By Sarfraz Ahmed Rana
November 5, 2018
Holy men (and sometimes women) through their decisively large pockets of disciples, largely controlling and commanding the day to day discourse and narrative building in poverty-stricken South Asia. As time goes by, ecclesiastic’s intervention has become ubiquitous in every segment and most dangerously the power to control the narrative than any other institute enjoys. Over the years, the role of religious institution overstretched akin to Roman Church that caused the bloody Wars of Religion resulting into massive bloodbath in Europe. Similarly, nontrivial scope of religious institution in South Asian societies increasingly engraved from petty business of our households to the top level of our state institutions makes them relevant in every age and era.
Pakistan, however, has the peculiar ecclesiastic credentials in which Pakistani clergy class overstrained their business under the state patronage now turned an incontestable juggernaut which even challenges the supremacy of state and its institutions. Even though, these clerics are convinced and encouraged by the state’s failure and past capitulation on several occasions considering themselves ostensibly way beyond to be held accountable in everything what they do from vandalizing state property, making chasm through the fashion of Fatwas of killing that led to the assassination of Former governor of Punjab Salman Taseer and former Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, scathingly denouncing the founders of Pakistan as Kafirs (infidels)and conveniently besiege metropolis further prevent the state to function normally. In recent such addition suggested Army staff to revolt against their own chief indicates the amount of self-sufficiency and fearlessness has been achieved to challenge the writ of the state at the cost of state’s inability to act against them.
The linchpin of the system in Islamic Republic the clergy has become a force to be reckoned with in layman approaches them in order to get the blessings for their socio-economic distress, politician approaches them to beg their large constituency of disciples to ensure electoral victory, some approach them for their enthusiastically obedient manpower to boil the political climate and foreign powers approach them to employ their influence to implement their agendas. The disproportionate reliance of indoctrinated state and opinionated society altogether increase the space of religious institution in public sphere to seize and monopolise the discourse at all levels.
Until recently after succeeding in Atif Mian’s episode, a globally acclaimed economist being inducted on government’s will and fired on ecclesiastic’s wish from the Economic Advisory Council over his Ahmadia faith, that essentially emboldened them in advancing to press another demand with quick succession in Aasia’s case, demanding government to file the review petition against the court’s ruling which favours Aasia Bibi’s release and to put her name in no fly list in which government so far refused to concede either of their demand.
Aasia, a Christian peasant woman on death row recently set to free after spending eight long years in incarceration from the false charges of blasphemy by an epic court of the country. Soon after the court’s ruling one of the leaders of far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) Qadri harshly critical to the verdict issued a Fatwa calling the three judges who favoured Aasia in final ruling to be killed.
In November last year when the previous government met the similar trouble spearheaded by the same far-right TLP over oath’s issue in which they suspected the alteration in oath as the compensation to the adherents of Ahmadia faith to which government deny as clerical mistake. As a consequence, the capital of the country was virtually paralysed for about three-weeks and the road network of the country was completely blocked calling the minister for Law Zahid Hamid to resign.
Eventually, fear of losing the religious votes and also perceiving the attacks on political rallies in general elections which latter had been seen a shoe attack on former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former Home Minister Ahsan Iqbal shot from the point blank range but survived the deadly attack. Under the polarized political climate, the government was forced to capitulate to their demands following the appeasement policy thinking it might satisfy religious extremists which fatally proved wrong.
Following the government capitulation, I wrote and Op-ed for the Daily Times in December last year titled ‘Appeasement Never Works’ in which I emphasized that, “the policy of appeasement can never result in restoration of peace because no amount of appeasement can satisfy the extremists”. Moreover, Zahid Hamid’s resignation was perceived by the international spectators as the “latest in a series of government concessions to religious extremists” that deteriorate further Pakistan’s already stark credentials in the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Since the partition, the privilege of religious order in country has largely been misused to disorder Pakistan. Pulpit preaches hate causes discord and divide that further stymies the inclusiveness and diversity which remains prerequisite for a country to become a competitive democracy in the world, a dream long envisioned by the Jinnah. The word Islam to its literal meaning, Religion of Peace” following the events by the far-right religious groups seems to have become an ideology of hatred and intolerance in Pakistan further validates the Western notion that propagates Islam as inherently violent Religion.
In the face of so many threats, and so many failures to address these threats, it is time for the state, and the incumbent government in particular (who ostensibly used religious card for securing political gains against the previous government) to take unbendable stand by adopting the Indonesia’s model of inclusion and religious tolerance that embraces five core principles as followed, Belief in God, shared humanity, national unity, democracy and Social Justice to help drive out the very real threat of religious extremism and to defeat the extremist narratives.
Government in consultation with opposition, Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and other stakeholders must make legislation to ban organizations deemed hostile to state ideology and those which create social conflict. Religious extremism with all its manifestation can only be defeated with the true interpretation of Islam, in doing so therefore government must take the ownership must put the progressive religious scholars at the upfront to devise the narrative. Islamic Ideological Counsels under the competent command of Dr Qibla Ayaz can provide the impetus to help support the government to uproot the menace of religious extremism.
The current government stands at much better political position than any other political party stood in the past with opposition and all other stakeholders including military on one page must capitalise this window of opportunity to devise a comprehensive mechanism and countervailing narrative to push against the Politics of Piety to prevent the more perilous future.
Sarfraz Ahmed Rana is a freelance writer tweets at @ranasarfraz3417