Salmaan Taseer and the admission of fear.

This post originally was published in The Nation in 2017.

They are safe from the throes of poverty, from the shackles of uncertainty of whether or not you will be able to afford your next meal. They are safe from the worries of health and safety for their children, how to afford them an education, how to flee from a bad situation.

Salmaan Taseer was safe from all of those things. He was a rich and powerful businessman. He was the sitting governor of Punjab from the year 2008. He was eloquent and intelligent, educated and wealthy. He was rich and powerful enough to afford private guards. Alas. Those guards. He was shot twenty seven times at point blank range. Salmaan Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri was a part of Taseer’s security detail. He was smiling when they arrested him, some showered him with rose petals, some kissed him on the cheek, some declared him a hero. Cold-blooded murder.

And they declared him a hero.

I remember that day; I remember getting into a social media diatribe with someone who thought he was a hero as well. I remember that by the two hundred and eighth comment, that young man who insisted that “Qadri was protecting the name of the Prophet (PBUH)”, was ready to find me and kill me for my views on defending Taseer . “If I ever find you, I will kill you,” he insisted. I don’t know if he remembers threatening me or anyone else who defended Taseer that day. I don’t know if anyone reading this decides to take it in their stride to issue death threats as well, I don’t know if there are more Taseer-like murders waiting to happen.

I do know that defending free speech, defending human rights and calling murder as murder –is considered blasphemy in our land of the pure. There was once a time when certain religious clerics had labeled Muhammad Ali Jinnah as a ‘kafir’. It seems an old business. Calling people kafir to let out your hate. Setting people on fire for ‘blasphemy’ to settle scores. Calling someone a ‘ghadaar’ and lynching them.

These labels give hate-mongering groups the chance to dominate. To subjugate. This is how they become powerful – the politics and dynamics of fear. So where do we go? Where do people like us go – who simply want the right to free speech? Who simply want to defend the disenfranchised? Who don’t want to be shot twenty seven times by our own guards – just because we dared to question a man-made law, an abused law, a vague law? If the sitting governor can be shot by his own guard, if a university professor can be arrested over a Facebook post that he was tagged in, if a pregnant woman can be burnt alive despite not insulting anyone’s religious sentiments, if even after numerous apologies no court will pardon a mother for remarks she may or may not have made – what chance does anyone have? What chance does any person, from any income group or political affiliation or social stature have? I type today in fear. Will I be next? Will they come for me? Citing this blog as blasphemy ? Calling me a ghadaar? A kafir? How do I know I am safe? The truth is – I am not.

This blog is an admission of fear. I fear for the day someone will pick up a statement and call for my death. I fear for the day someone will raise their pious pitchfork and come after me. I fear that I need to tailor everything I say, everything I write, everything I want to express – because there is some madman out there ready to chop off my head because I offended him. Our choice is simply fear, perhaps.

Four years on, Salmaan Taseer’s murder continues to be a terrifying reminder of how unsafe we are from the guardians of faith. A peaceful vigil for Taseerwas attacked by these guardians in Lahore, and it reminded everyone that the hate is still alive and fresh and violent enough to continue spreading chaos.

It was salt on the wound of free speech, on the right of human dignity and the sacrifice Taseer made for his stand on human rights.  What a hollow eulogy I have written for you, Mr. Taseer . You died knowing that you are brave. And I mourn you today knowing that I am not. Rest in peace. May your memory, in the time to come, give us courage, instead of fear.

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