An Open Letter To Marvi Sirmed

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Respected Ms. Marvi Sirmed,

Let me start this letter by applauding your courage to stand up and defend your beliefs in the face of bullying bigots pervading the talk show scene of Pakistani television channels and discussing issues of importance that are often swept under the carpet, the pretext being issues such as nudity, gay rights and secularism being irrelevant to a country where people are struggling to survive on the daily basis or them being Western imports. How very convenient, is it not,to denounce the logical extensions leading from our cherished deals of humanity and democracy, albeit unacceptble to guardians of honor and shame, under the subterfuge of real politik and realistic grounds.

But what is repugnant is not how guardians of tradition and self proclaimed saviors of faith have no sense of a reasonable dialogue but the way they have taken to pose threats to lives of Pakistani journalists. It is preposterous that certain people should be condemned to death for voicing their peaceful protests in favor of need for reason, sanity and humanity to prevail in a country where ‘holier than thou’ mentality has seeped in,while certain others share fair amount of on air time to spew hatred against religious and sexual minorities, wihout being held accountble for the damage their hate filled speeches might do to members of the concerned communities being targeted. It becomes all the more of a worrying factor in a ‘post-Salmaan Taseer’ Pakistan where everyone of us deems it his responsibility to save Islamic order from alleged youth corrupting western intoxicated agents on the pay rolls of foreign governments and agencies, the allegations being mere delusional with out evidence, of course.

But you are not alone Ms. Sirmed. Given the fact that Pakistan rates as the worst country for journalists, I’d say you, along with Mr.Hamid Mir and Mr.Najam Sethi, are in a good company(in fact Mr. Sethi’s recent discussion of threats from state and non-state actors was alaming). However the fact remains that this nation can not afford to lose yet another Saleem Shehzad.

We have sacrificed far too many lives for a ‘free’ Pakistan to end up as a sham democracy where, as you stated in your note on Let Us Build Pakistan blog, instead of taking any action to protect you, an eminent Punjabi politician calls up your father and informs the old man how a militant group has decided to ‘eliminate’ you. So much for democracy.

Pakistani Journalist and Human Rights Activist, Marvi Sirmed

What is outrageous is the way your family is having to deal with the situation. Being stopped by self righteous individuals on streets to be told how one ought to be ashamed of raising a daughter who defends immorality is enough to put one under extreme mental duress. Even more so for a man of seventy. How can one blame your family for publicly disowning you, no matter how heart wrenching it was.

I can relate to your concerns for your family. Often there are times when I think twice before voicing my opinion, my birth right to protest against what I deem unjust. Not because I am concerned about my well being for the day I chose to take a firm stance, I picked up the other end of the stick as well, knowing full well the repercussions of honesty in a country like Pakistan.

But Ms.Sirmed this is not only about you, Mr. Sethi or Mr. Mir. It is about the basic freedom of free expression no matter how much we disagree with one another. About facing the discriminatory world and defending what is just and humane. About fighting ‘hate speech’, which our ‘free’ media and nascent democracy has still not been able to demarcate from ‘freedom of expression’. About the troubles that we have to face, that we must ensure are not there for our children so that they can reach their optimum potential and work for the betterment of the world instead of trying to figure out the next best survival tactic. It is against the message of the moral police, the ghairat brigade,if you may, to the youth of Pakistan. A message of subjugation, hate and fear. And thus the need to take a stand.

Might seem like rants of a brainwashed tweeter who wouldn't do anything expect rant. But the fact that 29 journalists have been killed in last 5 years in relation to their work, might make you think otherwise

 Let me clearly state that I have disagreements with you. And you may not subscribe to my opinions, ideals and thoughts. But that is the beauty of democratic ideals. We all hold some small part of the objective reality and it is only through reason and dialogues and constructive criticisms that at the end of the day we may still be having a peripheral vision of truth, goodness and reality, but we are still somewhat more closer to them than before.

 But alas, how difficult it is to explain it to the defenders of faithful bigotry. You are right to argue that these hooligans know nothing of the humane underlying principles of Islam, and in fact of any religion in the world. For understanding the verses they so often quote in the socio-historical context would be a direct blow to their political ambitions and power dominations. It is to save Pakistan from such sub-humans that we must continue speaking for what is humane, regardless of our differences.

It is a fight not only for Pakistani Liberals but every sane Pakistani out there whether conservative or secularist as the threat looms over the head of us all by letting militant organizations and terrorist student wings of political parties operate effectively while the politicians pander to the voters on the ‘democracy is the best revenge’ and anti corruption slogans and the religious ulema decry the discrimination faced b Muslims by being tagged as terrorists who can not be integrated into open and democratic non-Muslim societies, arguing for the compatibility of Islam and democratic principles.

Leave the utter idiocy reeking off the comments, there should be a prized challenge for NOT laughing at the English used (if you call THAT English!)

Why should  Muslims , and this case Pakistani ones, not be tagged as terrorists and religiously motivated self righteous thugs, Ms.Sirmed, if it is them posing death threats with the most spiteful and vilest language one could imagine to anyone breaking the spell of bad traditions and misuse of religion’s name and rule f the deep state? Is it not the Muslim world which is boiling with anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and racism? Of course this is not a letter in defense of the likes of Pamela Gellar whose bread and butter depends on spewing hate against and fears of Muslims. But these are some thoughts worth pondering over. If Muslims, in general, and Pakistanis, in particular, all over the world wish to change the perception regarding their communities, they must speak out and walk the walk, instead of empty talks, including the so called ‘moderate’ elements within the societies. No 21st century open, humane and democratic state ought to allow violation of its citizen’s rights to life, security, free expression et al.

Best regards,

Usmann Rana

 

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Shame, Honour – and the Fig-Leaf

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Veena Malik's Controversial For Him Magazine (FHM) Cover.

(This article was first published in The Review of the newspaper Pakistan Today. An online alternative version can be found here)

 

Veena Malik’s nude photo shoot for Indian edition of FHM men’s magazine has raised quite a hue and cry in her homeland ,Pakistan, – incidentally, a country ranking third on the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s most dangerous countries for women to live in.Malik denies posing nude for the magazine and has sued FHM which insists the photgraphs are real and has in retaliation sued her with a hefty amount of 250 Million Indian Rupees. In another part of the world, Alya Almahdy, an Egyptian blogger in the midst of the ongoing revolution posts photographs of herself online, clad in nothing but boots. Even the Egyptian Left is quick to wash their hands off her for fear of falling out of favor in the first democratic elections after a four decade dictatorship.

Though the contexts are wholly separate,Malik and Almahdy bring to the fore the issue of nudity, a serious taboo for majority of the world, especially in third world Islamic countries such as Pakistan or Egypt.

It is not the first time that conservatives have whipped themselves into frenzy over the issue of nudity. Take the case of American Robert Mapplethorpe’s nude art which still remains a controversial topic to date. While the supporters of the exhibition entitled Robert Mapplethorpe : The Perfect Moment saw the homoerotic and sado-masochistic nude photographs as a sign of artistic excellence, the opposition saw it as a blatant and obscene display of immorality.

For Almahdy her nude photographs were a means to struggle against a misogynistic society. For Mapplethorpe, it was the aesthetic beauty of the nude human form which inspired his art. And for Malik, and FHM, it was an easy road to big bucks,

But what is so inherently wrong with nudity that it should cause such blanket denunciation? After all, if everyone’s consent is involved and the photos are not shoved in to the faces if tge Puritan-minded, what’s the big problem? The sanctimonious outcry about how it is against the honor of women and is an immoral act is precisely what  Alya Almhady is fighting against – the notion of shame/honor that our society so cherishes which has long denied women sexual autonomy , turning them into caged virgins. Ironically, this line of argument is not only used by conservatives and the right wingers, but also certain factions of feminists who believe that nudity results in the objectification of the female body.

The argument goes thus: women flaunting their bodies and sexuality leads to vulgar and cheap objectification of women. Firstly, does this mean I, a man, have the permission to pose nude for Playgirl magazine’s next cover? Why was there no brouhaha over tge nude shots of Antonio Banderas  for Playgirl magazine? What about the nude photos of male subjects?  Or the alpha male projection of male heroes in Hollywood? Does that not objectify men in a certain manner? How many of us are Hugh Jackman?

The word ‘vulgar’ has an overtly value judgment attached to it and morality, as long as it does not harm someone, is subjective. If you deem Veena Malik’s bare shoot immoral and unacceptable, don’t buy the magazine or look it up on a website.

Then there are some feminists who argue that nudity leads to the commodification of the female body for the capitalistic ends.On the flipside, there are those who believe that burqa is a form of objectification. What am I getting at? The argument of objectification can very well be used afaubsr the guardians of tradition and female honor themselves, keeping in mind how socially constructed  sense of propriety, femininity and honor is forced on women to suppress their natural sexuality.

Then there is the other equally significant argument that people like Malik and Almahdy do not represent Pakistan and Egypt. For the starters, they are not Cultural Ministers of their countries. Yes, to a certain extent they do have certain obligations under the silent contract with the society. But does that mean they have to compromise on their art or intellect?

Who represents Pakistan? That is the question troubling the country, with or without Veena Malik. But the fact is Malik is very much a product of this society and so another representative of it. She maybe a reaction to Pakistan and its conservative values as am I, someone who has been tagged ‘Liberal Fascist’ for merely challenging orthodoxy, sexism and homophobia. In all honesty, a nation known for being a safe haven for terrorists all over the world ,and with Munawar Hasan, Zaid Hamid and Ibtisam ilahi Zhaeer purporting to represent our society, Pakistan has little to fret over as to how Malik’s nude, real or morphed, photos are a concern for national pride and proper representation of Pakistan. As Nosheen Iqbal’s Guardian article put it : “The fuss over Veena Malik’s ‘nude’ FHM over is Pakistan’s real shame”. She goes on in the article to point out quite rightly , “A flash of skin causing more frenzied controversy than jihadists posting beheading videos online.That, by a long measure, has to  be the real national shame”.

Independence Introspections

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(This article was written for the 64th birthday of Pakistan and was originally published here, on Let Us Build Pakistan)

Aasiya Bibi, One of The Many Victims of Blasphemy Law's Misuse

 

Whereas Pakistani society, including the Ulema, have largely looked at third gender community with sympathy, and pity, believing their plight to be ordained by Allah, Ibtisam in his Friday khutba, reproached the Supreme Court’s recent measures to have a third box on the NIC cards for eunuchs. According to him then even those naturally born in the condition of being third gendered ought not to be seen as humans. This would come as a surprise to even the bearded class.

 

Let me give you a cursory look over the views, verified via his facebook page he personally responds to, held and propagated by Ibtisam. He states that in order to overcome moral/sexual corruption we must promote polygamy, marriage in early years (which to me sounds encouraging child marriage), segregation of sexes in schools and functions, and avoiding music/dance. Why is it assumed by morally self righteous beards that a woman and man just wouldn’t be able to control their lust if they were to sit together alone and unsupervised? Music and dance can be used for constructive purposes as well. Music has proven its scientific benefits. Dance traditions such as Kathakali are expressive and an art form of storytelling. In a second we are advised to leave our ingenuous cultural values of centuries for those of another land and time. To 21st century’s problems our esteemed Ulema still have solutions of 7thcentury.

 

“Allama” Ibtisam also informs us that certain people are out to do propaganda against Ulema (religious scholars). Are you telling us that like six year old Talha, raped by his Quran teacher and found bloody in the corridors of the mosque in 2004, various victims of pedophilia at the hands of their Quran teachers are doing propaganda? The hate filled speeches are for everyone to see on youtube. What “propaganda” do these people talk of then?

 

In his Friday lecture Ibtisam reproached Nawaz Sharif and President Zardari for keeping silence over the killing of, in his words, “Shaykh” Osama Bin Laden. Why so much fuss over how West misunderstands majority of Muslims being terrorists when we have Ibtisam and others who not only use praiseworthy words for the very man responsible for the havoc created against Muslims but also cry crocodile tears  while performing his funeral rites while purporting to represent Muslim Ummah?

 

In their dream to Arabize Pakistan, the caliphate dreamers are now waging a war not only on liberal values but the local and more tolerant brand of Islam, seeking homogeneity in Islamic thought and practice. Let me be very clear, Wahabbism is not our ideology. Sufism is. And it is a liberal and inclusive tradition of Islam. Instead of telling us to get visas of European countries, it is those feeding off petro-dollars who are anything but representatives of what Pakistan used to be, a modern Muslim state.

 

Allama of the 21st Century – Ibtisam Ilahi Zaheer – by Usmann Rana

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(This article first appeared at Let us Build Pakistan and can alternatively be found here

The Allama used the platform of a Friday sermon to incite hatred against Marvi Sirmed and Mohsin Sayeed

Capitalizing on the US embassy holding pride event and the ensuing fiasco, Aaj television tabled a debate on LGBT people with a panel consisting of Islamabad based journalist Marvi Sirmed and fashion journalist Mohsin Sayeed along with the media’s current favorite, Islamist “scholar” Ibtisam Elahi Zaheer. For those unable to recall who he is, Ibtisam is the same man on tv shows famous for bullying his way through debates and speaking at a speed which makes it hard to comprehend his words. The speech can be heard by clicking on this link.

Not satisfied with his performance on air, on 8th July 2011 he then decided to preach a Friday khutba (religious lecture) at his mosque. While not naming them he clearly pointed towards Marvi and Mohsin when he denounced Marvi as a gandi aurat ( filthy woman) and Mohsin as ganda mard (filthy man). But they were not alone in his blacklist. He made it a point to humiliate President Zardariand and Supreme court with derogatory remarks. But this is not the first time he used a mosque to spew hatred. It is amazing how Ibtisam Ilahi Zaheer’s impersonated and spiteful religious khutbas promoting religious bigotry not only are not condemned by the moderates but that he is invited to spew hatred on air by the “free” media.

Ibtisam not only refused to acknowledge homosexuals but also labeled them as worst than dogs. But why, one is tempted to ask? Because some drag queens make these heterosexual men insecure about their own masculinity? Why does it bother them so much that two women can happily enjoy their bodies without the need of a phallus? He encourages capital punishment against homosexuals. If we were to behead or kill people committing homosexuality and adultery in Pakistan more than half of the Pakistani men would be in skies above by now. And that would include many of the homosexuality condemning pedophile Mullahs. For those who, like Ibtisam, believe that Homosexuality is a western import and an effort to demoralize our society, let me recommend a really good article by Hashim Bin Rashid enumerating homoerotic relations in the Muslim history. These people cite religious orthodoxy but refuse to and are unable to talk from a scientific and rationalist perspective.

Whereas Pakistani society, including the Ulema, have largely looked at third gender community with sympathy, and pity, believing their plight to be ordained by Allah, Ibtisam in his Friday khutba, reproached the Supreme Court’s recent measures to have a third box on the NIC cards for eunuchs. According to him then even those naturally born in the condition of being third gendered ought not to be seen as humans. This would come as a surprise to even the bearded class.

Let me give you a cursory look over the views, verified via his facebook page he personally responds to, held and propagated by Ibtisam. He states that in order to overcome moral/sexual corruption we must promote polygamy, marriage in early years (which to me sounds encouraging child marriage), segregation of sexes in schools and functions, and avoiding music/dance. Why is it assumed by morally self righteous beards that a woman and man just wouldn’t be able to control their lust if they were to sit together alone and unsupervised? Music and dance can be used for constructive purposes as well. Music has proven its scientific benefits. Dance traditions such as Kathakali are expressive and an art form of storytelling. In a second we are advised to leave our ingenuous cultural values of centuries for those of another land and time. To 21st century’s problems our esteemed Ulema still have solutions of 7thcentury.

“Allama” Ibtisam also informs us that certain people are out to do propaganda against Ulema (religious scholars). Are you telling us that like six year old Talha, raped by his Quran teacher and found bloody in the corridors of the mosque in 2004, various victims of pedophilia at the hands of their Quran teachers are doing propaganda? The hate filled speeches are for everyone to see on youtube. What “propaganda” do these people talk of then?

In his Friday lecture Ibtisam reproached Nawaz Sharif and President Zardari for keeping silence over the killing of, in his words, “Shaykh” Osama Bin Laden. Why so much fuss over how West misunderstands majority of Muslims being terrorists when we have Ibtisam and others who not only use praiseworthy words for the very man responsible for the havoc created against Muslims but also cry crocodile tears  while performing his funeral rites while purporting to represent Muslim Ummah?

In their dream to Arabize Pakistan, the caliphate dreamers are now waging a war not only on liberal values but the local and more tolerant brand of Islam, seeking homogeneity in Islamic thought and practice. Let me be very clear, Wahabbism is not our ideology. Sufism is. And it is a liberal and inclusive tradition of Islam. Instead of telling us to get visas of European countries, it is those feeding off petro-dollars who are anything but representatives of what Pakistan used to be, a modern Muslim state.

If people like “Allama” Ibtisam Elahi Zaheer are to represent the 21st century Muslims, why is Muslim world clamoring about all the hatred against Muslims and Islam? Why do people living in Muslim part of the world assume that hate speech would and should be greeted with more lenient immigration policies and donations for flood victims? Where arethe so called liberal and “moderate” Muslims? One should be allowed to criticize state institutions like courts, but if people are going to hurl foul words at Supreme court what respect is left of the judiciary Pakistan’s Lawyers’ Movement fought for? There must be free speech. But Pakistani society seriously needs to demarcate between free speech and hate speech and latter ought to not only be condemned by also worked against.

Providing space for rival opinions is good enough but there ought to be no space for hate speech. Pakistani media more than ever needs to demarcate between free speech and hate speech, for its conduct clearly shows its lack of knowledge of fine line between the two.

In order to break the backbone of  hate mongers like Ibtisam and others one of the major step would to be to confront big daddies in Saudi Arabia who are funding  madrassahs. If Pakistan is to be saved, it must be saved, not from LGBT peoples or Liberals but the corrupt politicians, unchecked military and paramilitary and of course the Salafi/Jihadi ideology.

The Jamat-e-Islami And Rape

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(This piece was first published at Tribune Blog and can be found here)

A viral video of Ameer Jamat-e-Islami (JI) Munawwar Hassan defending the silence over the rape of women and condoning imprisonment of female rape victims if they fail to produce four male witnesses in accordance with the Hudood Ordinance, has deeply outraged many sane people in Pakistan.

According to Hassan, if a woman cannot produce four male witnesses present at the time of her rape, she be imprisoned based on Hudood Ordinance and Shariah Law. This, he claims is in the best interest of women who are raped so if she fails to produce the witnesses she ought to refrain from filing an FIR altogether.

According to Hassan, somehow, it is in the best interest of the society for a woman to stay silent after being raped, while the perpetrator roams free.

I can’t help wonder if the leader would preach silence if a member of his family was attacked.

In the video, the Ameer inexplicably labels the Women’s Protection Bill as an effort to spread “vulgarity, nudity and shamelessness” in Pakistan, while demanding the seemingly intimidated anchor quote verses from the Holy Quran, who eventually has to descend into a monologue to prove his own Islamic credentials before being able to propose an argument to defend raped women. Interestingly, the Ameer himself fails to present any Quranic verse or Hadith to back his views.

The repugnant manner in which the host of the talk show is dismissed, and labeled an infidel for challenging the Holy Quran and Hadith, is a classic example of moral policing by self righteous Muslims in the country, who are masters at evading rationality.

I sincerely hope these morally, self righteous people read Maheen Usmani’s piece titled ‘Why the deafening silence after rape’ which cites horrific facts about rape in Pakistan including “Situation of Violence against Women in Pakistan 2010” by Aurat Foundation, according to which  a total of 4,069 cases occurred in Pakistan last year.

Every two hours, a woman is raped in Pakistan and every eight hours, gang raped. And after all this, we are confronted with the reality that in this land, where the taste of justice for many is nothing but bland and vapid, 70 per cent of the crimes against women go unreported.

But how silly of those supporting the Women’s Protection Bill to seek greater freedom and protection of women in a society suffering froman obsessive compulsive disorder regarding female sexuality, and the shame/honour dichotomy. The last thing then this country needs is rights for some 51 per cent of population.

We couldn’t give justice to Mukhtaran Mai and we haven’t spoken up eagerly on the media about justice for the courageous Kainat Soomro. And now, we slap inhumanity across their faces as well as thousands of others who couldn’t dare speak up about their plight. Perhaps it is inane in itself to expect justice for raped victims of Pakistan, a place where mothers are paraded naked for the crimes of their sons, or where many would tell you that the fault lies with women who provoke men into raping them.

Who are we expecting to speak up on the violation of a woman’s freedoms and rights?

I guess that only counts when the daughter of Pakistan, Afia Siddiqui is convicted.

This makes me ask:

What about the daughters back home?

Do these daughters not deserve justice and protection of their human dignity?

More than ever, there is need for action. We need more than just Facebook statuses condemning the barbaric judgments or there would be nothing to stop these long bearded caliphate dreaming morally self righteous ones from getting their way. Without confronting Munawwar Hassan and company, there is little hope for winning the war against fundamentalists.

The war, as we should have understood long ago, is not about bombs as much as mindsets, and that is certainly where billions of wasted dollars should have gone! It should have been fought in schools and madrassas, mosques and parliament.

There is nothing but pity for a society which can’t respect the very womb that gave birth to it. A two rupee roti might help us survive day after day, and the Lawyers Movement may restore the judges, but what can save a community from turning sub human and bestial that has not been taught the value of basic and incontrovertible freedoms and values.

Pakistan’s Atticus Finch : Salman Taseer

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(This piece first appeared at Secular Pakistan blog right after the assassination of Former Governor Salmaan Taseer. The link can be found here)

 

 

In Harper Lee’s much celebrated novel ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’ , my favorite character is not that of the children but of  their father, Atticus. Atticus Finch, the brutally honest, highly moral, an extremely opinionated tireless crusader for good causes (even hopeless ones).

Today I can say that at least a fragment, if not whole, of my fictional hero Atticus Finch, came to life in the form of Salman Taseer, the late Governor of Punjab, who lost his life defending a forlorn Christian woman, Aasiya Bibi, accused of blasphemy after an argument broke out between her and the Muslim women she had offered water to and who had refused, their excuse being that she is a Christian.

What was the reaction of society at large? While a certain number of sane people dreaded the death of a Liberal hero, majority of the people celebrated the death of a blasphemer who had dared to call the spade a spade. What had he said after all? Nothing new, I believe.Something that human rights activist and liberal class of lawyers  have been saying for long now : change the language of section 295(C ), blasphemy law, as it is ambiguous and can be easily misinterpreted to settle personal grounds.

The besmirching words of the Pakistani people depress me. It shows how much emotions plays part in our lives and the mentality is  clear indicator of how far the neck of one of the most modern Muslim nations has been grappled by the grip of extremism and fundamentalist mindset. First I heard the excuse that Taseer spoke out totally against the blasphemy law. Utter Nonsense. He had clarified it in an interview with Meher Bukhari that he had not intended the repeal but the refining of the language of law so that it could not be misused against non-Muslim minorities. When people run out of this pretext to save the name of Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the  security guard who shot him 27 bullets ,as the true lover of the Holy Prophet,  another one comes as Salman Taseer was protecting Aasiay Bibi, a blasphemer. Protector of blasphemer deserved such a death. And since when was it that Aasiya was found guilty? She is still awaiting her hearing. In majority of cases higher courts acquit the accused, although the ‘true Muslims’ in the outside would surely get them to hell. What to make of that? Lets bring down the higher court buildings now?

And what kind of message are we, as a nation, sending out to the rest of the world by sending pro-Qadri text messages and creating FaceBook fan pages of a murderer? We have given anti-Islam forces yet another reason to label Islam as a backward and anti-modernist religion all thanks to the immaturity of its followers. And then we blame the Mullahs for the misrepresentation of our society? Who are we to loathe Taliban if our own children are taught to look at Qadri as Ghazi Ilm-Ud-Din of today and a hero?

Finding faults in the personal life of Salman Taseer would not sway me to other side of the line for if that be the case then we have no heroes left as they are supposed to be human and thus imperfect. Never have I heard a rape charge against him nor was he on trial for murder, so what he did in his personal life is not our concern. This for all those who take subterfuge in proving Taseer’s personal life repugnant because he did not have a beard and was Liberal minded.

Pakistan has once again shown that it deserves more Qadris and Mullah Omars and not Salman Taseers. But for those of us who are still sane and humane in Pakistan, we do need heroes like him and Atticus Finch.