Happy birthday, Salmaan Taseer

By: Ayesha Tammy Haq
The Express Tribune

A person is all about memory. It’s what we are. I remember, as a child, a ditty about 10 little Indians, today the politically correct term is Native Americans, in one bed and the little one said roll over, so they all rolled over and one by one, they all fell off until there was just the little one left. It never occurred to me until recently, that in pushing everyone else off, he had managed to take all their space. And that is what is happening to us in Pakistan.

I heard and read the transcript of an interview a foreign journalist did with a former Pakistan ambassador. When asked about extremism in Pakistan and Salmaan Taseer being murdered by his own guard, the former ambassador, a man of considerable dexterity with the English language, said “You have to distinguish the killing, the assassination of one man, like Salmaan Taseer, who would stick his neck out in the cause of blasphemy and various other religious causes. I’m sorry to have to say this, he was asking for it from the extremists.”

Salmaan Taseer was a lot of things, but he was not an apologist. He stood up for the weak, the underprivileged and the ones who had been dropped off the bed and forgotten. He knew that silence was condonation and knew that he risked losing his space if he turned apologist or went silent. He knew that injustice doesn’t just go away; it’s this huge bogey you have to fight to keep away, otherwise it eats away at your world every minute that you don’t fight it.

He knew all this but it appears we do not. We shed tears, look askance and say what a terrible thing, but then these are the consequences of those actions. Of course, they are the consequences because we have allowed to them to be so. By our condonation, by our silence, by our deluded sense of self-preservation, we quietly surrender — only to delay our turn on the chopping block.

The quieter we stay, the more difficult it becomes for people to say anything. We need to lend our voices and hearts to those who still have the courage to speak. The strength is numbers line is not a cliche, it’s a reality. Speak before you are required to cut your own tongue out of your mouth. We have stopped speaking.

We think that by keeping our heads low, we will escape, we will survive the bombs. Well, we are quiet and keeping our heads low and the bombs continue. There have been dozens of cases like Aasia Bibi’s, we have stayed quiet with bowed heads but the bombs continue. The government has stayed silent, its promises to Aasia Bibi and all those who suffer injustice and persecution, are forgotten and the bombs continue. It does not call Salmaan Taseer, a shaheed or honour him in any way and the bombs continue.

Everyday so many die and we call each one of them a shaheed. His murderer is hailed as a hero. Salmaan, however, we do not hail. Out of fear we do not call him a shaheed. He was a martyr for all because he had a quality that made him human; he was not afraid.

So what if the government has taken this line. Since when have we blindly followed them like sheep? We have pushed them to listen to us in the recent past and we can push them again. The cue for courage will have to come from both of us. They are brave enough to sit in office we must be brave enough to give them a voice. Collectively we can change things. We can stop being apologists and cowards. We can get out from under our beds now.

So no. Like the child abused, raped and murdered, the little boys and girls sold into prostitution and slavery, the countless rape victims, all those murdered in the name of piety and all those who die fighting for ideals and principles, no, he wasn’t asking for it. We, on the other hand, by our silence are asking for it. Today he would have been 67-years-old but we have silenced him and with him, killed hope.

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