Let me recount some personal experiences. The day after Taseer’s assassination, FM-99 (Urdu) called me for an interview. The producer tearfully told me (offline) that she could not find a single religious scholar ready to condemn his murder. She said even ordinary people like me are in short supply.
The next day a TV program on blasphemy (Samaa TV, hosted by Asma Shirazi) was broadcast. Asma had pleaded that I participate. So I did – knowing full wellwhat was up ahead. My opponents were Farid Paracha (spokesman, Jamaat-e-Islami) and Maulana Sialvi (Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi and supposed moderate). There were around 100 students in the audience, drawn from colleges across Pindi and Islamabad.
Even as the mullahs frothed and screamed around me (and at me), I managed to say the obvious: that the culture of religious extremism was resulting in a bloodbath in which the majority of victims were Muslims; that non-Muslims were fleeing Pakistan; that the self-appointed “thaikaydars” of Islam in Pakistan were deliberately ignoring the case of other Muslim countries like Indonesia which do not have the death penalty for blasphemy; that debating the details of Blasphemy Law 295-C did not constitute blasphemy; that American Muslims were very far from being the objects of persecution; that harping on drone attacks was an irrelevancy to the present discussion on blasphemy.
The response? Not a single clap for me. Thunderous applause whenever my opponents called for death for blasphemers. And loud cheers for Qadri. When I directly addressed Sialvi and said he had Salman Taseer's blood on his hand, he exclaimed “How I wish I had done it!” (kaash ke main nay khud kiya hota!).You can find all this on YouTube if you like.
One can debate whether this particular episode (and probably many similar ones) should be blamed on the media, whether it genuinely reflects the public mood, and whether those students fairly represented the general Pakistani youth. But there is little doubt which side the Pakistani media took. This was apparent from the unwillingness of anchors to condemn the assassination, as well as from images of the smiling murderer being feted all around. Mullah guests filled the screens of most channels. Some journalists and TV-show participants favorably compared Qadri with Ilm-e-Deen. Others sought to prove that Taseer somehow brought his death upon himself.