VIEW: Salmaan Taseer: a rock in the face of fanaticism —Amjad Ayub Mirza - Saturday, February 05, 2011

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It is the duty of parliament to remove any laws, constitutional amendments and presidential decrees that were made during General Ziaul Haq’s military regime, which promote or encourage religious intolerance and violence

During the 1930s, an English woman named Cristobel undertook a journey to the Indian subcontinent and joined the Indian independence movement. In Simla she married Dr Muhammad Din Taseer. At the time of the British Raj, for a woman of English descent to marry a native, adopt the name Bilqis Taseer and embrace Islam was not a trivial matter and required extraordinary courage and commitment. After partition, they both chose to make Pakistan their home. Salmaan Taseer was born from this wedlock.

A son of such a brave woman, Shaheed Salmaan Taseer was a true Muslim who followed the teachings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and gave his life protecting the rights of minorities living in a Muslim-dominated country. Taseer was the nephew of the poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and his English wife, Ayls Faiz who embraced Islam and who, like her sister Cristobel, made Pakistan her home.

The tragic murder of Salmaan Taseer is a direct result of the culmination of years of tedious efforts by those who, in order to legitimise their unjust rule over Pakistan, have pursued an internal as well as a foreign policy that promotes sectarian hate, religious intolerance and theocratic barbarism and nurtures visceral anti-Indian public sentiment.

The roots of this politics of hate lies in the history of united India, which was ruled as part of a larger British Empire. The British cunningly pursued a policy of divide and rule and this division was not just the division of Indian society into nambardars (village headmen) and jagirdars (landlords) and peasants and serfs, but a division also on religious grounds so that any chance of unity among the broader masses of united India became minimal.

As the movement for independence gathered pace, it became apparent that the Muslims of Northern India had chosen to follow Mohammad Ali Jinnah and to establish Pakistan. At every stage the vestiges of the British Empire manipulated the process of partition in order to leave the Indian subcontinent in a permanent state of antagonism and mistrust. Kashmir was to become the focus of deadly animosity between the two new independent states, making them dependent on the British to resolve the pending issues of partition.

It is against this backdrop that the new ruling classes of Pakistan; the feudal class, the generals and the religious far-right have formed an unholy alliance in order to rule the people of Pakistan. And it was against this ruling nexus that Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto raised the banner of revolution upholding the very secular ideology that was the centrepiece of Jinnah’s political philosophy. Salmaan Taseer Shaheed was one of many hundreds of thousands who became a true follower of Mr Bhutto and later of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. Mr Taseer gave his life for the ideals in which he believed, serving his party and his country.

It is the duty of parliament to remove any laws, constitutional amendments and presidential decrees that were made during General Ziaul Haq’s military regime, which promote or encourage religious intolerance and violence. Before we see the dawn of a tolerant society and the birth of a nation that puts reason before fanaticism we need to take some steps that could help create a different mindset from the one that has prevailed as a consequence of the political counterrevolution unleashed in the name of Islam by the officials of unfettered capitalism.

One such practical step would be to remove all religious iconography from academic textbooks from nursery to university level. Second, in order to improve the understanding of other religions prevailing in Pakistan, it would be wise to replace Islamic Studies as a compulsory subject in educational institutions with Religious Studies. Islamic Studies should be made available as an optional subject for those who wish to explore Islam.

Third, in order to reduce the power of religious seminaries, the state could provide a sanctuary for children from poor backgrounds. Incentives such as soft loans should be launched via the private sector along with the establishment of new schools that teach a regular national curriculum. All madrassas should be regulated and vocational training must be made a compulsory part of their graduation program. This will help create a new generation of skilled labour.

These are difficult measures but they are the ones that will define our nation as one that upholds reason. As opposed to one that succumbs in the face of systemic fanaticism. The former choice will act like oxygen while the latter will kill our will and courage to challenge what is morally, ethically and in the final analysis, economically and politically wrong. The greatness of Salmaan Taseer’s death lies in the fact that he stood like a rock in the face of the juggernaut of fanaticism. He is the first martyr for the struggle to regain Pakistan from the clutches of those who have distorted the vision of the Quaid-e-Azam of a secular Pakistan where no one will be persecuted for their beliefs.

This year, as we celebrate the birth centenary of Faiz, Salmaan Taseer will be remembered at every event that will be held to commemorate the shahadat (martyrdom) of this courageous and larger-than-life personality.

The writer is a freelancer based in London. He can be reached at

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