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Qasim Rashid

Qasim Rashid

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Anti-Blasphemy Laws Assassinate Governor Taseer--and Pakistan

Posted: 01/16/11 03:52 PM ET

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological illness, manifested when a kidnap victim becomes hopelessly attached to his captor. Rather than recognizing his captor as his enemy, the victim recognizes his captor as his savior. At the hands of extremism, Pakistan's history is littered with assassinations and untimely deaths of several of its most dynamic leaders.  Each leader's demise has transitioned Pakistan's identity and allegiance away from its origin. With Punjab Governor Salman Taseer's recent assassination, Pakistan has embraced a foreign identity -- one frighteningly destructive to it's founding principles.

What of those founding principles? Pakistan's founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, defined Pakistan's identity as one fundamentally based on freedom of conscience.  He declared, "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan ... that has nothing to do with the business of the State." Jinnah was to Pakistan what Washington was to America -- an enemy of tyranny, an audacious leader and a lover of freedom.  When Jinnah passed, all Pakistanis indiscriminately mourned his death and uniformly adopted a Constitution reflective of the identity he established for them.  

Unfortunately, two decades later President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto crumbled under extremist pressure, ignored what Jinnah established and implemented Pakistan's second amendment to begin state sanctioned persecution of the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Thus opened Pandora's Box. Bhutto's acquiescence to extremism had an immense impact on Pakistan's identity, as now it was no longer unwaveringly committed to freedom of conscience. The very extremists Bhutto attempted to placate used their newly granted influence to ensure he was removed from office -- ironically for not furthering discriminatory legislation. Bhutto soon met his political (and literal) demise at the hands of Zia ul Haqq, a dictator general who emerged from the increasingly intolerant environment with immense popularity.

During his tyrannical reign, Zia personified the extremists agenda. As the brainchild behind anti-blasphemy legislation, (the same laws for which Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, is currently on death row) his fundamentalist government further degenerated a society already becoming calloused to pluralism. Under Zia's new laws, all religious minorities, Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Shia Muslims were demoted to second-class status. By the time Zia unexpectedly died in a mysterious plane crash, few Pakistanis properly understood their origins, as the identity Jinnah established had regressed to a faint whisper. This confusion largely festered for the next two decades, until Benazir Bhutto unexpectedly re-emerged as the harbinger of democracy -- and as a hope that might revive that faint whisper.

While the Daughter of the East offered no affirmative ambitions to repeal the anti-blasphemy laws Zia passed, she was intent on preventing extremism from further usurping Pakistan's sovereignty.  But intolerance created from decades of extremism cannot be undone so quickly. I was in the streets of Pakistan that night. A surreal chaos engulfed the country. Benazir's tragic assassination devastated a nation already on its knees, stripping whatever might have remained of its founding identity.  No champion came forward to take her place. Like a morally bankrupt kidnap victim gasping for air, Pakistan had nowhere left to turn ... except to its captor.

Pakistan's perfidious captor -- anti-blasphemy legislation -- represents everything Jinnah condemned when he declared, "In any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission." In these 105 characters, Jinnah summed up Pakistan's birth identity. In an equally forceful 120 characters, Governor Taseer tweeted his fight to revive that noble identity, "I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing." Salman Taseer was then assassinated for championing Jinnah's vision. How ironic.

Yet, how appropriate a definition of Stockholm Syndrome, as Pakistan embraces its captor. Over 500 Pakistani clerics have declared Taseer's assassination a victory for the nation.  Average Pakistanis exchanged gifts and sweets. Holier than thou Pakistanis refused to offer Taseer's funeral prayer. And hundreds of Pakistani lawyers threw rose petals on the assassin -- all because the man who opposed their beloved anti-blasphemy laws was dead. In prophetic fashion, it seems Governor Taseer was literally the last man standing. All the while, Pakistan's once proud identity based on freedom of conscience joins Jinnah, six feet under ground.

Where a Pakistan hell-bent on anti-blasphemy laws goes from here is anyone's guess -- and hell is probably a good guess. More importantly, hell tends to disregard international boundaries. While commenting on the then rampant discrimination and religious violence between Catholics and Protestants, President Jinnah said, "Thank God, we are not starting in those days [in Pakistan]." My heartfelt apologies Mr. President, but today, we are not only starting, but deeply entrenched in those days. And it seems nothing short of God Himself can save Pakistan -- that is, if He isn't charged with blasphemy first.

 

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