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Pakistan's Islamist tightrope

Author: Joshua T. White
April 19, 2011

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It is no longer uncommon to read about attacks on progressive Pakistani intellectuals and politicians.  Islamic scholar Muhammad Farooq Khan, who hosted a popular TV program on the Quran, was gunned down in his office late last year. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who challenged Pakistan's oft-abused blasphemy laws, was killed by a member of his own security detail this past January. And Minority Affairs Minister Shabbaz Bhatti, who was quietly working to improve the standing of Pakistan's small minority religious population, was brutally killed outside his home in Islamabad in March.

These killings are tragic, but they are also intelligible. They fit a familiar narrative of liberals versus extremists in Pakistan, reformers versus reactionaries. The militant fringe, we have repeatedly been told, is threatened by intellectual argument, and kills its opponents to intimidate public figures into silence. Each gruesome episode is just the latest battle in the ongoing "war of ideas" in Pakistan.

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