By Syed Kamran Hashmi
September 6, 2018
Once again, a debate on religion has erupted on social media. Again, the debate is about the role of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan, the constant evaluation of their rights, their contributions being scrutinised and their ability to serve in the government being questioned. Once more, people of the ‘right faith’, which include all the major branches of Sunni Islam, are marginalising the minorities. And again, the government is posing to prove its pro-minority credentials both locally and internationally. Nothing has changed insofar as I can see, everything being done the same way in Naya Pakistan as it was done in the past.
Expectedly so, as the news breaks out, heated arguments and finger pointing have polluted the atmosphere. Harsh words are being exchanged, invectives hurled and allegations brought forward to the point that no constructive conclusions can be drawn. One side is fixed on the idea of blasphemy, the other on the western ideal of separation of church from state.
Truth to be told: as long as we are sub-continental Muslims and as long as we stay in the current system of semi-democratic rule — which more likely than not, we will — the ultimate Western ideal of separation of the church from the state cannot be implemented. And again, as long as we follow the same system of regular election cycles as we have been following previously, Shariah will never be upheld as the sole law of the land. For one side to win over the other, something more dramatic has to happen.
Why? Looking at history, every time Pakistani society has drifted from its centre, it did so in response to a major political event. It tilted towards the left-when a significant number of people painted their foreheads red-after the fall of Dhaka and leaned towards the right after the unjust execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto under the draconian Martial Law of General Zia-ul-Haq. For the past thirty years, Pakistan has followed the same path.
Musharraf’s rule was an anomaly in that sense, a government of an unprincipled man with no ideology other than saving his own position. As a leader, he just kept the same ball rolling as was passed on to him without insight or direction as long as it helped him stay in power. Thus, the society kept on moving in the same direction as it was determined by the earlier martial law. Then, 9/11 happened and divided society into two distinct sub-groups standing on opposite sides, each angry at one another, each believing they lost after coming so close to victory.
As such, when a decision like the inclusion of Mian Atif in the Economic Advisory council to the Prime Minister is disclosed, both sides take their positions much like robots and start pouncing. Many of us have stood on one side of the aisle for a while, confident that they are right and even more confident that the Right of Pakistan is wrong. But it never yields results, it just adds fuel to the fire with more abuses, more name calling and more accusations.
What needs to be done then? Can Pakistani society unlearn what it has learnt over decades without having to suffer another big jolt? Theoretically, it can. Persistence and hard work can pay off in the coming decades. But, if someone wants to make a change, they have to act now, creating a ‘Black Swan’ event themselves.
For instance, when Donald Trump was elected as the president of America, there was a concern that Muslims would have to be registered once again. First time they got registered was after 9/11 in 2002. In 2016, as the initial shock of the tragedy stood behind them, my Church going Caucasian friends called me and said they would register themselves as Muslims if the government decided to take that action.
No, they were not planning to quit their religion, nor they were impressed by the teachings of Islam, so to speak, instead they were doing what they thought needed to be done to stop the persecution of minorities by a powerful majority. And no, they did not want to first distinguish themselves, as we do, from the minorities to fend off the backlash.
They wanted to live as a minority, take the insults, experience what people from smaller communities go through, and face the humiliation, the expletives, the religious decree awarded against their own faith.
Similarly change can only come to Pakistan with action, with resistance against tyranny; the time to win a debate on social media, the time to call spades a spade without a follow up is gone. It is now the time to walk the talk, to act, to show, to rise up.
Let me also add, private citizens cannot do this on their own. Political parties, NGOs, pressure groups, trade unions, bar councils and professional organisations will have to take this initiative as a group. If no one can walk the talk, then we are just adding another lame voice in a deafening cacophony.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist.