By Khaled Ahmed
Jan 6-12, 2012
Outside, young children shouted slogans for Qadri, a curly-bearded extremist who killed Taseer because he championed the case of a poor Christian woman who had been prosecuted under the country's notorious blasphemy laws. Others joined them, protesting against Qadri's prosecution for murder. The air was thick with talk of persecution. "Qadri is a great martyr," said one man. "What he did is permitted by Islam." Then the crowd poured through the streets and on to the highway leading to Islamabad. The police closed the road and watched.
The celebration of Qadri, a deluded fanatic, was deeply depressing. So was the fact that nobody dared raise their voice against his supporters, not even the government. Instead, the judge who sentenced Qadri has fled Pakistan. Aasia Bibi, the Christian at the heart of the furore, remains in jail. And Taseer's son, Shahbaz, has been kidnapped - probably by Qadri sympathisers. An ugly spectacle, it betrays questions about something deeply unhealthy at the core of Pakistani society- Declan Walsh, Guardian weekly, 15 December 2011
Pakistani speech is extreme in private and on the TV channels. People who advise moderation are scoffed at. The Army is praised, the elected government is condemned and targeted for premature ouster, and the terrorists are not a part of the discourse because they are 'our brothers' and are supposed to fade away after the Americans leave. Everything is extreme; above all our love for China which we think is mysteriously helping us in all sorts of ways.
No theories hold. Deobandis and Wahhabis are supposed to be extremist in their views, but the Barelvis make the country boil over with a pathology that tames even Al Qaeda fanatics. In Pakistan - a castle of Islam - all sorts of people are trying to insult the Holy Prophet PBUH. In proportion to their minuscule population, Christians are getting the evil fallout of this extremism, and they are the poorest segment of Pakistani society. One is not sure if Jinnah called Pakistan the Castle of Islam, but the siege mentality of its population actually tells us where Pakistan started and ended up. An important aspect of this mentality is self-infliction through perceived conspiracy.
Institutions act in line with this collective disease. The curse of 'national consensus' is upon us. We are united against America, against the incumbent government, against India as our textbook foe, but are in love with the Army which no longer has the need to overthrow governments. We love a Supreme Court where, as per Asma Jahangir, the bench has no dissenting judges when it comes to adjudicating between the elected government and the generals-on-extension. The media, manned by angry discussants and anchors recommending 'bloody revolution', is a part of the national consensus. Terrorism as enemy of the state is obscured by the terrorism embedded in the minds of the Pakistanis.
The intellectual is on the run in Pakistan as well as in the Islamic world. He is the person who negotiates between the reductionism of rough divine edicts and society. Islamic scholars have not succeeded as intellectuals because of the use of violence by the orthodox who dominate Islam these days. Intellectual interpretations of the faith are still not popular in the Muslim world mainly because of low levels of literacy and the consequent concentration of power in the hands of the clergy. Muslim intellectuals, like Muhammad Arkun, Abdul Karim Soroush, Khaled Abu El Fadl and Abu Zayd, who believe that early Islam was an adaptive Islam that was gradually arrested by a specific culture, have been forced to live abroad. The absence of the intellectual makes the faith impervious to change and leaves the extremist free to spread his evil mission.
In February 2011, in the wake of the murder of Salmaan Taseer, Stephen Cohen, author of a number of books on Pakistan, had this to say: 'These are symptoms of a deeper problem in Pakistan. There is not going to be any good news from Pakistan for some time, if ever, because the fundamentals of the state are either failing or questionable. This applies to both the idea of Pakistan, the ideology of the state, the purpose of the state, and also to the coherence of the state itself. Pakistan has lost a lot of its stateness, that is, the qualities that make a modern government function effectively. So there's failure in Pakistan on all counts. I wouldn't predict a comprehensive failure soon but clearly that's the direction in which Pakistan is moving'.
When a country marching towards collapse develops a national consensus, it means that the nation has either diagnosed its malady and is determined to cure it; or it is determined to defy the world and to let its internal disorder grow and overwhelm not only itself but the world too through an overspill. It is no longer a tenable position that the world should leave Pakistan alone because, after all, its people are just killing each other.
Where does Pakistani extremism get its final touches of acceptable 'presentation'? Doubtlessly the media provides the space and time in which extremism gets expressed in its packaged form. The people at large imbibe it and pass it on as their own thinking when talking to their peers. The media exempts the terrorist and the clergy from its scrutiny and criticism; it also spares the Army and its intelligence agencies. Salmaan Taseer was the victim of the media. The anchor who did 'the job' on him has flourished and gone on to new peaks of success, while the victim is dead and his family is suffering because of the cause he embraced.
Adnan Rehmat writing in The News (25 December 2011) under the heading The manipulator is manipulated, stated: 'There have been at least three instances in 2011 alone that have established that the independent TV media in Pakistan have failed in their role of either informing or educating the people and on what really is happening when the people were primed to make up their minds on the issue about who really governs the country. The first was when CIA agent Raymond Davis was caught in Lahore, the second when Osama Bin Laden was found comfortably snuggled in Abbottabad and the third when NATO troops gunned down Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border.
'In each of these three instances, the media was manipulated by the military Establishment into taking anti-American sentiments sky high to increase their leverage over Washington. By using the Establishment's standard narrative of nationalism, religion and patriotism, the media got played into ignoring the basic principles of journalism that demand a professional, neutral posture based on fact rather than opinion. TV in Pakistan is full of opinion-making anchorpersons on primetime talk shows that are always blurring the line between fact and opinion and the line between opinion and analysis'.
Blasphemy Law is the epitaph under which the state's cadaver will finally be buried. The victory of the Islamist in the wake of the Arab Spring is nothing compared to what Pakistan has become under this law. It is emblematic of the deadening of the soul of the people who populate Pakistan.
Source: The Friday Times, Lahore