Connect to share and comment

A look at democracy: shootings in Arizona and Pakistan

Western values of democracy and free speech - truths that are no longer self-evident.

Pakistani lawyers
Pakistani lawyers hold rose petals as they chant slogans in support of arrested Pakistani bodyguard Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the alleged killer of Punjab's governor Salman Taseer, while they wait for him outside an anti-terrorist court in Rawalpindi on January 6, 2011. The grinning bodyguard, who confessed to murdering Salman Taseer for his progressive views, has been hailed a hero by the powerful religious right, highlighting how deep the conservative grip on the nuclear-armed country. (Aamir Queshi/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Within days of each other murders in Pakistan and Arizona shocked their respective nations.

In Tucson murder was multiple, apparently carried out by a deranged youth with easy access to a semiautomatic pistol. The condemnation was immediate and unanimous, the only debate being: Was the killing at least partially a by-product of a poisonous political atmosphere? Or was it just an act of insanity? That the main target appeared to have been a congresswoman opened the perpetrator up to charges of attempted assassination.

Americans did not debate whether the murders were justified. No one argued that they were.

Earlier in Islamabad, just about as many bullets as were fired in Tucson were fired into the back of Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab, by one of his bodyguards. The motive for the assassination was not debated. The bodyguard objected to Taseer’s attempt to roll back Pakistan’s blasphemy laws that carry a death sentence.

What shocked the West, and many Pakistanis, was the outpouring of sympathy for the murderer. Black-jacketed lawyers in their neckties, who had previously been seen as a force for democracy, demonstrated in support for the killer. Imams once thought of as moderates issued statements in favor not only of the blasphemy laws, but the act of murder itself, and the assassin was showered with rose petals.

When Pakistan gained its independence from Britain, the founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, told his people that they were free to worship any way they wanted, and that religion was not the business of the state. Today religion is very much the business of the Pakistan state, and no political party or government has dared to seriously challenge the blasphemy laws.

For some Americans the Constitution is a sort of secular Koran governing our political and legal behavior, and the freedom of speech enshrined in the first amendment would prohibit a death sentence for blasphemy. In Europe, however, there are blasphemy laws still on the books, left over from a much more religious age. None carry the death sentence, which has vanished from Europe, and few, if any, are ever enforced.

Westerners have come to know Western-educated Pakistanis, and thought of them as like-minded souls. But as European colonialism recedes into the past, whole new generations are growing up in Asia and Africa that do not share with us the values of their fathers and grandfathers. The influence of the West may continue when it comes to technology, but the Western values that we once thought were universal are no longer as shared as they were when leaders such as Jinnah, India’s Jawaharlal Nehru and Singapore’s Lew Kwan Yew ruled still under the gravitational pull of European values.

The West has been made aware of the rising religiosity in the Islamic world, but the concept of Pakistani lawyers, practicing laws that were mostly handed down to them from the West, demonstrating in favor of a murderer still has the power to shock. If anything it illustrates the underlying truths in much of what Samuel Huntington had to say in his “Clash of Civilizations.” And you can add to that a clash of generations.