Salmaan Taseer memorial attack a bellwether for the nation?

Salmaan Taseer vigil

40 suspects are being held in connection with an attack against citizens who had gathered to remember slain Governor Salmaan Taseer on Sunday. An attack against a peaceful memorial should be shocking enough in itself, but there are certain details which make the event even more disheartening.

The first thing to note is that media reports that the attackers are all ‘belonging to a banned organisation’. This shows that despite lofty rhetoric about the nation finally being united against extremism and terrorism, the fact remains that banned organisations continue to operate with little disruption. Even though arrests have been made after public outcry over the incident, police were reportedly standing aside while the attack took place. It should also be noted that media has so far protected the name of the ‘banned organisation’.

More troubling, however, are the comparative numbers. According to reports, 40 militant extremists were arrested for attacking a gathering of ‘more than 35 activists of civil society’.

The number of extremists outnumbered the number of people at the vigil.

This can be attributed to a couple of factors, but neither of them bode well for the future of the country. It could be as simple as a sign that there are more extremists than tolerant moderates in the country. I am still unwilling to believe this, however. I think what is most likely is that most moderates recognize the risks inherent to standing up for their values.

Salmaan Taseer was murdered because he dared to take a stand for protecting a poor Christian woman who he believed was unjustly accused. Fatwas were issued calling for death of Sherry Rehman. Husain Haqqani received life threats from extremist groups.  Mohammad Shakil Auj, the 54-year-old dean of Islamic Studies at the prestigious University of Karachi, was declared ‘apostate’ and murdered for being too moderate in his religious views. Militants carried out operation to kill moderate columnist and TV anchor Raza Rumi. Though he survived with his life, his driver, Mustafa was not so lucky.

Army has stepped up attacks against militant groups that attack them, and those convicted of carrying out attacks against military targets are being executed. While the military looks after its own, the rest of us are left to look after ourselves.

I continue to hold onto the belief that a moderate, tolerant, ‘silent majority’ exists in this country, but I also believe that this majority does not have the security to stand up to the extremists. My fear is that this lack of security not only weakens our ability to stand up to extremists, it weakens our will to do so. If we do not do something to change this, the majority soon may not be in our favor and extremists may outnumber us not only in the streets, but in our homes, our schools, and our institutions.

If it hasn’t happened already.

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