Thanatopolitics: Murder as a Shortcut to Paradise

Relief work in Muzaffargarh
Image by Salmaan Taseer via Flickr

Much has been said and written after the tragic murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, at the hands of a religious fanatic. Not surprisingly, the fanatical fringe of the Pakistani Islamist parties have declared the victim of this murder as “killable” and the perpetrator as a “hero.” This, needless to say, is a sad phase in the self-presentation of the Islamists in a world where normal, tolerant people are getting increasingly wearied of their politics of death. There are many questions that we need to ask ourselves as a living society:

  • What creates a subjectivity such as that of Mr. Qadri, the murderer?
  • What underwrote his self-declared right to kill Salman Taseer?
  • What is the governing rationale of his defenders who have posited his act of murder as just and morally right?

It seems that in the last decade or so, the Ulama have increasingly started defining Shariah in terms of thanatopolitcs, a politics of death. [1. The term thanatopolitics has been appropriated from Roberto Esposito’s Biopolitcs] We saw a living and sickening example of this policing and humbling of human bodies during the turbulent rule of Taliban in Afghanistan. Its Pakistani version is painfully obvious by the actions of the Tehereek-e-Taliban, Pakistan who have, besides killing thousands of innocent poor of Pakistan, also destroyed hundreds of girl’s schools in the name of their version of Islam. According to Gabriele Marranci “an average of 1140 people per year” have been killed by these fanatics in Pakistan.

Taseer's Killer

I believe that it is the representation of Islam as a policing system–policing of thoughts, actions and desires–that creates a subjectivity invested in the politics of death. If Islam is only interpreted as a system of public punishments and if the population is divided into those killable and those worthy of life, then an individual can very easily become an instrument of arbitrary justice. The murder of Salman Taseer is also an example of a particular practice of such thanatopolitcs: to kill the one deemed killable as a short cut to heavens. Such murders in the name of God rob Islam of any life-giving message and replace it with a continuous embrace with death, the death of the other.

This is the moment where the Ulama must take a stand: They must reconnect Islam with a politics of love, care, and compassion instead of just defining it as a system of punishment. If they keep on defending the indefensible, the murders and torture, then they would have made, and in many ways they already have, Islam the most hated religion in the world.

Salman Taseer was obviously not a perfect man, but he died defending the life of a voiceless victim of blind, uncompassionate, and unneeded law. He died defending the weak: And that is truly Islamic and righteous. Let us not forget that the current blasphemy law was concocted by Zia-ul-Haq after the publication of The Satanic Verses. Historically, death has never been the punishment for insults to the figure of the Prophet. In fact, if we were to take the Prophet’s own recorded actions against those who had harmed or insulted him, there is not even a single instance where he pronounced a death sentence on someone for a personal injury. But to kill someone you have sworn to protect–for that was Mr. Qadri’s job–is the ultimate form of injustice and cowardly betrayal.

So let us call it what it is: a cold-blooded murder. And let us stop declaring murderers as our heroes. And also, the Ulama should stop pronouncing more death for all those who speak against this murderer, for it makes them look heartless and makes a mockery of the true spirit of Islam.

And for a change let us hear our Ulama do something useful: declaring a cleaning of streets day, a helping the poor day, or simply, make every Friday a day of good and kind public deeds.

We have seen enough death in the streets of Pakistan. We are tired of it. We do not need more purveyors of death and silence. We want life, love, compassion, and laughter. We shall not be silenced, for we are many.

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  1 comment for “Thanatopolitics: Murder as a Shortcut to Paradise

    Daniel Heinrich
    January 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Well said. I don’t know all the players but from your writing I certainly understood the point.

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