It’s very tempting to fall into linguistic traps, especially when the words being spoken have content that is emotive. Sometimes it’s very difficult to separate what is actually to be taken issue with from what isn’t. Words like “murderer”, “terrorist”, “rapist” etc carry emotive content, apart from their criminal implications. Tag a person’s image with any one or a combination of these words, and it is likely to evoke a deep sense of disgust and hatred towards someone you have never seen before and whose (real) antecedents you have no idea about. The average person -even the average skeptic- is unlikely to look for further evidence that the person in the image actually is what the tag represents.
4th January, 2011. The governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, is sub-machine gunned to death in broad daylight by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri. He is shot 26 times (28 by some accounts), no less, before Qadri surrenders himself to the police. Why this extreme hatred and madness?
“Salman Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer,” Mr Qadri said in comments broadcast on Dunya television.
Salman Taseer had come out in defense of a Christian woman by the name of Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for the Koranic crime, nay sin of blasphemy. Not only that, he also challenged the entire blasphemy law and supported the more sensible amendments to it that were being proposed. To Islamic fundamentalists, this itself was blasphemy. Salman Taseer was also a man who envisaged Pakistan as a “progressive and liberal” democracy in the future. That too, in the fundamentalist Islamic world, is blasphemy. And the punishment proposed by Sharia (Islam’s proposed solution for all ills) for blasphemy is death. It’s obvious Qadri did it for a cause. He was hailed as a hero by hundreds of thousands of Islamic fundamentalists. In late 2015, more than 4 years after the horrific murder, Pakistan’s apex court sentenced him to death, since it was deemed to be an act of terrorism, and by Pakistani law (non-Sharia criminal law) it is understood to be fair punishment to condemn someone to the gallows for terrorist acts. Four months later, in late February, 2016, Qadri was hanged. What followed was great outrage across the Islamist landscape. Angry demonstrations and protests against the judicial murder thronged many streets and highways in Pakistan. Qadri had become a martyr for the Islamist cause.
There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.– Charles de Montesquieu
Earlier this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s official admission of defeat in WWII, gave a speech in which he made an oblique reference to the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers on South Korean “comfort women“, or women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers:
We will engrave in our hearts the past, when the dignity and honour of many women were severely injured during wars in the 20th century. Upon this reflection, Japan wishes to be a country always at the side of such women’s injured hearts. Japan will lead the world in making the 21st century an era in which women’s human rights are not infringed upon.
While not a direct apology, there is an air of repentance there. Many wondered if an apology was forthcoming. After all, in the same speech, Shinzo Abe also said:
We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.
We now know that Abe was not paying lip service to that commitment. Japan has now officially apologized to the comfort women -many of whom have died, and the rest are now very old- and had lived with the scars without any form of emotional closure. Japan has also announced a compensation package of $8.3 million, purportedly to “restore the dignity” of the women. Such a rather old-fashioned view of female dignity notwithstanding, at least steps are being taken in the right direction. The least governments can do for the crimes of their predecessors is apologize. Differences persist, however, but that is expected when atrocities were committed on such a large scale. If anything, this gesture should begin to restore Japan’s own dignity, which had been greatly besmirched by its fascist past.