I had never heard of the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer before I joined Twitter. Several times I had been forwarded (RT-ed to use the proper jargon) his tweets by people I follow. Most of them, containing ridiculous clap-trap like India fomenting terrorism in Pakistan, the absence of proof of Pakistani involvement in 26/11, the RSS did-it innuendo,the brave freedom-fighters of Kashmir struggling against the demoniacal Indians, just made me chuckle in the same way that Zaid Hamid and Johnny Lever does, as a result of which I slotted Taseer away in my mind as yet another “Pakistani public intellectual.”
Well Salman Taseer died today, shot to death by one of his own guards. His crime: he had been working to prevent the death sentence for blasphemy to a Christian Pakistani citizen Aasia Bibi. She had been refused access to water because she was Christian. She had resisted conversion to Islam, for which she was dragged on the street, gang-raped and then the Pakistani courts gave her the death sentence for insulting Islam. All that Taseer had tried to do was to prevent her from being killed. He was not trying to bring to justice those who had gang-raped her. Just to prevent her for being put to death.
“The death of a liberal” moaned the wise men and women on Twitter. I wondered why. Was it because as Rajdeep Sardesai said “Salman Taseer used to drink and womanize” (He had an out-of-wedlock son with a prominent Indian journalist)? But if reckless drinking and multiple partners were a sign of liberalism, Saudi princes would be Noam Chomsky. Or was it because Salman Taseer mirrored the ideals of the garden-variety Indian liberal i.e. those who think India, Israel and the US are imperial powers, those who are convinced that India is massacring its minorities and that the RSS is even more dangerous than Islamic fundamentalism?
Yes I was being facetious in the last line.
But honestly, can Salman Taseer be called a “liberal” as we understand it? Perhaps not. But in the context of Pakistan, what he did, an act of simple humanity (that of campaigning for a totally innocent woman who had been raped not be put to death) was one of great courage. It surely was not a politically expedient move since supporting a Christian woman was guaranteed to be immensely unpopular in a violently intolerant country like Pakistan. If you want proof, one need only to go to the Facebook page supporting and lionizing the assassin of Salman Taseer that sprung up hours after the murder, getting “Likes” at the rate of 5/minute and where Pakistani Net-users were applauding the murder of reprobate Salman Taseer and the death sentence of the Christian woman. These people (and I surfed over to a few of their profiles) were not goat-herders in the backwaters of Pakistan, deprived of a modern education, but students of Karachi and Lahore colleges, schools and universities, the elite of the elite. And if these youngsters, those that typically form the background of the politically “liberal” culture of any country (I write “politically” because one of the most rabid posters there had as his favorites “Sexy Belly Dancers”) wrote the messages that I saw there, one could only comprehend what the Madrassa-graduated and the uneducated masses would be like.
In India, being liberal is a “fashion statement” like wearing Prada, with the “liberal” tag a prerequisite for being considered an “intellectual”, essential for walking in some of the exalted circles of the country, for being a poo-bah in the national media, for government honors. In Pakistan, the bar for “liberalism” is much much lower. It does not mean gratuitous self-flagellation. It does not mean calling one’s own country a terrorist nation (like our liberals do) or calling another country, whose Navy and secret services send trained killers to massacre innocents a “great neighbor to have”. Nor does it entail supporting those who wage an armed insurrection against the Constitution and the rule of law (which our Maoist apologists do).
It means things like taking a stance in support of a woman, who has been raped, so that she not be executed just on account of her religion.
And the consequences of even this type of liberalism in Pakistan? Not good. Not good at all.