VIEW: Blood on our hands —Saroop Ijaz - Thursday, January 06, 2011

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Cowardice is not sensitivity. Neutrality now is immoral. Bipartisanship is spinelessness. Silence is criminal. We live in a society where condemning a daylight murder of a statesman by a religious fundamentalist lunatic requires ‘caution’

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer is profoundly tragic, not only because we have lost perhaps our only brave, vocal and liberal statesman but also because it is a sad commentary on how pathetic our society has become. The media discussions immediately after the horrific attack were very cautious, the political leaders economised their words, and condemnation of the incident was often followed by carefully structured clawback comments. A few of the leaders and media anchors went so far as positing the question of whether the assassination was justified or not. All of us should be repulsed.

The great historian, Arnold Toynbee observed that “civilisations die from suicide, not by murder”. Toynbee argues that the breakdown of civilisations is not caused by loss of control over the environment, over the human environment, or attacks from the outside. Rather, civilisations commit slow painful suicides. The murder of Salmaan Taseer and the reaction to it does signify the beginning of our suicide, and our suicide will be swift.

Media personnel and politicians are ostensibly being ‘objective’ about the issue. Those who condemn the incident refuse to comment on the blasphemy law issue that provided the impetus for the barbarism, as it is a ‘sensitive’ subject. Cowardice is not sensitivity. Neutrality now is immoral. Bipartisanship is spinelessness. Silence is criminal. We live in a society where condemning a daylight murder of a statesman by a religious fundamentalist lunatic requires ‘caution’. The Great Roman Empire fell because the Romans were extremely cautious of not offending the barbarians. We do not have the luxury of a huge empire to squander over centuries; Pakistan will fall in months.

Objectivity consists mainly of balancing out and accommodating the loudest voices. If our media and leaders are really suggesting that we should be ‘neutral’ on murder, this diabolical stance surely sets a new low for cowardice for our already less than gallant media and politicians. Politicians and the media were nowhere to be found when absurd fatwas were being issued against Mr Taseer. It is ironic that the same media personnel who have no qualms over inciting murder choose to tread carefully on medieval barbarism. Our society at large has been desensitised to the point of resignation. Human rights activists-lawyers, who in the past have been very vocal on human rights issues, do not want to comment on the reasons leading up to this murder. It reminds one of Habib Jalib’s verse, “Jinn ko tha zaban pay naaz, chup hain who zaban daraz” (Those who took pride in their voice, stand silent today). Most of us stood still and watched as Salmaan Taseer fought for some semblance of humanity to remain in our midst. All of us have blood on our hands. Commenting on the Holocaust, British historian Ian Kershaw once said, “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.” The road to our destruction has already been built on bigotry and intolerance, and is now being paved with our apathy and cowardice.

The current blasphemy laws have no place in a civilised society. Let Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom be the tipping point of bringing about a new social contract in Pakistan. As Nietzsche said, it is not enough to subsist; the function of man in this world is to exist. We are too timid to exist; we choose to lumber on with our pitiful subsistence. Worst-case scenario: we lose. But we would have fought, and there is honour in that. There is no honour in servitude.

We do not have the option now of being neutral to provide us a pretext for avoiding moral considerations. This moral blindness has to end now. Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

People are either for or against murder. People are either for liberty or for tyranny. Societies either survive or perish. It is a sin of omission to objectify massacre or maybe the most extreme blasphemy. It is time to proverbially draw the line in dust and throw the gauntlet to tyranny. Take your pick and stand up to be counted. Salmaan Taseer was not very cautious; he was brave instead. He stood and died for something he believed in. What do you stand for?

My favourite Frank Sinatra song is painfully apt to Salmaan Taseer’s departure:

“For what is a man? What has he got?

If not himself — Then he has naught.

To say the things he truly feels,

And not the words of one who kneels.

The record shows I took the blows,

And did it my way.”

The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer and can be reached at

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