WHY would a businessman in Pakistan enter politics? So that he
has to bribe only himself. The joke would have sounded glib, coming
from Salman Taseer - a self-made millionaire who became governor of
Punjab, and was well known for his ruthless business practices.
Until, that is, Taseer made a stand that cost him his life and, in
the eyes of most liberal-thinking Westerners, gained him a kind of
Saturday Drama: Blasphemy and the Governor of Punjab
(Radio 4) was one of the finest docu-dramas I have heard for some
time: level-headed and yet bristling with righteous anger,
methodical and yet highly dramatic. Presented by Owen
Bennett-Jones, it told the story of Taseer's campaign to reform the
blasphemy laws in Pakistan, in response to the sentencing to death
of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of insulting the Prophet;
a campaign that culminated in Taseer's murder last year.
The story could have been told as a straight documentary - many
interviewees were available to give their accounts, including
Taseer's widow Aamner. On the other hand, we were never going to
hear the real voices of those government members who failed to
support Taseer; nor would we get the full impact of Taseer's urbane
wit and clubbable personality, which must have played well in some
quarters, but poorly in others.
Perhaps the dramatic element of the story released the writers
from the bind of being even-handed; for this was a story told by
Taseer's supporters, even if they were not wholehearted admirers.
It is difficult, however, to conceive of an account of this
shameful episode in Pakistani politics that could balance the sense
we got of a system riven by hypocrisy and bigotry.
The greatest villain in all of this was not the man who killed
Taseer - the security guard Mumtaz Qadri - but the broadcaster
Meher Bukhari, whose interview with Taseer on prime-time television
did much to encourage mainstream Pakistanis to turn on him.
Portrayed as a former liberal figure who was now attempting to
curry favour with Islamic hardliners, Bukhari had her most ignoble
hour after Taseer's death, when she invited viewers to phone in
about whether Qadri should be seen as a hero. Many Pakistanis
echoed the sentiment: a Facebook fan-page for Qadri received
thousands of supporters, and a statement by the Minister of the
Interior suggested that the killing of a blasphemer was the duty of
a good Muslim.
This is an ugly story, and one that is far from over. Aasia Bibi
remains in prison, as does Qadri. Both await execution.
All of this is depressing grist to the mill of Richard Dawkins
and his campaign against religious belief. Fortunately, The
Life Scientific (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) focused more
on his career as scientist than polemicist; for he is as eloquent
and inspiring as ever when talking about the very small. It is when
he talks about the very big that things go wrong: he sounds more
like a self-deluded campaigner for a fringe party, delighted by the
letters from supporters telling him that he has changed their
A fellow scientist, Robert Trivers, summed him up with witty
condescension: "A minor prophet sent from God to torture the
credulous and weak-minded - for which he has a natural gift."