Thursday, 6 January 2011

RIP Salman Taseer


Death, as they say, has a strange way of defining legacy. In life, you have critics, detractors, even enemies. But in death, when introspection gradually turns emotions to rationality, you see a far clearer picture of what life represented.

Which is why who would have thought that Salmaan Taseer, until minutes before his death the flamboyant villain in the Sharifs' Punjabi fiefdom, would turn into a martyr for minority rights? Who would've thought that everyone from the United Nations to the United States would eulogize a man who until two years back was a peripheral figure in the country's political scene, to say the least?

The cause he championed is a critical one for Pakistan's future. But the failure of a cause is not the failure of a nation. Minority rights are a prickly issue anywhere in the world. Ask a Western European politician to speak out for Muslim immigrants and hear the silence. Even in the US, the bastion of religious freedom, the Ground Zero mosque was contentious for all and sundry (including the President, who backtracked from his initial support). This is a world enveloped in intolerance. Sadly, Pakistan ends up raising the bar from time to time.

That is where legacy comes in. Most politicians would shirk from such issues because they have deep political consequences. In violent countries like Pakistan, they have human consequences as well. So for those for whom the present trumps the future, it makes sense to acquiesce to the crowd. Many would even climb on their backs, against their principals, as we've seen happen recently. But where does that leave them when it is all said and done, and the historian picks up the pen to define them?

Clearly behind the tiny sliver who choose to take a stand, irrespective of the way the wind blows. These men and women risk it all not because of some innate goodness, but because they believe in a small thing such as hope. That standing up for what you believe might, just might, also be politically successful. Sadly, more than often it is not, and they pay for it with their lives.

Salmaan Taseer was never a great politician. Yet, his death has ignited a firestorm of opinion, some of it grotesque yes, but one that is also far and beyond the stature of the political role he had during his life. Only those who take a courageous stand and risk losing it all earn that king-sized legacy. When the emotion wears off, his killers will wonder how killing a man who raised a voice for an innocent woman implicated in a false case, was wajib-ul-qatal. When this intolerance consumes one of them, because it is only too long until there is difference of opinion on something, they will wonder why they unleashed this monster.

So, RIP Governor Sahab. They might curse you, celebrate your death, but they will never, ever forget you. No one will. That is the legacy men like you end up with.

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