One hopes that after January 4, the ruling elite will realise that the majority of people are not peaceful onlookers, but a mob which will happily condemn people to death without understanding their logic. Salmaan Taseer was against a law which targeted the poor and the powerless. The fact is that it was a miniscule minority which came forward to mourn his death. The support of the killer’s action, on the other hand, is widespread.
I will exclude the PPP vote-bank from the above classification due to the fact that, while they have protested the killing, it is not certain how much of this is out of conviction for what Taseer was trying to achieve — a change in the notorious blasphemy law that punishes the powerless. The law is based on a problematic system of evidence and this seems to allow a mob to punish defenseless minorities.
Interestingly, the numbers of the silent supporters of the blasphemy law far exceed the vocal minority who support change in laws that supposedly have sanction of religion. While the PML-N and PML-Q comprise a majority of those that consider man-made laws such as Hudood and blasphemy as untouchable, there are many in the PPP itself who don’t think any differently. For example, the group of pirs are silent on the issue of how the government will deal with the law.
The silence of the pirs, especially Yousaf Raza Gilani, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Makhdoom Amin Fahim and others, is understandable considering that they don’t want to annoy their spiritual-cum-political constituency. Notwithstanding the claim that the silent majority follows the more peaceful Barelvi and Sufi Islam, the fact of the matter is that the majority of ulema and pirs do not really take alternative positions on such issues. The pirs definitely don’t have a new thinking, mainly because of their ignorance of religion. Interestingly, two out of three of the Federal Shariat Court judges that opposed changes in the Hudood laws were also appointed as judges by the PPP.
Salmaan Taseer’s murder could not have been avoided, considering that mainstream Islamic discourse in Pakistan is influenced by the Saudi brand. This also includes the Barelvi and Sufi school of thought. This could have changed through ijtihad and ijma. However, the ulema, mashaikh and pirs are all reluctant to review laws for the benefit of the common man. The fact that the educated elite were not conversant in religious discourse and, in fact, kept itself aloof from religion did not help either.
The elite group’s knowledge of religion and active involvement in setting the pace of religious discourse was necessary in a country which was formed in the name of religion. Irrespective of the secular claims about Jinnah’s August 11, 1948 speech, it was not possible to keep a state, which drew its legitimacy from religion, secular. Unfortunately, the elite took refuge in their secularism and left religious discourse at the behest of clergy.
Moreover, the elite continued to strike a Faustian bargain with the clerics every time it ran short of political legitimacy. Most seemingly secular leaders pretended to clothe their policies in religion to seek greater legitimacy. They acted in Jinnah’s footsteps, who had borrowed the concept of Muslim identity without thinking about the rest of the package.
Sixty-three years hence, it is immaterial to argue whether the country was made in the name of Islam or for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. The educated, liberal elite had no role in giving direction to religious discourse which was always determined by clerics. Educated people’s intervention made by, for example, Allama Iqbal, was totally missing after 1947.
The marriage of religion with politics also meant that the clerics stuck to the status quo and spent more time thinking of wrangling state power from non-religious leaders. It also seems that in the past couple of decades or a bit more, the clergy shifted its focus from winning elections to capturing the main state narrative. They are in a comfortable position since they were the only ones defining religion and religious norms.
Now, we must await more killings and bloodshed.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2011.