Over the past 30 years, under Pakistan’s laws criminalizing blasphemy against Islam, hundreds of Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, Sikhs, and unorthodox and reformist Muslims have been tried and imprisoned by the state or killed by extremists. But even against this brutal background, the blasphemy-triggered January 4 assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer by one of his elite security detail may prove a defining moment.
Taseer was head of Pakistan’s most populous and prosperous state and a close friend of President Zardari. Most pertinent, he was a voice of Muslim moderation, arguably the most powerful one in the nation, who worked for a free society and defended the rights of non-Muslims and dissident Muslims. He had recently publicly supported a pardon for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five sentenced to death for blasphemy, and the repeal of the blasphemy laws themselves. In the closed circle of radical discourse, because he criticized those laws, he was himself labeled a blasphemer and killed.
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