That we Pakistanis are always seeking larger-than-life figures to, somehow, lead us out of our mediocrity is almost a cultural truism. We have Maulvis, cricketers, businessmen, ex-generals, and now–thanks to our inner micro fascist tendencies–a murderer to give us hope of a better future.
As you might be aware, Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered Governor Salman Taseer in cold blood, the person he had taken an oath to protect, has finally been executed. Since I am generally against all kinds of corporal punishments, I am therefore not going to exult in his execution. I am, however, interested in offering a sort of sober analysis of Qadri the murderer, self-confessed, and Qadri the icon that the religious parties in Pakistan are celebrating.
The conservative and fundamentalist valorization of Qadri relies on a certain specific logic:
- Salman Taseer, according to them, had blasphemed against the Prophet.
- Taseer was thus killable.
- Mumtaz Qadri killed him
- Thus, he fulfilled his religious duty.
First and foremost, even if we were to agree with their interpretation of the Blasphemy law, which is completely against Imam Abu Hanifa’s explanation of it, Qadri himself could not have been the judge and the executioner for Taseer. If Taseer had blasphemed, he had to be dealt with the state under the blasphemy law that he had ‘dared’ to criticize. Furthermore, if we are being Islamic, he would have the right to due process and would have had the right to defend himself in the court. Now, if you disagree with his right to due process, then you are actually admitting something worse about your faith: you are suggesting that the justice system in Islam does not follow due process and is totally arbitrary. Of course, justice is not arbitrary in Islam.
Thus, Qadri’s decision to kill Taseer was not really Islamic in any sense of the Islamic justice system. It was, rather, an act of murder based on a subjective decision, a kind of subjective dispensing of justice that would never be permissible in true Islam.
Furthermore, if he did this to gain favor with the Almighty and was willing to die for his actions, then that is what he should have done. He should gone into the court and not defended himself with an army of lawyers. If he really wanted to be a”Shaeed” he should have “asked” to be executed! Isn’t that what all saints and martyrs have done historically!
But instead, his followers put the state of Pakistan and its judiciary in a precarious situation. Qadri’s lawyers appealed his death sentence at every level of the judicial system and then even sent a final request for clemency to the President! In other words, what they were asking the government to accept was that under certain circumstances private citizens can, and should be, allowed to kill other citizens! This would have been the long-term outcome if the government had acceded to the legal and moral requests to “forgive” Qadri.
So, let us assume that according to our zealous countrymen, Qadri did perform his duty and became a hero. Then why are they in the streets protesting his execution? For him to become this hero, this martyr, the execution is a necessary precondition! Without being put to death, he cannot become the kind of hero that they have made him into. In a way, then, the Pakistani government has done him a favor and facilitated his rise to sainthood!
But more important than Qadri and his followers and acolytes is the question of permissibility in our society. Do we want the public sphere governed by the rule of law, or do we want a system in which anyone can suddenly become a judge and start executing other citizens? I am pretty sure that at least Mawdudi would have absolutely disagreed with such kind of anarchic readings of the Muslim code of conduct. So, in all due humility, my hope is that our religious leaders who have made Qadri into an icon would seriously pause and ponder at what kind of a future they are imagining and perpetrating in our streets by ennobling and valorizing a murderer.