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Islam and Politics ( 21 Nov 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Who’s Afraid of a Secular Pakistan?



By Gaitty Ara Anis

November 20, 2012

In a society infested with all forms of human rights violations, the idea of a secular state does sound alien, although in essence the state is in dire need of a revolutionary change

Unfortunately, we have turned Pakistan into a state laden with landmines of labels and tags, drenched in personal biases, preferences and prejudices, used sometime under the guise of law, and at times pronounced as regulations, but it is hardly ever exhibited in its raw form. Secularism is one of the beloved tools of the conservatives who are hell bent on pushing Pakistan 2,000 years back. For the propagators of the rightwing philosophies, this word is akin to pelting stones at the devil; the ‘devil’ in this case are usually the non-violent, non-extremist forces sharing this country with the hardliners. So is secularism really an idea to be dreaded, loathed, to be shut out of Pakistan with force, lest any secular voice seeps in from some unknown quarters? Is secularism not about freeing the laws and functioning of the state from any kind of discrimination or domination based on a particular religious doctrine?

There does not appear to be any harm in understanding Baruch Spinoza’s rationality or Voltaire’s belief in the universal law discovered, but still to be explored through the physical world. But the overwhelming enthusiasm among our masses to curb the idea of laying the foundation of Pakistan on a secular basis never fails to create friction among the groups aligned with different ideologies. The exit of Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, one of the most distinguished nuclear physicists of Pakistan from the Lahore University of Management Sciences is a very recent example of a particular mindset offended and irritated with the concepts of enlightenment to be openly discussed.

If rationality is the real enemy posing danger to our current social set up then there does not seems to be any cure to this sort of insecurity. The writer believes the LUMS administration is true in its stance when it denies sacking Dr Hoodbhoy on introducing ‘Science and the Contemporary World Order’ as a course in the curriculum; after all it is Kant’s Sapare Aude, the idea of developing questioning minds that is troublesome for them. But how long would this stale, suffocating, superficially imposed moral code continues? The answer to this question cannot be a definite one but the intellectual dullness and overzealous crowd performing all sorts of atrocities in the name of their own vague religious ideas is a sure reminder of witch hunting Europe. The forced departure of Dr Hoodbhoy is a perfect example of the plight the freethinkers, scholars and scientists face under theocratic states. The idea of a society comprising of rationalising individuals seems to be at odds with the non-questioning mode of life the theocratic thinker believes in. No wonder a sincere effort on the part of any scholar who wants to bridge this gap between the dark and enlightened world jeopardises the foundations of the extremist forces, as they know with questioning comes the self-realisation that negates stereotypes. If scientific thinking succeeds in penetrating individuals’ minds, it would eventually spark the feminist movement, as women in theocratic societies are usually the worst sufferers. The awakening of women might prove to be a turning point in initiating a long dreaded nightmare for the supporters of a theological state in the form of change, thus endorsing their idea of anti-secularism.

In a society infested with all forms of human rights violations, the idea of a secular state does sound alien, although in essence the state is in dire need of a revolutionary change. Not a change brought by ‘tsunamis’ or the disillusioned groups who in their intellectual approach are more close to the oppressors instead of a revolutionist. So let us get down to brass tacks, to analyse the ailment of the anti-secular, right and far rightwing groups regarding the concept of a secular state. The propagators of reinforcing the obsolete concept of a Caliphate in this era would find democracy a disturbing idea; the loss of the clerical hold over the state matters might be the hardest one to go down the throat. [Secular]...’it is not a homogenous but a pluralist society’, this element again leaves many toothless and tactless, without a mandate to meddle in others’ affairs, without a power to instigate hatred among the masses for their personal gains. As the man coining the term ‘secularism’, George Holyoak defines it in ‘English secularism’ “...It’s essential principles are three: (1) The improvement of this life by material means. (2) That science is the available providence of man. (3) That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good.”

This idea might take a long time to settle with a society ethically driven by the idea of reward and punishment only but there seems no logic to hope against it either, since the west in its medieval ages has been through the darker shades of ethical and moral bankruptcy under the strict Papal control in comparison with the bleakness we have filled our heads with. Those times are long gone when the legitimacy of the Islamic ruler was ‘symbolised by the right to coin money and to have the Friday prayer (Jumu’ah khutba) said in his name.’ If a pitiful effort is applied to bring such ideas back to life, as the religious militants claim to aim at, it will only result in debacles.

The basic key to solving the Chinese puzzle is to review our educational system first; right from the grassroots level, it needs a conviction to set aside the clichés and focus on building rationalising minds not brains that can be stereotypically programmed by our outdated curriculum and tutors. Men like Dr Hoodbhoy are always few in number and massive in impact, and Pakistan direly needs more of such men and women who can shun the beaten path for inculcating the spark of enlightenment in young brains. Kant has beautifully described this phenomenon in his essay written in 1784, ‘What is Enlightenment?’

“Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is the incapacity to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. Such tutelage is self-imposed if its cause is not lack of intelligence, but rather a lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another.”

Kant does not leave any need to say much on this further. An enlightenment-endorsing educational system is the only key to a secular, salvaged Pakistan where equality and freedom to self-decision is not considered an evil rather respected a state where women and minorities are not pushed to the wall, robbed of their basic rights and practically enslaved. It would rather be a place worthy of calling homeland, with individuals more inclined to rationalise any idea before slamming horrific tags of condemnation on it.

Gaitty Ara Anis is a documentary maker and a freelance writer.