The country of Pakistan has been a hotbed of extremist terrorism in the past decade as major terrorist organizations like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have hid and operated there. As evidenced by the heartbreaking attack on Lahore this week, which killed 69 people and wounded 341, its civilians have suffered inexplicably because of this radical terrorism. As civilians are suffering amidst an attack too horrible to contemplate, religious extremists are openly conducting sermons and promoting blasphemy laws which have been known to discriminate widely against the religious minorities in Pakistan. More alarming is the fact that these hard line Islamists and religious parties are having an influence in the public that is unprecedented.
Even as the bombing in Lahore claimed lives of so many people, about 2000 people are outside the parliament in the capital of Islamabad protesting against the government and expressing support for Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a former police guard who killed the governor of the Punjab Province home to the city of Lahore – Salmaan Taseer. Governor Taseer had called for change in the country’s blasphemy laws while defending a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi who was sentenced to death following an allegation that she insulted Prophet Muhammad, which she denied. Governor Taseer called for a change in the country’s blasphemy laws saying that they were used to persecute the religious minorities and appealed for a reevaluation of Asia’s death sentence. Few days after his statement and myriad of condemnations later, he was shot by his bodyguard. Five years later, on February 29, 2016 after much controversy, Qadri was executed by the state of Pakistan. An estimated 100,000 people showed up to say farewell to Qadri on his funeral. As Aatish Taseer, son of Salman Taseer puts it, “It was among the biggest funerals in Pakistan’s history, alongside those of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of the nation, and Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, who was assassinated in 2007. But this was no state funeral; it was spontaneous.” And now two thousand people are outside the parliament in active protest to name a murderer a martyr, while many clerics and sermon preachers edge them on and many more support them from their homes.
The leaders of the protest have recently entered into a negotiation with the government and their demands included “declaring Mr. Qadri an official martyr, imposition of Sharia law in Pakistan and immediate execution of all those convicted of blasphemy.” It is alarming to see so many people being swayed into the ideology of hate even as their countrymen suffer from the devastating consequences of extremism that this hate eventually breeds. Aatish Taseer describes the situation perfectly as he says, “As pictures emerged of the sea of humanity that coalesced around the white ambulance strewn with red rose petals that carried Mr. Qadri’s body, a few thoughts occurred to me: Was this the first funeral on this scale ever given to a convicted murderer? Did the men who took to the street in such great numbers come out of their hatred of my father or their love of his killer? They hardly knew Mr. Qadri. The only thing he had done in all his life, as far as they knew, was kill my father. Before that he was anonymous; after that he was in jail. Was this the first time that mourners had assembled on this scale not out of love but out of hate?” A fear of “Western or liberal ideas” has been ingrained so deep and preached so frequently, that people are being swept by this tide into hate, which is saddening and alarming.