Timing Our Silence, and Choosing Our Heroes

October 27, 2011 § 2 Comments

In the simplest of terms, a hero is a person who is admired for his work or bravery. Everyone has his or her own heroes depending on what he or she believes is admirable, but of late what is worth admiration is more debatable than ever.

 Today, Pakistan’s hero is one Mumtaz Qadri. A man who murdered the former Governor of Punjab in broad daylight, and was later showered with roses for it. On some level I expected that to happen, but what I did not see coming was the reaction after the court verdict.  After Qadri had been sentenced to death there were protests and there was anger. A number of people seemed to actually unite in opposing the decision and asking for him to be released. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) has even asked for a presidential pardon, which they said was un-Islamic when the late Salmaan Taseer perused the same for Asia Bibi.

Shock and disappointment aside, I came to a sudden realization. Most of that took place to oppose Qadri’s sentence is what I dearly wished would have happened after the same penalty was announced for Asia Bibi. Sadly after she was sentenced to death there were no protests and there were no demonstrations. Instead there were assassinations and hence there was silence.

 Analyzing the reaction to the death sentences for Mumtaz Qadri and Asia Bibi can be very depressing and angering, but I believe can also teach us a lesson. For all of us who defend Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance, the Qadri supporters should be a model for us. Not a model of what to support, but in a way how to support it. After Salman Taseer’s assassination why were we all silent? Why were we not on the streets while Asia Bibi was spending over a year in jail away from her family which included her children?  After a lot of thought I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a lack of empathy, its apathy. It’s the fear of protesting against injustice and it’s also a lack of dedication to stand up for human rights.

 For research on an ethics paper I interviewed people from different backgrounds and education and went over statements from various known individuals from Pakistan regarding Salman Taseer’s assassination. Everyone had a different opinion on what Salman Taseer should have said about the blasphemy laws but the vast majority of people I spoke to were completely against his killing. I interviewed people from my extended family, people who worked for my family, our guards and drivers who were less educated and more conservative and some students from a nearby mosque. Out of nearly 35 different people, just one student from the mosque, aged mid twenties told me he thought Taseer deserved death as a punishment if he really disrespected the Holy Prophet – but he was unsure of what exactly the governor said. After I told him my interpretation of the former governor’s statements, the student thought he was harsh, but still wrongly murdered, and even said that if Asia Bibi is indeed innocent, she should be released immediately.

Every political party condemned the killing, and it was only celebrated by the Jamaat Ahle Sunnat and Taliban. Much to my surprise some of our prime time religious ‘scholars’ including Aamir Liaqat even called the killing completely against Islam, even though he was very critical of Salman Taseer. During the protests against Qadri’s sentence, calls were made for all businesses to remain closed, but hardly anyone heeded. My point is therefore, in my opinion the majority of the Pakistani people did not approve of the murder and are in favor of Qadri’s sentence, even though it may not seem like it. The reason is that the multi thousand strong support of Qadri is vocal and on the streets while we are all silent. This is because to these people he is a hero. They feel misguidedly, but genuinely proud of him, and compassionate towards him which drives them to get on the streets. That’s what I believe we are missing. If we were truly empathizing with Asia Bibi and are truly as concerned about injustices in Pakistan as we act in our literature and on our smart phones, then blogging and tweeting about it all is not enough. Asia Bibi’s case has received international attention. Various human rights group including Human Rights Watch have severely criticized the prosecution and even Pope Benedict XVI called for leniency towards her. If she is still behind bars after all this, what chances to other innocent prisoners have?

 I write about the power of the public again and again, with references of the Arab Spring and the lawyer’s movement. I say it with complete confidence when I say when you stand up for your rights and other people’s rights in numbers, you can never be denied. Today a man who murdered in cold blood another innocent man and has been sentenced to death is being defended by a former chief justice and nationwide protests, while an innocent lady accused from blasphemy with international criticism of her case is about to spend her 900th day in jail, and yet we are all silent. Every day we continue to stay silent so many more innocent people will be treated the same way, while murderers will be chosen as heroes by a much smaller group of people, and will be cheered on.

 All I ask is that in some aptitude walk the walk. I took to the uneducated people that I knew, and even my friends and extended family, videos of statements, Quranic references, and facts about the things that unfolded. A large number of Qadri’s supporters are misinformed, and just agree to what they hear. If we all do our little bit, it’s still progress towards protesting in numbers. But what I think is unacceptable is a staying silent and letting people choose whoever they want as their heroes.

“When Hitler attacked the Jews I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church — and there was nobody left to be concerned”. (As printed in The Congressional Record, October 14, 1968)

– Martin Niemoller

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