By Zoha Waseem
To be honest, I had not heard much about Shahbaz Bhatti before the brutal attack on his life allegedly orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban on March 2, 2011. I guarantee many Pakistanis were not familiar with his name either. He appeared not to have the popularity and charismatic persona that Salman Taseer had built during his lifetime. To be fair, Bhatti has been acknowledged for all that shortly after succumbing to lethal bullet wounds and breathing his last.
Now, the world knows Shahbaz Bhatti, the protector of minorities; a Christian born to Jacob Bhatti; an outspoken minister who stood against blasphemy laws in Pakistan; another victim of extremism – one of many.
Pakistan’s Christian minority has dealt with its share of injustice and violence. The Gojra incident is still fresh in the minds of most Pakistanis. (In case memories are rusted, it was the day eight Christians were brutally killed in southern Punjab, and their homes torched and looted, based on rumours of alleged blasphemy of the Quran.)
It is no surprise then that minorities in Pakistan are on the run. Ahmedi families of victims of the armed attack on the Ahmedis in Lahore last year have been granted asylum by the Canadian government. Sipah-e-Sahaba and other sectarian organisations have repeatedly targeted Pakistan’s Shias. But little besides drawing room conversations and debate is pursued in response. Much was written following Taseer’s murder but eventually we moved on to fashion weeks, the world cup, political scandals and frustrated young girls ranting on about marriage proposals.
It is indeed time to reconsider our priorities. Where will blasphemy laws take us? I believed Taseer’s murder would be the exception, not the rule. But have the blasphemy laws in Pakistan involuntarily justified murder in the name of religion. And what religion? The extremists within and outside Pakistan are hell-bent on establishing their own version of Islam, their own Caliphate. Anyone deviating or differentiating to their beliefs is labelled a ‘kaafir’, or an ‘apostate’ ruler favouring ‘far enemies’ as recognised by bin Laden and Zawahiri. Anyone supporting these ‘apostate rulers’ are therefore kaafirs as well. All the truly innocent ones who die in the process – well, they’re automatically titled as ‘shaheeds’, guaranteed a place in Heaven. How convenient.
Pakistani Taliban have been preaching, practising, and portraying the most extreme picture of Islam, and especially Islam as it stands in Pakistan. Is there any end in sight or will anyone with a voice and opinion have a gun held to their throat? From an academic point of view, this does appear to be an ideological problem gripping the nation, and in such an extreme situation the ‘might is right’ debate should be reconsidered. Can military power really root out extremism in Pakistan?
Taseer and Bhatti are tragic losses for Pakistan. But will their voices be heard now that they’ve passed or will they just become another figure in history we will tend to forget over time, another name in a text book, another piece of news that fades from the first page to the last and eventually ceases to exist? There will be no other Salman Taseer or Shahbaz Bhatti because fortunately, or unfortunately, human nature can be forgiving and forgetful.
But if cynicism isn’t your forte, then pray the people of Pakistan are not further desensitised to death, destruction, bloodshed, the inhumane taking of lives, and the ‘quagmire’ gripping Pakistan. Only then can a thousand Taseers and Bhattis rise, and a thousand Qadris fall.
I recently read online that someone once asked Shahbaz Bhatti who he was. He replied simply, “I’m the shepherd of a small flock in a big farm.” With shepherds being targeted, will Pakistan’s ‘lost sheep’ find their way?
Zoha Waseem is a post-graduate from King’s College London in ‘Terrorism, Security and Society’.
The views expressed by this blogger do not necessarily reflect the views of Khudi.