by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Professor, Depts. of Political Science and of International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference. Its argument is somewhat longer than the printed version, but the scaled down published version (above) is essentially the same as the original. Links to sources supporting various facts cited also are supplied below:
Little that is encouraging seems to flow from the recent events in Tucson, Arizona. Yet, when we focus less on the scary-looking killer, and more on the reactions of press, politicians, and the public , then the gory massacre growing from the attempted assassination of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords can yield guarded hope for American democracy.
In the thrall of 24/7 news coverage of the awful carnage and its aftermath, we can lose perspective. Pointedly absent have been any expressions of praise for Jared Loughner, the killer for whom the routine modifier “alleged killer” has seemed entirely misplaced. Reading blogs and news originating from the hard left to Tea Party right, I have encountered not one voice that regards Loughner’s ugly act as heroic. This is a sign of the collective health, not just of American democracy, but of American society. Clearly, a common foundation unites our otherwise highly divided public: political violence—and targeting a member of Congress is political, even if some wacky jury later declares Loughner insane— is entirely unacceptable.
If we look at things comparatively, this shining star in our corner of the world becomes brighter, and the general health of American society becomes more evident. Four days before the shootings in Tucson, there was a political assassination in Pakistan. Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, was shot dead by one of his own bodyguards. Oddly, the 26 shots he pumped into Taseer’s body moved not one of his fellow guards to try to stop the killing. As reflected through the Pakistani press, the political and societal reaction to this murder, and to this murderer, could not be more opposite from ours.
Crowds surged into the streets of Karachi, not to denounce Malik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri, the murderer, but to praise him. The sight of mobs showering thousands of rose petals onto the ground in Qadri’s honor embolded the spokesman for at least one small political party represented in their Parliament, the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sannat Pakistan, to declare that “No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salman Taseer, or even express any kind of regret for the incident.” It seems that Taseer, a moderate Muslim, had defended a Christian woman and for this was labeled a blasphemer against Islam. Qadri claimed in court that killing Taseer was his “duty” as a pious Muslim.
More ominously, the Pakistani Taliban issued a statement to the effect that anyone who mourned Taseer was themselves guilty of blasphemy against Islam. Insulting the Prophet is, under Pakistani law, a capital offense, and some in the Taliban—and others in Pakistani society, e.g. Qadri— hold that a believer need not wait for a formal court trial to carry out that death sentence on their own.
What have Pakistan’s media elites, political leaders, and religious authorities done? Well, the good news is that reactions are not uniform. Some have condemned this political violence, even as others have cheered the murderer. Most, however, have remained silent, and that silence conveys with it a sadness. Fear borne of years of too much of this sort of thing has killed in Pakistan that public space in which the possibility to genuinely discuss these arresting issues needs to exist in any democracy.
When next you hear about how dreadful things have become in America, keep this comparison in mind.
Pamela Constable, “Mumtaz Qadri pleads guilty to Pakistan slaying of Salman Taseer,” Washington Post (Jan. 11, 2011): http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/10/AR2011011002576.html
“Protests held against pope’s (sic) appeal on blasphemy laws,” Dawn (Pakistan: Jan. 13, 2011): http://www.dawn.com/2011/01/14/protests-held-against-pope%E2%80%99s-appeal-on-blasphemy-laws.html
Salman Taseer Killing Stirs Mixed Emotions,” Dawn (Pakistan: Jan. 5, 2011): http://www.dawn.com/2011/01/05/salman-taseer-killing-stirs-mixed-emotions.html
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