Albert Camus's famous novel, The Stranger, was the story of a man who was killed not because of a crime he had committed but because of a steady rise in publicity about his character faults. Little things bothered people about the Stranger -- he didn't cry at his mother's funeral, he had a steady girlfriend he didn't plan to marry. When he became implicated in a crime, the trial became a showcase of all the tiny things he did in his private life that the public didn't approve of or simply didn't understand -- though none of these things were exactly wrong or immoral, in sum and in public, they cost him his life.
Salman Taseer was a Stranger in Pakistan. His millions of dollars, British mother, private relationships, and extravagant Western lifestyle -- though not in themselves crimes nor even shortcomings in character, could not possibly have been more in contrast with the very poor and increasingly religiously extreme population of Pakistan.
In the last few years, more and more of the private details of his life were leaked into the public consciousness, private photos were obtained and published, personal habits were recounted. Here in the U.S., a large number of tributes to him have framed him as a crusader of human rights who died for good but the fact is -- and most Pakistanis will tell you, if they are not in the habit of pandering to Western imagery, that what really killed Salman Taseer was anything but an isolated -- though brave -- act of heroism.
The ugly truth of Pakistan today is not about a battle between do-gooders and those who oppose them. What killed Salman Taseer was the primary and overwhelming disparity in Pakistan -- the one that has steadily fundamentalized that country since the days of the U.S.-imposed religious dictator Zia ul-Haq, through the first Afghan war and now the new Afghan war that is also blatantly being fought in Pakistan. That disparity is one of wealth, of have-nothings and have-everythings.
The great anger in Pakistan against the current President Zardari, his slain wife and their family has very clearly been against the extravagance of their elite Western lives -- the wealth and abundance, their obvious dismissal of not only the tragic and obvious poverty of the country they rule down on, but the values and traditions of its people which they may never have even learned, or simply choose not to respect.
Salman Taseer was also a multimillionaire -- though many people agree he came upon most of his wealth through industry rather than other means. But in a country as poor as Pakistan whose public has for a generation now increasingly embraced religion as the singular means of acquiring any authority or voice against the feudal lords and wealthy elite who are granted government positions from their friends to rule over people, apart from extreme and flamboyant wealth, the other major crime against decency is being out of touch with the public's values.
Those values include religion, and Taseer, a man who reportedly carried a tiny Koran around his neck, nonetheless did not understand that he had no authority to impinge on religious matters. Strangers cannot afford to be activists, even if it is just once.
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