20 February 2014
Such has been the mainstreaming of Sharia discourse in Pakistan media, especially in the wake of so-called Peace Talks between government and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), that even secular intellectuals such as Ayesha Siddiqa have started calling for a progressive interpretation of Islam as a way to counter Taliban narratives (1). There are such rank opportunists and populists as Hasan Nisar, a self-styled public intellectual, who have no problem with Sharia but do not want the Taliban version. There are reformists such as Yasir Pirzada, a columnist for the Jang, trying to offer a counter-narrative that refuses to go beyond religious arguments.
There are of course fanatics, most aptly represented by Oraya Maqbol Jan and Ansar Abbasi, who find it imperative to promulgate Sharia not merely because the Constitution of Pakistan so requires but also because Sharia will serve as a panacea to all the problems afflicting Pakistan.
Beyond the media realm, there is not a single mainstream party that publicly and principally adheres to secular ideals. Even the Awami National Party (ANP), that takes pride in the legacy of Bacha Khan, refuses to challenge the Sharia discourse. While as individuals many refuse to oppose Sharia discourse out of fear which is understandable given the situation in the country, there are other reasons in the case of political platforms.
For the first, it is opportunism and political exigencies that gag political parties. For instance, Pakistan Peoples Party’s hereditary leader, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is publicly condemning Taliban but his party refuses to initiate any policy in Sindh to counter Sharia discourse and dismantle Jihadi infrastructure that breeds Talibanisation. Likewise, his party’s past record is fraught with appeasement of religious fundamentalists. As a matter of fact, it was his mother Benazir Bhutto, as Prime Minister of Pakistan, who midwifed Afghan Taliban. Secondly, there is poverty of imagination. The secular forces, both in politics and intelligentsia refuse to think innovatively. Lastly, a certain dose of courage, required to give Sharia Brigade a shut-up call, is missing.
Sharia is not a solution to any problem. It is a problem in itself. We have seen Sharia in action: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Gulf sheikhdoms, Somalia, Afghanistan [1992-2001], and parts of Pakistan (Swat, FATA).
In the Pakistani context, Sharia implies:
1. Heightened exploitation of the working classes. Sharia has no problem with capitalism. On the contrary, it cannot tolerate trade unions and social movements. While Saudi Arabia and her Gulf cousins as well as Iran had oil to offer something to their citizens, in the case of Pakistan, Sharia will compound working classes’ misery through oppression of the workers. Lacking any initiative even in the capitalist constraints, it will only resort to violence in response to break working class movements for improvements in livings.
2. Lack of hope for landless peasants, especially women on the countryside. Sharia has no problem with feudalism. Most likely, Sharia will co-opt feudal lords while peasants’ oppression will be granted a divine sanction.
3. Contempt for oppressed nationalities because Sharia believes in one ‘Ummah’. It has no tolerance for Baloch, Seraiki, Sindhi, Pashtoon, Kashmiris or any other national aspiration. Instead of solving the national question, Sharia will resort to violence to quell the nationalist struggles.
4. Dhimmi status for Shias, Ahmedia, Christians, Hindus while, most likely, Atheists will be put to the sword.
5. Pakistan will become a prison for women where they will be treated either as zoo animals or commodities to be traded.
6. Attack on our already restricted rights and liberties. Any Talib manning the street will find our beards lacking the required length or the Burqa covering our women to be colourful enough to provoke him, hence, public floggings will be a common site.
7. Death of minor enjoyments left in our already unhappy, joyless lives. TV set will be hanged. Playing cricket will constitute a blasphemy. Cinemas will be bombed [Perhaps converted to mosques as was the case with one cinema house in Kabul’s neighbourhood Makroryan]. The only entertainment will be beheadings on Fridays and unscheduled spectacles of stonings.
8. Pakistan will become a safe heaven for al-Qaida freemasonry. This will be an invitation of aggression to India, Iran, and the USA. Even the ‘all-weathers-friend’, China, will find it impossible to side with a Pakistan run by Sharia Brigade/TTP.
9. Sharia will not merely resurrect the imagined confessional system that existed 1400 years ago. It will also physically consign Pakistan to a period that existed 1400 years ago.
10. Climate degradation will not pose any problem in Sharia. However, when floods will cause havoc, the victims will be told to seek divine forgiveness for their sins.
Sharia delineates oppression of already oppressed. It is an attack on enlightenment, reason, development, human rights, culture, education, science and knowledge. It is a ticket to hell.
Viewpoint stands for a secular, democratic and socialist Pakistan that will offer a decent life, liberation from oppression [on class, gender or national basis] and an end to discrimination. Above all, a life with self-respect and smile on the faces of working class people.
‘Why do we think there is a single interpretation of religion? I think that we need to engage with religion to argue and prove to the common man and ourselves that what the Taliban are selling is not the only perspective. Secularism is a concept based in Islamic history. Bring all those notions out and you may be able to fight the war against the Taliban on their own turf’, says Ayesha Siddiqa