Taseer was governor of Punjab province in Pakistan. He was a moderate Muslim in country that is becoming dominated by religious extremists. He was an opponent of Pakistan's Blasphemy Law, which forbids blasphemy against Islam. The law has become an excuse for a witch hunt against "troublesome" officials and neighbors alike. Since the allegation of blasphemy is sufficient to bring about harassment, attacks, and riots, the law is often used to intimidate moderates and non-Muslims. Even a false accusation can lead to someone losing their job, their home, or worse. Taseer sought the pardon of a Pakistani Christian woman who had been convicted under this law.
The gunman was Taseer's own security guard, apparently encouraged by clerics who criticized any opposition or leniency toward the Blasphemy law. The shooting occurred on January 4, 2011 at Kohsar Market, a shopping centre in Islamabad. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with the BBC,
"[Taseer] shares a vision of Pakistan that is liberal, that is tolerant, that is inclusive. Unfortunately, he has been gunned down by those with a totally different vision of Pakistan, a theocratic vision, a narrow vision, a vision that conflates blasphemy with a man-made law and wanting to change it...
He has been assassinated not just by an individual, but by the entire movement that basically tries to play up the emotions of Pakistanis rather than telling them the facts, and that tries to say to them that anyone who questions a law made by human beings a few years ago, critizing the law is somehow the same is, God forbid, insulting the holy prophet of Islam. I think those people are responsible, the lone gunman, or conspiracy or plot will come out in the police investigation. For now, let us focus on the two conflicting visions for Pakistan, the theocratic and the democratic."
The similarities to Gabrielle Giffords' shooting are eerily similar. Both Giffords and Taseer were moderates. Both were shot at a market. Both shooters used a very large number of bullets, emptying magazines. Taseer was killed, but Giffords is now in critical condition in the hospital. The motives of Giffords' shooter are still unclear, but it's safe to say that he had a different vision for the government.
Coincidentally, I wrote about the Montreal Massacre recently. There, too, a gunman killed many innocent people for what they represented. I think my characterization of the killer from that incident also fits these two cases: an individual who had his own personal, psychological problems, whose desire to kill was fed by rhetoric around him. Giffords' shooter was creepy and seemed to fueled angry anti-government movement that sees conspiracies everywhere, such as government brainwashing and validity of Barack Obama's citizenship. I haven't read anything about the mental state of Taseer's killer, but the fact that the governor was shot 29 times speaks to a certain amount of rage and overkill. This killer was clearly influenced by a prominent movement in Pakistan seeking to create a theocratic state. The strength of this movement is evident in the hordes of people raining rose petals down on the alleged killer. Fortunately, the US has not sunk to this level, though there is a lot of inflammatory rhetoric going around.
My point in drawing these parallels is not that we live in a scary world full of crazies, but that people are the same all over and that they only way out is tolerance, inclusion, and just peace. Every tragedy seems uniquely horrifying. We want to strike back at the cause, to hurt as much as we have been hurt. But this response only fuels the cycle of hatred and violence. It's no use to annihilate one form of intolerance only to replace it with another form, to get rid of "them" and replace it with "us." I don't want to sound like a Pollyanna who says "Why can't we get along?", but the only way to stop hate is through personal choice. We as individuals have to make an active choice to be open minded, to learn, to ask questions, and to find ways to we make room for people who are different from us, whether those differences are religion, politics, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any other source of categories.