Last week Outpost had the honor of attending a memorial service
for Shahbaz Bhatti
at the Embassy of Pakistan here in Washington, D.C.. As you may recall, Bhatti -- the minorities minister in the current government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani -- was shot on his way to work in Islamabad on March 2.
This isn't the sort of thing that we'd normally report on. But these are not ordinary times for Pakistan, and Bhatti's death was not business as usual. Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, in an extraordinary eulogy
for Bhatti that went far beyond the usual diplomatic niceties, invested the occasion with an extraordinary urgency. And he was absolutely right to do. This is not just about the death of a single man. It's about the potential death of the last vestiges of liberal political culture in Pakistan -- a culture in which religious and cultural minorities can co-exist peacefully with the country's Sunni Muslim majority.
Bhatti's death is only the latest in a serious of political murders that have shaken the country to its core. Like Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor shot on January 11, Bhatti was one of the most visible opponents of Pakistan's blasphemy laws and lobbied openly to change them. Many Muslims view the laws merely as a means of defending the honor of the Prophet Muhammad, but critics note that extremists have found accusations of blasphemy to be a convenient excuse for targeting and killing their enemies -- who often happen to belong to minorities. (Bhatti himself was a Christian, the only non-Muslim in the cabinet.)
This is the background for Ambassador Haqqani's powerful remarks at the memorial service:
When Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered and we remain silent, some of us have died with him.... If we are silent, we allow evil to win. If we are not with others, what are we? It is unacceptable. It is un-Islamic. It is not what Pakistan was founded for. It is not what Pakistanis living abroad can be proud of as Pakistanis. And if I may use a term that has been abused in Pakistan -- it is blasphemy. It cannot be, should not be, and will not be the Pakistani way.
And it is for that reason that the embassy of Pakistan here in Washington, D.C. chose to stand and to have this memorial meeting: so that we will be counted among those. And my colleagues in the embassy -- from all wings of the embassy, from our accounts department to our military leaders who serve here, to the diplomats, and to the non-diplomatic staff in this embassy -- we all discussed this and it was our collective decision that we will not only pay tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti today but also to use this as an occasion to reiterate our commitment to a pluralist Pakistan, a tolerant Pakistan, a moderate Pakistan -- a Pakistan in harmony with the rest of the world....
Friends, it is incumbent upon us, both as Pakistanis and as Muslims, to not only embrace and respect all of the people of the Book -- the people of the Old Testament, the people of the Gospel -- but to honor them and protect them.
As it is written in the Holy Quran
"We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and what was given to Moses and Jesus the son of Mary and to the prophets from their Lord; we do not make any distinction between.
"He has revealed the Book with truth, verifying that which is before it, and He revealed the Torah and the Gospel, a guidance for the people."
Islam reached out and incorporated the holy texts and holy prophets of other religions into its own, and we must revive that tradition of inclusiveness. Those who would murder a Salman Taseer or a Shahbaz Bhatti deface our religion.
He concluded with this:
For the sake of Pakistan, for the sake of Islam, for the sake of humanity, and for the sake of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, Shaheed Salman Taseer, and now sadly our brother Shahbaz Bhatti, it is time for us to stand up, courageously against intolerance, against discrimination and against extremism. My friends, “If not now, when?”
We apologize to readers for not posting this earlier. But, as you can see, the ambassador's remarks remain relevant -- perhaps, if I dare say, eternally so.
-- Christian Caryl