A Brave Man Killed
The New York Times EDITORIAL
Published: January 05, 2011
Some twisted person has created a Facebook page in support of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the bodyguard accused of assassinating Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province. Mr. Taseer was a brave man who had called for the repeal of Pakistan’s outrageous anti-blasphemy law.
Whoever killed Mr. Taseer must be condemned and repudiated, not extolled. Otherwise, Pakistan will certainly continue on a downward spiral in which intolerance and self-destruction triumph.
The governor’s death is a tragedy not just for Pakistan but for all who understand that just and stable societies need honest debate and full respect for minorities. Pakistan cannot afford to lose any fair-minded leaders, especially at a time when it is struggling with a virulent insurgency, an unraveling economy and an unraveling central government.
Mr. Taseer – a longtime ally of President Asif Ali Zardari and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007 – was Pakistan’s most prominent defender of the rights of women and minorities. He had pressed hard for repeal of the blasphemy law, which imposes a mandatory death sentence on anyone convicted of insulting Islam.
The law is popular with the Muslim majority but is routinely manipulated to settle personal rivalries and persecute minorities. And Mr. Taseer had been particularly outspoken, calling for leniency for a Christian mother of four who was sentenced to death under the law, in a case that stemmed from a dispute in her village.
Pakistani officials, who have the bodyguard in custody, say he killed Mr. Taseer because of the governor’s opposition to the blasphemy law. But there are far too many unanswered questions: Did the suspect act alone? Why did the Punjab police assign a religious conservative to protect Mr. Taseer? News reports first said nine bullets were fired into Mr. Taseer, and hospital officials later said he was hit 24 times. Yet other members of the security detail did not shoot to stop Mr. Qadri, who surrendered with his hands up.
Pakistani authorities need to investigate thoroughly and share their full findings with the Pakistani people.
The United States and the international community must make clear their outrage over this killing. So must every Pakistani. The country’s political leaders and the Pakistani media also need to consider whether the way they have shaped the debate on the blasphemy law – some have argued that mentioning reform is blasphemy punishable by death – is further fueling conflict.
Ultimately, only Pakistanis can save their nation, and they must answer the more profound questions: Do they want a country in which Muslims and non-Muslims can peacefully co-exist? Or one in which religious zealots, espousing the most intolerant interpretation of Islam, kill anyone brave enough to defend the defenseless? That would be the true blasphemy.