamphlet naming Sherry Rehman as a person who “has invoked the religious honor of Pakistan’s Muslims” by calling for amendments to the blasphemy law, while Muslim religious leaders are said to be offering rewards to anyone willing to physically attack those who criticize the blasphemy law.

Civil society activists have filed a complaint against the imam of Sultan Masjid at the Darakhsan police station in Karachi. In their complaint they also allege that the imam had praised Mumtaz Qadri the assassin. The activists say they are proud to be Muslims but opposed to murdering people in the name of Islam.

Sherry Rehman is not cowed by the threat of assassination and has said that she will not flee Pakistan for her own safety, as advised by her own political party. Security arrangements for her and for her house have, however, been tightened.

Threat Of Suicide Attack On Prison Where Asia Bibi Is Being Detained

Security has also been tightened around Sheikhupura Prison because Pakistani intelligence believes that an extremist Islamist group called Moaviya is planning a suicide attack against that prison, where Asia Bibi has been held since 2009. She is the Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, and whose case prompted re-examination of the blasphemy law, and for whom the late Punjab governor and Sherry Rehman have expressed sympathy.

Threat To Shehrbano Taseer

Shadab Qadri, the leader of Sunni Tehreek, an Islamic political party in Pakistan, has warned Salman Tasser’s daughter, Shehrbano Taseer, to “remember her father’s fate” and to stop speaking out against the blasphemy law. She had told the BBC Today program that her father’s stance had been misrepresented. She had said that he had merely said that the law was being abused to target the poor, the dispossessed and the voiceless, but that his views had been misconstrued as being blasphemous. Sunni Tehreek has offered the late Punjab governor’s assassin legal support and financial help to his family because he had “performed a great duty in the name of Islam”.

The assassination highlights an ideological question that has been worrying and terrorizing Pakistanis for the last decade: can Pakistan survive as a viable democratic liberal state? or can Pakistan rid itself of religious fanaticism?

The most frightening aspect of Taseer’s assassination was that it was carried out by one of his bodyguards, who belonged to an elite unit of the Punjab police trained specifically to fight terrorists. Mumtaz Qadri told his colleagues that he was going to gun down the governor. Not one of them stopped him or informed anyone. The other guards watched as Qadri riddled Taseer’s body with more than 20 bullets and then calmly put down his gun. Reports have emerged that Qadri’s extremist views were known by his superiors and had been reported to higher authorities, but he remained in his job and even more alarmingly, Qadri belongs to a mainstream Barelvi sect traditionally opposed to the Taliban, and so his actions are not even tied to the traditional fault-lines of extremism in the country.

The tyrannical and high-handed nature of this act is far more dangerous because it shows that the radical’s extreme convictions and thoughts of chauvinism and authorization have spread and infiltrated unprecedented severance in Pakistani society. The divide between Qadri’s supporters and detractors is indicative of a deeply fragmented society; divided along fault lines which show no potential of coherence but a rapidly growing susceptibility to incoherent violently.

Central Information Secretary of the Pakistan People’s Party Fauzia Wahab said the murder of Salmaan Taseer shocked the progressive-minded people. “Where are we going, this is not our destination,” she said. “Who gave them the authority to kill someone?” she questioned and said that no one has the right to kill others by stating that they are ‘Wajibul Qatal’. She said enlightenment, education and democracy is our future and propagation of this ‘mentality’ will eventually take us to darkness. Fauzia urged enlightened groups to unite in order to make Pakistan an enlightened democratic fort.
Pakistan stands at a definitive crossroads, and the popular reaction to Taseer’s murder demonstrates just how hazardous the situation is. With this detestable proceeding, the country and its people threaten to fall even deeper into an fissure. Pakistani liberal democratic parties and the genuine civil society, need to move decisively against this atmosphere of terror and seek ways in which positive and constructive sentiments of tolerance can be expressed and cultivated without fear. And in our reckon civil Society needs to ally with the PPP for survival. It is time for political parties and their leaders and other concerned partners to move decisively against this atmosphere of extremism, religious fanaticism and desperation.

Unfortunately, the extremists in Pakistan seem to be winning and right now it appears difficult to curb their aggression and counter their arbitrary actions. Further more, it looks as if state and it’s institutions particularly media and judiciary are not standing with liberals and moderate forces.

Taseer’s death highlights a problem that plagues many countries around the world: the discordance of religion and politics and its manifestation in a undemocratic order include rioting, intimidation and sometimes murder.

When allowed, religion becomes a dominant force in politics. It asphyxiate and strangulate debate on important issues, and instead attempts to force its beliefs on nonessential and inconsiderable matters like man made law and personnal conduct upon a population. Over enough time, the effect can be erosive on principles of democracy and free speech.

When religion gets used to having its way in politics, the casualties can be wide-reaching- from the educational curriculum to scientific/technological breakthroughs. Perhaps more tragically, they can be simple ideas for the benefit of society which happen to irk religious sensibilities.

Pakistan was conceived by its founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah as a moderate state for Muslims. But unrepresentative governments and military rulers have given way to increased radicalization and hypocritical religiosity. Now, it is high time to promote Sufi, moderate and respectful and far more tolerant, logical and intellectual viewpoint of religion. We also urge the forces of liberalism and tolerance and moderation to unite to fight the threats of extremists and fanatics who use violence and intimidation. And we also advice that religion should be kept away from politics forever.

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Junaid Qaiser

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  • It seems Pakistani society has abundant Fundamentalists and their Collaborators but Peace can only be achieved with secularism.

  • Religious right opts to side with extremists
    By Shahid R. Siddiqi
    THE gruesome murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, by one of his security guards has stunned the nation. The guard, an Islamic zealot, claimed to have been motivated into committing this crime because he took offence to the views of the governor who advocated a review of, what many believe, a faulty blasphemy law enacted by an earlier military dictator, General Ziaul Haq.

    Unlike any verse from the Quran, this law is man-made, is prone to misuse and can be reviewed and amended if found necessary. Hence, if the governor or any member of the legislature sought its review, it is no crime on their part. To make a man-made law so sacrosanct as to kill anyone who disagrees with it is outright barbarity.

    Fed on the frenzy created by semi-literate and rigid clerics who have come to dominate the religious right, disciples like the killer of the governor who come from poor and illiterate families are ready to go to any length to impose their beliefs on an otherwise moderate society, even using violence if necessary.

    Symbolising the struggle between silent moderate majority that views Islam as a religion of love and tolerance and the vocal minority that represents orthodoxy and rigidity in religious views, this tragedy has stirred outrage among the moderates and liberals. It has initiated an intense debate over the question as to which Islam should the nation follow — ‘theirs’ or ‘ours’, the ‘firebrand and intolerant’ kind that rejoices at Taseer’s murder or the ‘gentler, peace loving and tolerant’ kind that abhors this murder and demands death for the killer. For the vast majority, this murder has underscored the need for the state to firmly rein in religious fanaticism and anarchy and protect the fundamental rights of the people.

    While the place and importance of religion in the lives of people cannot be minimised, the extremists at the same time cannot be allowed to make the Pakistani people hostage to their views by committing and encouraging crimes in the name of religion. They not only violate the law but also the universally accepted injunctions of Islam.

    The Afghan-Taliban model of brutal enforcement of orthodox Takfiri Islam based on elimination of dissent and rule through fear and coercion was used by the Pakistani Taliban to take control of the autonomous tribal belt (Fata) bordering Afghanistan. Later, using the same tactics they established control in the adjoining settled area of Malakand and terrorised people into submission. Though they were eventually defeated and expelled and the writ of the government was restored by the military after a massive operation in Malakand and South Waziristan the damage was done. The reluctance with which the state proceeded to confront religious extremists in Malakand sent a wrong message and encouraged them to extend their operations in other areas of Pakistan.

    Although these fringe elements do not represent Pakistani society, yet by creating an environment of fear, they have succeeded in dominating the social discourse and public policy thus inhibiting free exchange of ideas and the journey towards enlightenment. This creates an impression, both domestically and internationally, that Pakistan’s social and political life, its vital systems from social attitudes to culture, values and ruling ideas are in danger of succumbing to Talibanisation. Some religious groups even tried to give a new meaning to the beliefs and statements of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father, betraying their intentions of trying to move the country towards theocracy, a concept that Jinnah had openly and forcefully rejected over six decades ago, as does an overwhelming majority of the people today.

    Not only have mainstream religious political parties, who have always professed to be moderate in outlook, failed to decisively condemn the extremists and their brand of Islam, some of them have even eulogised Taseer’s murderer, in an obvious attempt to gain support of those segments of the population that have been won over by the extremists. Their desperate efforts so far to widen their social and political support base did not succeed as is evident from their failure to secure even a respectable representation in the assemblies. By glorifying a religious murder they now hope to keep themselves relevant to the debate, uphold their image as champions of Islam and win some political space, even if it means fanning bigotry and intolerance and pushing the nation back to the days of medieval era Inquisition.

    There is urgent need for the government of the day to effectively contain this menace before it is too late. Although a difficult task, yet it cannot abdicate its responsibility. The civil society, the intellectuals, political parties with liberal and progressive agendas and even those with Islamist leanings, must all come together to stop this madness.

    Unfortunately, the past politically weak governments have shied away from confronting the issue of religious extremism, for religion is a sensitive issue. They preferred to sit on the fence because taking a position against extremism could mean giving an opportunity to rabble-rousing clerics to exploit the situation by mobilising their bands of followers to stage street. This could also hurt political fortunes of those who depended on conservative and religiously inclined rural constituencies some of which are breeding grounds for militancy. Failure of the state to stem this tide of extremism has already cost heavily: social structures are shaken to the roots, economic development is at standstill, fissiparous tendencies show signs of gaining strength and the country’s image is tarnished.

    While the nationalist historical narrative generally traces the rise of religious extremism to the two Afghan wars and General Zia’s use of religion as a tool to perpetuate his rule, the real causes are often missed. The religious right can best succeed in an environment dominated by ignorance, social injustice and poverty and it is exploiting precisely these factors.

    Pakistan’s literacy standards are dismal. Sixty three years after its birth it can boast of only about 45 per cent literacy rate. Mainly the rural population, almost 70 per cent, has lagged behind in education and consequently in economic development. Historically conservative, their lack of education and awareness relative to urbanised populations makes them an eager audience for orthodox, semi-literate clerics who in turn play in the hands of religious groups with self-serving agendas. Financed by these groups, religious schools have mushroomed in these areas providing free education and boarding facilities to poor children, a blessing for parents who cannot even afford to raise them. Product of lopsided curricula the youth coming out of these schools add to the number of religious fanatics and is often exploited by extremists and militants for their purposes. The denial of social justice to the marginalised segment of the population has brought enormous suffering. This results from the dominance of the feudal and the moneyed class in all spheres of national life that puts them in control over public policy making. Corruption and poor governance makes matters worse. Common man in the street sees no hope of things changing for the better.

    This disillusionment and loss of hope is the worst enemy of any society.

    Poverty is another factor that shifts the social balance of power in favour of the religious right. The increasing poverty levels in the country during the last three years have reached alarming proportions and the ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor causes a sense of deprivation and alienation among bulk of the population, promoting crime and extremism. Terrorists, militants and suicide bombers with religious orientations come from this poor, deprived and marginalised segment of society.

    If poverty goes unaddressed and if Pakistan’s electoral elite continue to plunder the country using all foul means to amass wealth at the expense of the poor, there is a danger that the militants who have taken over the religious right will exploit this to carve out a big enough chunk of social support base and challenge the status quo with violence.

    This would be a dangerous development. All political upheavals and revolutions have had their roots in poverty, denial of justice and ignorance while religion was used as a vehicle to motivate people into action. The most recent and relevant to Pakistan’s contemporary conditions is the Islamic revolution in Iran where the clergy led the dispossessed to an uprising against a powerful US-backed monarchy, and with success. Flawed state building, expediency-based politics in the clutches of vested groups that deny participation to the middle class, poor governance and flawed distribution of wealth must immediately be addressed, if this danger is to be averted.
    http://www.dawn.com/2011/01/23/religious-right-opts-to-side-with-extremists.html