By Gul Bukhari
Religion has been allowed to run amok in this country, to freely arouse emotions — and abandon reason and humanity
A vast majority of people in Pakistan have finally come to understand that militants and militancy, especially religiously motivated violent movements, are a cancer and a threat to their country. However, this realisation came very late in the day. I can remember how only two to three years ago, a majority of society was calling the militants “our brethren” and questioning whether a war ought to even be declared on them or not. Carefully cultivated anti-Americanism was, for years, skilfully equated by the establishment and its accomplice, some sections of the media, with pro Islamic militant movements in the average Pakistani mind.
Now one finds the majority of citizenry crying over spilt milk. But they have still not tried to critically examine how we got to where we are today. The military is freely blamed for its role in giving birth to and promoting Islamist militancy. But where the ordinary person remains blind is his own complicity in allowing a mindset that feeds into extremist thought process and behaviour, allowing them to take hold.
I can see the contention before I finish my argument: that the Islamic militant thought process, of say the Taliban or al Qaeda, is very different from the mindset of the ordinary conservative Muslim Pakistani, that militants subscribe to certain ideologies ingrained into them via systematic, organised indoctrination. I would agree with this contention insofar as the fact that most militants did undergo indoctrination and training. But, apart from the children of certain madrassas, who perhaps had no choice in the matter or were too young to decide for themselves, which other kinds of people have succumbed to the charms of jihad?
Here is the shocker: ordinary Pakistanis. This is what Pakistani society is not willing to accept. These leftover jihadis do not come just from the dispossessed and destitute sections of society. They are the ones to fear because they are us and we are them. They are the ones who represent the radicalisation of a society from within — without the help of training camps or madrassas.
Faisal Shahzad of Times Square, New York bombing fame was from a wealthy Pakistani family. He obtained his Bachelors and Masters degrees from the US and owned his own house. In one of his last e-mails before the event, he wrote, “Allah commands fighting for Islam”, and urged his friends to “find a proper sheikh to understand the Quran”.
Then there was Mumtaz Qadri of late Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder fame. From an ordinary lower, middle-class background, he was a high school graduate and had trained as an elite police commando. More religious than the rest of his family, and influenced in recent years by Dawat-e-Islami (a religious organisation not associated with militancy), Qadri is said to have made up his mind to kill “someone” five days prior to committing the murder after having heard an inflammatory speech by a cleric in Rawalpindi.
How about the 200 odd lawyers who garlanded Qadri and feted him upon his sublime feat of shooting an unarmed man in the back? One does not know their individual backgrounds but obviously they were not destitute, nor did they come from militant camps — ordinary Pakistanis. Obviously, they too were making a hero out of Qadri for religious reasons. Please note: I refuse to say ‘misplaced’ religious reasons. An explanation will come later for this refusal to do so.
There are numerous examples of Pakistani men in uniform who have acquired a jihadist mindset: the attack on the GHQ in October 2009, PNS Mehran in May 2011, attempts on the life of retired General Pervez Musharraf, the plot to attack Shamsi Airbase and numerous other incidents were inside jobs by educated, earning, ordinary men in uniform.
The attack on the Christian community of Gojra in August 2009 may have been planned or instigated by a religious militant organisation but ordinary, emotionally and religiously inflamed people partook in the orgy.
The examples are many, but the few above should suffice for argument’s sake. Is there a pattern? “No”, many will say. They will say the killings were carried out for different reasons and by people with very different backgrounds. I suggest otherwise: the pattern is religion.
It is no longer enough to say, “misinterpretation of religion”. Who are the guardians, the true interpreters of religion? All sects claim authenticity over others. Every sect, or even person, I would say, is authentic in his or her interpretation because, at the end of the day, religion is belief. Belief is so unsubstantial by definition, that another variation of unsubstantiated theory cannot hope to counter, leave alone vanquish it.
If you start with belief, or supposition, how can you possibly then identify the correct or incorrect intention, interpretation, objective, practice or purpose of a belief system, a system unfounded on proof, logic or reason? All the millions of people, or hundreds of sects, who believe they can convince the other, are living in a fool’s paradise and condemned to eternal conflict. One ‘belief’ cannot win over another belief — unless by the sword.
Religion has been allowed to run amok in this country, to freely arouse emotions — and abandon reason and humanity — and is treated as if it were the ultimate, incontrovertible, disprovable, scientific, supreme truth. Not only that, it has, horrifically, been allowed to become the basis of the legal framework of this country. How in the world is mere belief accorded more deference than reason, dialogue and consensus reached judgment?
Is it out of cowardice? Or out of real and eminent danger from a loony, a “young and impressionable mind” that may feel duty bound “to kill me”, in the words of Usama Hasan who has led Friday prayers at Leyton mosque for 20 years in East London. His crime: ascribing to Darwin’s theory of evolution. He was forced to publicly revoke his stance on evolution after thinly veiled suggestions that his ‘apostasy’ might sanction his execution.
Connect this to the recent dismissal of a petition by the chief justice of the Lahore High Court to indict PML-N’s law minister in Punjab for issuing a fatwa against the former Federal Law Minister Babar Awan as being “wajib-ul-qatal” (liable to be killed) for being corrupt. Connect it to the murder of ex-Governor Salmaan Taseer by Mumtaz Qadri after listening to an inflammatory religious speech. Make the connections.
And figure out before it is too late that ‘religion’ needs to be reigned in. People will always be free to believe in what they will but they cannot be allowed to execute their ‘beliefs’ with impunity, with no concept of a state, law by consensus and without punishment because they are accorded, for some unfathomable reason, the pedestal of all moral high ground owing to emotions emanating from a set of beliefs.
If institutions of the government are not willing to act of their own volition, then society has to force government to clamp down on those catapulting religion from the sphere of personal spirituality into public and political spheres with disastrous consequences for the entire polity.
Society has to force, for example, the courts of law in this country into taking notice of religiously motivated hate speech that inspires young impressionable minds into killing sprees. If society does not recognise its own pernicious radicalisation in the garb of religion, piety and goodness and take steps to correct it, it will be doomed to implode, with no one else to blame.
The writer is a journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Daily Times, Lahore