By Syed Kamran Hashmi
Thousands of people thronged the streets of Karachi last week to attend the funeral of Amjad Sabri, a renowned Qawwal (devotional music singer), and the son of legendary Qawwal, Ghulam Farid Sabri, who even after his death continues to mesmerise the nation through the timeless words of Bhar Do Jhholi Meri Ya Muhammad. This is a Qawwali that even after decades fills your eyes with tears and sets your heart into a flutter.
While scrambling through the traffic between television stations, Amjad Sabri was approached by two young motorcyclists who after identifying the target shot him down, one bullet on his temple the other four on his torso, and merged into the crowd unscathed, their identities unknown.
Sabri’s murder has caused an uproar across the country; Facebook updates filled up with posts denouncing the murder; twitter accounts were packed with condemnatory notes; families shocked; friends aggrieved. Everyone seems to be angry — angry at the civilian administration led by the Pakistan People’s Party in Sindh for its sheer incompetence, and lack of will to bring order to the city; angry at the provincial police, which is either so corrupt that it works to protect criminals instead of citizens, or behaves like an organisation that provides personal bodyguard service to politicians; angry at the establishment and the Rangers for conducting a long operation with disappointing results; and angry at the inability of the intelligence agencies to infiltrate and eradicate organised crime. But whomever they are angry at, they almost always fail to include the ones who hold the greatest responsibility for the chaos: themselves. Why? Because a strong streak of fanaticism runs across every social class of Pakistanis, with its roots much deeper than what appears on the ground.
Recall: just a few months ago, a crowd smaller than that at Sabri’s funeral yet very large poured in to pray for Mumtaz Qadri, a fanatic and the murderer of Salmaan Taseer. Qadri was declared a murderer by Pakistani courts, and his appeal for mercy was turned down by the president of Pakistan. Arguably so, Qadri’s funeral, one of the largest in the country’s history, was attended by more than 100,000 people who wished to pay last “respects” to a killer-turned-hero.
In social media too, if I see 100 sad posts on losing Sabri, in March I saw 1000 fuming over the execution of Qadri calling him a martyr, declaring him a “saint,” as if the security guard had picked up a weapon to fulfill his duty instead of shooting down the very person he was sworn to protect.
Logically speaking, if we define the killing of Sabri as an act of terror, which it is, then we must also declare the assassination of the late governor as an act of terror too. If the life of the former needed to be protected from target killers and suicide bombers, then the latter held the same right to live and be safeguarded. And if the rule of law were to prevail in the country then each one of us must believe the only place one could get the death sentence was in the courts. And it was Qadri who was sentenced by a court.
To that, they say Mr Taseer criticised the blasphemy law that is sacrosanct, and cannot be amended from its current form. By challenging a man-made act he committed “blasphemy,” even though everyone knows that the former governor never said a word to disrespect the prophet. I disagree with their assertion; however, I still wish they also believed in what they claimed. If the legal system was trustworthy, they would have taken Taseer to court and proved him guilty. Why didn’t they? Instead they provoked a semi-educated, psychologically disturbed person to take the matter in his own hands. What is the legal system for? That we can discern our shortcomings, work to remove them and improve the system for everyone. And isn’t that what Taseer stood for in the first place?
If anyone does not believe in the due process of law or the judicial system, and instead of condemning the murderer of a sitting governor wants to hail him as the saviour, then there is no difference in his approach and that of a terrorist. Both of them disregard the law of the land. They may differ from outside, but for their mentality they are the same. It does not mean that each one of them is a terrorist. It means, however, that many of them can turn to terrorism if they are instigated like Qadri was. It also means that if we do not fight this mindset, we will never win the real war on terror, a war that we have lost so far.
So let us stop being a hypocrite, especially after losing thousands of Pakistanis, to have it both ways. Either scratch out every form of religious extremism from our lives — which includes ridiculing other sects or their religious heads even when we consider them imposters — or be ready to be killed by the next motorcyclist because he thinks by getting rid of us he will help his faith grow stronger.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist.