It is too optimistic to say that only 50% of Muslims in Pakistan are extreme Jihadists, a liberal Pakistni novelist told Channel 4 News last night, 5th January 2011.
Jon Snow interviewed Kamila Shamsie last night at the conclusion of a revealing piece about the assassination of Punjab governor and ruling party politician Salman Taseer by a member of his own bodyguard in Islamabad.
(Note that: the Snow/Shamsie clip is only on the CH4 website until 12th January).
Salman Taseer was killed for expressing support for Asia Bibi, who is on death row convicted of blasphemy, and for supporting the repeal of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which are typically used by Muslims in Pakistan to settle personal scores against Christians.
Kamila Shamsie observed that anti-Taseer feeling was rampant on twitter and facebook. It was in English, she said, the language of the middle-class (a point illustrated by the eloquent young Muslim lawyer saying the 'young lawyers of the Islamabad Bar' would defend his killer) . It was impossible to argue that only the poor and illiterate supported jihad.
A crowd shouted support for Malik Mumtaz Qadri when he appeared in court.
Meanwhile, 500 Islamic scholars said anyone grieving for Mr Taseer could face the same fate as he did.
To begin the interview, Jon Snow asked Kamila Shamsie: 'If opponents were to pick a liberal totem of Pakistani society would this be the man?'
'He probably would be', she replied. 'He was not afraid to stand up and say words like secular ... and he spoke out against the blasphemy laws and extremism'.
The killing could not be seen as a one-off tragedy, she said, because the body-guard made it clear that he did it because Taseer opposed the blasphemy laws. So the killing is a sign of a very deep rot that has been growing for 30 years.
'It is not just the assassination but the responses to the assassin', Kamila Shamsie went on. 'Rather than people being horrified, there is an extraordinary level of support for the assassin, especially on twitter and facebook and english-language blogs.'
'You are describing one-half of Pakistan, one half of which wants to be of the west and half of which is fueled by a desire to go in the opposite direction,' suggested Snow.
'No, it's not one half,' replied Shamsie. 'Typically there was a view in Pakistan that the radicals were illiterate, poor, were brainwashed and with no access to other world views. That's why I mentioned facebook and twitter. We have to confront that fact that radicalisation is also a middle-class phenomenon. To say it is half-and-half is too optimistic, I'm afraid.
'What's behind it is Pakistan's history over the last 30 plus years', she went on. 'You start with Ul Haq and Islamisation and the support for jihad. They thought they could export jihad to Afghanistan and Kashmir and that it would not turn around and attack them, and that has proven to be untrue. There has also been a culture growing over the past thirty years that dying in the name of religion is a good thing.
In a telling moment, Jon Snow asked, 'So what can be done?' There was a long pause before Kamila Shamsie said, 'Well, that's the question, I think, which a lot of people in Pakistan are asking. Salman Taseer was one of the few people sticking his head above the parapet. A march opposing the blasphemy laws this weekend has been cancelled following security fears. People are frightened.'