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Two very different politicians, two very similar shootings

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Democrat Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in ArizonaBy Imran Khan

On the face of it there is nothing to link the death of the Pakistani governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, and the shooting of Democrat Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. But there is.

In each case both politicians stood up for one thing: Debate. It’s too early to know the motivations of Giffords shooter, but Taseer's killer had already said he was defending Islam.

Both incidents have one thing in common. Taseer and Giffords put unpopular subjects on the table.

Taseer wanted a reasonable discourse on Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Giffords wanted immigration to be talked about in a reasoned manner.

Taseer faced incredible criticism for his words by Pakistan's religious right wing. He was rubbished by some TV anchors, one man offered a reward for his death, others demanded he be stripped of his post.

Giffords was also incredibly unpopular with the right wing in the United States. Sarah Palin, the most famous American republican on the planet drew up a map in 2010 with rifle targets on the States she wanted to change.

Arizona, which is represented by Giffords was one of them. Giffords was regularly rubbished by the right wing commentators for her views. Both Taseer and Giffords led some to believe they were legitimate targets.

Now, when the target is simple venom, not violence then you can quote the old nursery rhyme: sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

But in the United States and in Pakistan words are turning into action. Sarah Palin has expressed sorrow to Giffords' family.

Those who called for Taseer’s death in Pakistan were shocked when it came. But it’s that climate of hatred that led to both these shootings.

Taseer was not an elected politician, but the post of governor is a political appointee, and he used his position to campaign for causes he believed, so in that respect he was a politician.

Politicians are many things. But they are the voice of electorate, right or wrong. If you think it’s wrong...Well, that what elections are for.

But in both countries opinion is now presented as fact and it’s easy to create a climate of hostility and fear.

Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to… Well, tragically the events of the last few days have shown us where anger can lead to.

Both Taseer and Giffords’ shootings show that there are those for whom debate is pointless.

Like I said before, I don't know what was driving Giffords’ shooter, but I do know that the climate she was politicking in had stirred a lot of passion.

It was the same with Taseer. Two very different politicians, two very different countries, two very similar incidents.

When politicians stop speaking out for fear of death, then we all lose out.

Imran Khan, a Doha-based correspondent, is reporting from across Pakistan.


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