Mumtaz Qadri: A Case of False Hero Worship

MQThat 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.

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Mullahs in Nation-Building

By and large, after the Zia-ul-Haq years, we have totally conceded the public sphere to the mullahs: you cannot think the nation without running into one or the other bizarre articulations

Image From Viewpoint Online

of the nation by one or the other mullah.

There is no doubt in my mind that when Mr. Jinnah mobilized the Muslim identity as a marker of difference from Majority Hindus, it was only a strategic assertion. The creation of a new and separate homeland for the Muslims of India, in Muslim majority areas, depended on this assertion but nowhere in Jinnah’s arguments can we find convincing proof that he had envisioned this future state to be an Islamic state. In fact, Ayesha Jalal (The Sole Spokesman) quite convincingly suggests that Jinnah would have been rather happy in a confederacy in which the Muslims were given a parity in the future national assembly.

However, it is no surprise that the very slogan that was essential to mobilize a nationalist movement has now come to haunt us: the slogan has become the truth. This articulation of the nation, in which the slogan becomes the truth, manifested itself immediately after the creation of Pakistan, Remember, we were told that Pakistan was not able to create and ratify a constitution until 1956: we were taught this in high school. But no one bothered to teach us that, besides other things, what delayed the writing and adoption of the constitution was the fight between the Islamists—who wanted a strict Islamic state—and those opposed to a purely Islamic articulation of the nation. This fight, or aporia, thus is within the very fiber of our national genealogy.

In essence what kind of nation we would be if all that the diverse groups of mullahs continue to insist on from their pulpits, through media channels, and through their published works. Here is a possible sample:
•    A nation in which women have less rights than men.
•    A nation in which non-Muslims have less rights than Muslims.
•    A nation in which feudal system can still thrive, as there are no strictures against it.
•    A nation in which justice is harsh and immediate: sometimes without due process and sometimes meted out by private individuals.

So, in its true essence, the mullahs want to abolish modernity, retrieve an eighth century politics, and then posit it as a recipe for our national future. The constitutive power of this vision, therefore, is always an idealized past upon which the present can have no bearing as the discourse of the present is not authentic enough to form a new constitutive force for the future.

In posting their views about a purely Islamist nation, the mullahs mobilize varied historical narratives without ever acknowledging that history is always inherently textual: we know of it because it has been written down. The mere acceptance of this fact allows us to imagine that if the history is a record then it must contain, unless written by a computer, the temporal, spatial and personal biases and ideologies of those who recorded it. History, therefore, is never unmotivated and if mobilized uncritically can undermine the present and seriously damage the future in the name of tradition.

By and large, after the Zia-ul-Haq years, we have totally conceded the public sphere to the mullahs: you cannot think the nation without running into one or the other bizarre articulations of the nation by one or the other mullah. Somehow, it seems, that their answer to all our problems is more religion. But more religion has not really solved any of our problems. In fact, since the foregrounding of a religious national identity we have become a more intolerant, sexist, racist, and chauvinistic society.
Of course, it is not the religion that is to be blamed for it. But the politicized and militaristic interpretations of certain aspects of religion play an important role in this. In pretty much all debates about the role of religion in the public sphere, the mullahs mobilize religion only as a system of justice. Yes, Islam has certain laws about justice, but is there no love in our religion? And if there is love, mhuhabbah, then how come it does not shine through in our public undertakings.

The recent murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are two important cases in point: both these persons were murdered by “Muslims” because they had, by opposing a destructive law, somehow, blasphemed. What kind of a civil society allows public citizens to be murdered by private citizens as an act of popular justice? And if that kind of murder is permissible, then why have the blasphemy laws? Why not just accept that people themselves have the right to judge and punish their own fellow human beings.

Sadly, the rise of private media has not, in any way, diminished the role of half-baked theories of the mullahs; the private media, in fact, have provided the mullahs with a much larger frame and enabled them to spread their vitriol to larger audiences.

There can be no short-term solution to this problem of perpetuation of hate in the name of tradition and religion. A good start would be to, at least, pass some hate-speech legislation: a law that forbids any acts of rhetorical violence against any group, individual or entity. This could at least regulate speech in the public sphere; it may not affect what the mullahs are saying in their mosques, but at least there they can be told to keep it to their own captive audiences.

On the whole, having read and followed the public debates by most of Pakistani religious leaders and scholars, I, in all due humility, can say very positively that I have found nothing in their articulations of the Pakistani nation that can create a viable, pluralistic, and compassionate nation-state for all those who call themselves Pakistanis.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online)


The War Within Islam, Pervez Hoodbhoy


A New Age Islam reader sent the following letter to the editor:

Here is a letter sent by Pakistan’s foremost progressive intellectual and physicist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy to a friend:

I am sharing with you some lines that I have just written for family and friends who are warning me:

Whatever one might think of Governor Salman Taseer‘s politics, he was killed this Wednesday for what was certainly the best act of his life: trying to save the life of an illiterate, poor, peasant Christian woman.

But rose petals are being showered upon his murderer. He is being called a ghazi, lawyers are demonstrating spontaneously for his release, clerics refused to perform his funeral rites. Most shockingly, the interior minister – his political colleague and the ultimate coward – has said that he too would kill a blasphemer with his own hands.

Pakistan once had a violent, rabidly religious lunatic fringe. This fringe has morphed into a majority. The liberals are now the fringe. We are now a nation of butchers and primitive savages. Europe’s Dark Ages have descended upon us.

Sane people are being terrified into silence. After the assassination, FM-99 (Urdu) called me for an interview. The producer tearfully told me (offline) that she couldn’t find a single religious scholar ready to condemn Taseer’s murder. She said even ordinary people like me are in short supply.

I am deeply depressed today. So depressed that I can barely type these lines.

Yesterday a TV program on blasphemy (Samaa, hosted by Asma Shirazi) was broadcast (it’ll be rebroadcast today). Asma had pleaded that I participate. So I did – knowing fully well what was up ahead.  But I could not bear to watch the broadcast and turned it off after a few minutes.

My opponents were Farid Paracha (spokesman, Jamaat-e-Islami) and Maulana Sialvi (Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi and supposed moderate). There were around 100 students in the audience, drawn from colleges across Pindi and Islamabad.

Even as the mullahs frothed and screamed around me (and at me), I managed to say the obvious: that the culture of religious extremism was resulting in a bloodbath in which the majority of victims are Muslims; that non-Muslims were fleeing Pakistan; that the self-appointed “thaikaydars” of Islam in Pakistan were deliberately ignoring the case of other Muslim countries like Indonesia which do not have the death penalty for blasphemy; that debating the details of Blasphemy Law 295-C did not constitute blasphemy; that American Muslims were very far from being the objects of persecution; that harping on drone attacks was an irrelevancy to the present discussion on blasphemy.

The response? Not a single clap for me. Thunderous applause whenever my opponents called for death for blasphemers. And loud cheers for Qadri, the murderer. When I directly addressed Sialvi and said he had Salman Taseer’s blood on his hand, he exclaimed “How I wish I did!” (kaash ke main hota!).

Islamofascism is a reality. This country is destined to drown in blood from civil war. I wish people would stop writing rubbish about Pakistan having an image problem. It’s the truth that’s really the problem.

Am I afraid? Yes, I’d be crazy not to be. And never more than at the present time. The battle for sanity has been lost. Many friends have written to me to leave Pakistan. How can I? One must keep fighting as long as possible. It is what we owe to future generations.

Warm regards,