January 11, 2011
By all accounts Salman Taseer was a well respected man in Pakistan. Until his assassination on January 4th he had been serving as governor of the populous Punjab region. He had taken up the cause of an illiterate woman who had been in an argument with neighbors over drinking water and in the process said something which led to her being accused of blasphemy. Asia Bibi is a Christian who was tried, convicted and given the mandatory sentence of death. Taseer had called publically for her to be pardoned. He had also campaigned to change the blasphemy laws. His murderer was one of his body guards and the others did little or nothing while he was murdered. Apparently the killer was able to make a statement to the media while being arrested. He acknowledged killing the governor because of his position.
Sectarian violence, mostly, though not exclusively, against Christians carried out by Muslims ahs been on the rise in Pakistan in recent months. Pakistan, while intended primarily as a Muslim state in distinction from India, was founded in 1947 with a clear commitment to religious tolerance. Most press commentary on this series of events paints a pretty gloomy picture for Pakistan going forward unless those who support tolerance begin to speak up, clearly risking life and limb as did Mr. Taseer.
I cannot help but think of this in light of the Arizona shootings including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was, apparently the primary target of the shooter even though others died and she might well survive. It is not clear to me that the shooting was politically motivated although most commentary seems to make that assumption. I am pleased by the calls for reform in the gun laws (although am unaware of any calls for reform coming from anyone in Arizona who have passed laws last year making it legal for citizens to carry a concealed weapon.) I am not optimistic that our elected leaders will find the necessary backbone to take on the gun lobby based on their past performance. I wonder how many more of these kinds of shootings will need to happen before they do muster the will to act. Kudos to Representative King, (R) of New York for being willing to propose new gun laws.
I as also glad to see the expression of condolence from Sarah Palin because many have pointed out that the same site features a number of democrats that she does not like with gun sights placed over their districts. Whatever emerges about the motivations of the murderer in this particular shooting, there is no doubt that an atmosphere of intolerance has been growing, not only in Pakistan, but also in this country. The rhetoric of the tea party is only one piece of it. It is clear that such ‘clarity’ helps win elections, but I yearn to hear from politicians of any party a sense of the greater good, a concern for the weakest and neediest among us (without requiring a kind of sentimental, tearful lip service to concern for such people). Such an expression would give substance and context to our policy debates and could serve as an antidote to intolerance.