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S Asia On Twitter, Glimpses of a Slain Pakistani Governor's War on Religious Fanatics

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    On Twitter, Glimpses of a Slain Pakistani Governor’s War on Religious ‘Fanatics’


    Updated | 1:32 p.m. As my colleagues Salman Masood and Carlotta Gall report, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was shot and killed by one of his guards on Tuesday.

    Mr. Taseer had recently waged a very public campaign to save the life of a Christian woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law and his assassin was reportedly angered by the governor’s outspoken support for changing that law, despite the objections of Islamist leaders.

    Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, told reporters: “The police guard who killed him says he did this because Mr. Taseer recently defended the proposed amendments to the blasphemy law. This is what he told the police after surrendering himself.”

    Through his frequently updated Twitter feed, Mr. Taseer was a tireless combatant in Pakistan’s online culture war, between secular liberals and religious conservatives, and his death was both mourned and celebrated on blogs and social networks.

    In an emotional post on the blog Pak Tea House, Yasser Latif Hamdani, a Lahore lawyer, wrote:

    The *******s have murdered the one honest man in the whole shameful lot of bigots, fascists and idiots… Today is a most tragic day for Pakistan, for sanity and for humanity. Salman Taseer was MURDERED by religio-fascists.

    Mr. Hamdani added that the governor’s killing had laid bare “the whirlpool of religious violence and extremism we are stuck in.”

    From the other side of the political spectrum, a Facebook page was set up to praise the gunman and drew more than 2,500 fans in a matter of hours, as David Kenner reports on Foreign Policy’s Passport blog.

    Jahanzaib Haque, a Web editor for Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper, wrote on Twitter: “We have 50% comments coming in praising the guard… busy deleting them… I feel sick.”

    As the BBC journalist Mishal Husain noted soon after Mr. Taseer’s death, readers unfamiliar with the governor’s willingness to take on what he called Pakistan’s “religious right” can scroll back through his recent updates on Twitter to get a sense of the man.

    Three days ago, for instance, after street protests against proposed changes to the blasphemy law, Mr. Taseer pronounced himself:

    Unimpressed by mullah rightest madrassa demo yesterday: small numbers abusive well organised no general public support

    In an update posted on New Year’s Eve, Mr. Taseer declared that even though he was “under huge pressure” from the right to stop pushing for changes to the blasphemy law, he had no intention of doing so. “Even,” he added, “if I’m the last man standing.”

    In a recent update on Twitter, Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, refused to back down from his support for changing the country’s blasphemy law. In a recent update on Twitter, Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, refused to back down from his support for changing the country’s blasphemy law.

    A few days earlier, referring to messages from other users of the social network calling for his death, Mr. Taseer suggested that they should be filed under: “Example of a sick mind.”

    On Christmas Day he wrote:

    Merry Xmas to all Christian brothers and sisters all over Pakistan. We respect ur patriotism & great role u have played building Pakistan.

    The evening before, he seconded the observation of another Twitter user who wrote, “we live in a country where [the] mullah brigade can get away with murder but minorities are persecuted on frivolous charges.” Mr. Taseer added:

    My observation on minorities: A man/nation is judged by how they support those weaker than them not how they lean on those stronger.

    Covered in the righteous cloak of religion and even a puny dwarf imagines himself a monster. Important to face. And call their bluff.

    In other notes posted in the weeks before his death, Mr. Taseer compared the struggle over the blasphemy law in Pakistan with the struggle “against extremists” by people “like Rosa Parks,” called a conservative media tycoon a “psychotic nut,” and attacked Islamist clerics who support suicide bombing. In the clipped slang of Twitter, Mr. Taseer wrote to the clerics running religious schools, or madrassas:

    My advice 2 mullahs who r telling little madrassah boys that they have a ticket 2 heaven: Grab it urself or give it 2 ur son.

    Mr. Taseer also used Twitter to alert his followers to remarks he made about the Islamist “lunatic fringe” in an interview with Pakistan’s Newsline on Dec. 23, in which he said that the country’s blasphemy law “is a man-made law, not a God-made one.”

    In the same interview, Mr. Taseer explained that he had taken up the case of the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy because “this is a blatant violation against a member of a minority community. I, like a lot of right-minded people, was outraged.” He added: “The real problem is that the government is not prepared to face religious fanaticism head on. This also gives us a bad name in the world.”

    Mr. Taseer’s feed was not exclusively devoted to tweaking Islamists, though. He also used it to joke about cricket (by suggesting that Pakistan’s successful blind cricket team might be cheating), to poke at his Indian followers and India’s prime minister and even to make light of the strain placed on diplomatic relations by the leaked U.S. cables. The week the first cables were published he wrote:

    Having a small dinner tonight 4 new U.S. Ambassador Cameron Muenter & Marlyn his wife. Try not 2 discuss Wikileaks.

    Just three days before his death, Mr. Taseer explained his stand against the death penalty for the Christian woman and brushed off concerns about his security during a televised meeting with a group of students in Lahore:

    See video

    YouTube - Salmaan Taseer's last interview

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