Pakistan’s government minister for religious minorities, the Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, has just been shot dead. It’s the latest attack on a high-profile Pakistani figure who had urged reforming harsh “blasphemy laws” that impose the death penalty for “insulting” Islam.
Mr. Bhatti’s murder follows the killing two months ago of the Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, who was murdered for criticizing the blasphemy law. A new movie by the filmmaker Syed Noor, titled One More Holy Warrior, is indicative of the growing acceptability of extrajudicial killing in the name of Islam. The killing of Taseer is the hallmark of a radical attempt to destroy the Christian Pakistani community and to silence the few secular voices that struggled to protect it.
Taseer was killed by a police bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, because he dared vote in favor of a pardon for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother put to death under the blasphemy law. Even the Jamaat Ahle Sunnat Barelvi preachers, the ministers of Pakistan’s “moderate Islam,” praised Taseer’s murderer “for the courage, bravery, honor and integrity.” In court, two imams who inspired this crime justified the killing of the “apostate” governor.
Islamic fundamentalists have threatened judges in order to obtain the release of Qadri, and 800 of lawyers have been striving for the release of the killer. Qadri was showered with rose petals by lawyers and spectators as he made an appearance in the courtroom to face murder charges. A crowd of hundreds of people applauded him, sang songs in his honor, then tried to kiss him. Students have brought Valentine’s Day cards and flowers to Qadri in prison. Fan groups of Qadri can even be found on Facebook.
Taseer was a secular and modern Muslim in an increasingly dark nation. The most tragic aspect of the story is the euphoric manner in which hundreds of thousands of people have praised the killer. In fact, Taseer’s coffin arrived at the cemetery by helicopter, because a funeral procession was too risky.
The son of a Pakistani poet and an English mother, Taseer drank wine, made holidays in Europe, and loved to swim and dance. For this, too, the hyenas wanted him dead. The question now is, did the same pack want Bhatti dead as well? And what of Sherry Rehman, a secular Muslim who has filed a motion to repeal the blasphemy law? She has been called wajib-ul-qatl, “worthy of being killed,” by the Islamic fundamentalists. Rehman is now in hiding. A ghost. Will we be reading about her murder too?