So it has happened again. It may be time for more showers of rose petals among some -- repeat SOME -- Muslims in the troubled land of Pakistan. At this point, it would really help to watch the stunning piece of video that accompanies this post.
This is the martyred Shahbaz Bhatti, speaking for himself and for religious minorities in his homeland. Now, the goal is to search for any of these words -- his key points about the blasphemy law and his own faith -- in the mainstream media reports about his assassination. Good luck with that.
Meanwhile, here is the top of the Washington Post report, as an example of the early coverage.
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Pakistan's federal minorities minister, a Christian, was gunned down in this capital city Wednesday in the second killing this year of a senior government official who had spoken out against the nation's stringent blasphemy laws.
The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti represented another severe blow to Pakistan's beleaguered moderates, whose voices are increasingly drowned out by those of violent Muslim hardliners. The shooting came two months after the killing of Punjab province governor Salman Taseer, who, like Bhatti, argued that laws making insults to Islam's prophet Muhammad a capital crime were wrongly used as tools to persecute religious minorities. ...
Though there was no claim of responsibility for the killing, fliers found scattered on the road near the scene bore the names of what appeared to be two Islamist militant groups -- the Al-Qaeda Organization and the Pakistani Taliban Punjab. The fliers condemned Bhatti as an "infidel, a cursed one" and said others who demonstrate "support of blasphemers" would meet the same fate. Bhatti's profile had grown in recent months, after he condemned the November death sentencing of a Christian woman on the grounds that she had insulted the prophet Muhammad, an accusation he said was baseless.
Now, please remember that the goal is to focus on the journalistic issues involved in covering this case. In this case, I am left asking two basic journalistic questions:
(1) What did Bhatti, a Christian, and the late Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of Punjab, say or do that constituted fatal insults against Muhammad? Readers need that information.
(2) In effect, did this moderate Muslim and this outspoken Christian die because of their opposition to a key element of sharia law? Did they die because they defended the basic human rights of religious minorities, such as the right to change one's beliefs and to convert to another religion? It would help to know if mere opposition to the blasphemy law constitutes blasphemy and is, thus, an insult to the prophet. It is crucial, in particular, for American readers to know that blasphemy laws are used against Muslims that oppose elements of sharia, not just members of religious minorities that are considered "infidels" by some -- repeat SOME -- Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere.
Let's see what the New York Times has to say. The key chunk of the story states:
The gunmen were wearing traditional Pakistani garb of baggy pants and long tunic, the inspector general of Islamabad police, Wajid Durrani, said. The pamphlet found at the site warned against changes in Pakistan's draconian blasphemy law and bore the imprint of the Taliban and al Qaeda, police officials said. It specifically named Mr. Bhatti.
Mr. Bhatti, like Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was gunned down Jan. 4, had campaigned for the reform of Pakistan's blasphemy law. The law, introduced in the 1970s, calls for the death penalty for those accused of speaking against the Prophet Muhammad. ...
"This is the mindset adopted in the 1980s when Pakistan and the United States were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan," said Athar Minallah, a liberal leader of the lawyers movement, who has condemned the killing of Mr. Taseer, and now Mr. Bhatti. "It says infidels are allowed to be killed."
Once again we face the same questions: How did Bhatti and Taseer speak against the prophet? What did they say or do?
I am asking a quite literal question. It would help to have some direct quotes that demonstrate this kind of speech or, at the least, pinpoint the precise symbolic acts that led to their deaths. How, for example, does the law define the content of these insults? This information is not hard to find and, after reading the text of these laws on a site or two, I would like to know the nature of the crimes committed by this Christian politician and his moderate Muslim counterpart. Is defending the human rights of "infidels" insult enough?
How about the BBC? What was the key language there?
Mr Bhatti, the cabinet's only Christian minister, had received death threats for urging reform to blasphemy laws. In January, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who had also opposed the law, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards.
The blasphemy law carries a death sentence for anyone who insults Islam. Critics say it has been used to persecute minority faiths. ...
The minister had not been accompanied by his guards or the security escort vehicle that is standard for all Pakistani ministers, and it is not clear why.
Once again we have the same issues, plus a new problem.
"Critics say" that the law has been used to persecute minority faiths. How about, instead of the vague "critics," a specific or two -- such as the Vatican, the White House, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Archbishop of Canterbury, etc. etc.?
And another thing. Is there any doubt, at this point, that it has been factually proven that the blasphemy laws are being used BY SOME to persecute minority faiths? Then again, are assassinations a form of persecution? If so, is the government making strong efforts to prevent this form of persecution, or are the powers that be actually divided over taking that step?
How about the Los Angeles Times? OK, but I think you can see that the patterns are already clear:
The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country's minority affairs minister, underscored the reach of extremism in a Muslim, nuclear-armed country founded on the principles of minority inclusion, as well as the government's inability to protect its minorities.
Bhatti was an outspoken opponent of Pakistan's blasphemy law, which makes it a crime to utter any derogatory remarks about, or insult in any way, the prophet Muhammad, the Koran or Islam. Critics of the law say it can be exploited as a means to settle scores against adversaries or persecute minorities.
Again, one can't help but marvel at the "critics of the law say that it can be exploited" language (emphasis added by me). I think journalists can find more precise language than that to describe the facts on the ground.
Meanwhile, I actually like the careful thought behind this passage that states that this latest killing "underscored the reach of extremism in a Muslim, nuclear-armed country", etc. The question, of course, is whether a majority of Pakistanis actually support the blasphemy laws. Has anyone seen hard, factual coverage that addresses that question?
One more time, here is my basic journalistic question: As anyone seen a mainstream news report that reports the actual words or actions that led to the deaths of Taseer and now Bhatti? Just the facts. Some facts would be good.
UPDATED: As noted by Bob Smietana, ABC News has included a snippet of the video material in its online report.