By Umer Sohail
The same dreaded date arrives! The day when yet another reminder jolted us that our country remains in the firm, unforgiving clutches of hardcore fanatics. The familiar tension, the perilous suffocation forcing us to gasp for a mere breath. How foolish were we to think that the hanging of a mere patsy would make things any different on the rigid and deplorable canvas that is our society?
I won’t add to the plethora of lip service hailing Salman Taseer for the hero he was. And I also won’t celebrate the “historic judicial decision enforcing the rule of law” against a poor, brainwashed gunman who breached his duty to open fire on the very man he was getting paid to protect. Instead, today I will mourn a much graver and much sinister problem, which most of us are either too oblivious to see or too scared to speak against. What triggered me to write was the latest news of late Salman Taseer’s son, Shaan Taseer bagging the title of being “Wajib ul Qatal,” as he stirred the wrath of the same set of self-proclaimed leaders who were masterminds behind his father’s cold-blooded murder. Apparently, he has offended the fragile honour of these valiant Muslims by wishing “Merry Christmas” to the Christian community while reiterating the stance of his late father on standing for the rights of the oppressed.
While it goes without saying how outrageous this news is, I believe, this mindless affixation, and adherence to violence and religious fascism points to a greater problem. While a lot has been written on the role of the Mullah nexus and this being the result of our flawed foreign policies, but is that the primary reason? Was it the result of some flawed foreign policy that is forcing Indonesian public to charge their Governor, Ahok, of blasphemy? From Taliban to ISIS, Boko Haram to Al Nusra, each day hundreds of people are made a target of all sorts of vile acts in the name of religion. The pattern is clear, with only one common denominator: the mindless following of ideologues without any substantial evidence and lack of critical thinking.
You simply cannot beat an ideology with legal manoeuvring and legislative moves. While we thought hanging Qadri, the gunman, for his disregard for the law would result in establishing some semblance of sanity, what ensued was a stunning mass of his “followers” showing defiance against the writ of the state as they gathered for one of the largest funerals this country has seen. Now there are reports that he is also getting a multimillion shrine built at his burial grounds, which will naturally turn into yet another gathering point for the hardliners.
So, what’s the solution? For me, the only way to turn the tables is to instil this idea that maybe, just maybe, there is a chance you can be wrong about the beliefs you have been taught since your first breath. The notion of having bloated and baseless sense of superiority without even a shred of evidence to defend it is the root of all evil. Take any example of atrocities and genocides in the history, and you will find set in stone ideologies such as nationalism, race supremacy or religion at the core of it with other influences such as culture, economics being more contingent factors.
The idea that we are the best of the lot, the contentment, the warm fuzzy feeling that results from “knowing for a fact” that you are the only one who is on the right path is the source of the mindless hatred and intolerance. In our country’s case, for one sect or group, the promises of lush gardens with ever-flowing wine and fair skinned maidens stop the followers from ever doubting what the hate spewing machine at the perch is propagandising in between these descriptions. Since you are being offered a pretty sweet deal for the condition of never asking a question and exerting your own mind towards inquisitiveness, why bother wasting your time and energies on giving the counter-narrative even a chance?
Sadly, it doesn’t stop on not giving a chance. To make sure that they keep on this path of righteousness, they give everyone “who’re on their way to the eternal fire” (read challenging their hegemony) two convenient options. Either they can choose to convert and conform to their version of the narrative, or they can prepare themselves for an exemplary fate. And that’s where these ideologues turn from being a personal matter to being detrimental towards the progress and functionality of the society.
I believe it’s about time that we give up on fear of the reaction, and try to start an open, honest discussion on our shortcomings to question what we are being forced to believe and chug down our throats and the quest for the truth. Only open unbarred yet respectful debate can initiate the process of teaching people HOW to think, rather than WHAT to think. Salman’s vocal stand against inhumane legalised marginalisation of the minorities sparked something that had to be taken down by firing a couple of rounds on an unarmed, unsuspecting target. Because he stood for logic, for humanity and an open discourse against the so-called taboos. And that, I believe, can be our greatest weapon if we ever want to see a prosperous Pakistan for not just a particular group, but for all human beings.