By Yasser Latif Hamdani
The attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine at Sehwan as well as the attacks in Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar was nothing less than an attack on Pakistan’s soul. It shows that the terrorists, be they of Jamaat-ul Ahrar or Daesh, are acting in a coordinated way and are clear about their targets. It is a war against Pakistanis’ agency to decide to how to live their lives.
Terrorists need not bother though. Our own state institutions have been waging this war on individual rights for decades now. Consider for example the interim order by the Islamabad High Court last week on a non-issue like Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is a harmless day celebrating love. What it is not is an attack on Pakistan’s cultural values (like Sehwan blast was). I think all reasonable people can agree that heart shaped balloons and flowers are not an attack on Islamic values. Only the most insecure mind can envisage that harmless fun undermines Islam in the country.
Yet this is what the honourable single bench of the Islamabad High Court concluded with its order banning all public celebrations of the occasion. With all due respect to the High Court, the order itself is unsustainable in light of the scheme of the Pakistani Constitution. The Objectives Resolution, which is the substantive part of the Constitution through Article 2-A, speaks of “enabling” Muslims to live according to Islamic ideals not enforcing them to do so.
The same Objectives Resolution states: “Wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures”. Valentine’s Day originates as a Christian Liturgical feast celebrating Saint Valentine. If Valentine’s Day is objected to as a “Christian occasion”, then should the honourable Court not have considered the question of minorities’ rights? If Valentine’s Day is banned, could not the same argument be made for Christmas? Christians are part of Pakistani society and a defined minority vis-à-vis Article 260 of the Constitution. Therefore it stands to reason that Christianity is a legitimate part of Pakistani culture, which is protected by the Pakistani constitution by virtue of the Objectives Resolution. Does the ban on Valentine’s Day not become unconstitutional on this ground alone?
Pakistan is a country where Muslims are an overwhelming majority i.e. 95 percent. The fear that Islamic values would be undermined is entirely without basis and utterly unreasonable, unless you concede that our values are so weak and open to challenge by harmless traditions, a concession I, as a Muslim, am unable to make. Secondly five percent Pakistanis is still a considerable number, no less than 10 million people. Pakistani Non-Muslims are promised equal citizenship by the constitution. If they are equal, so are their culture and their aspirations as Pakistani citizens. The only raison d’etre for Pakistan’s existence is that permanent cultural majorities cannot by sheer numbers dominate permanent cultural minorities. This is the point on which Muslims fought for and got Pakistan. Are we not vitiating the very spirit of this principle by treating the minorities in Pakistan as we do?
The larger question is of individual rights and the agency of Pakistanis to decide how to live their lives according to their own lights. What if a Pakistani wants to engage in the harmless practice of bringing flowers to his or her significant other? Where does the constitution enable the judiciary in Pakistan to intervene and stop him or her from doing that? How is this action on part of our superior judiciary any different from what the terrorists do by blowing up innocent pilgrims at a Sufi shrine?
The attack on Sehwan was an act of physical butchery aimed at taking away our right to worship as we please. The exercise by our judiciary in curtailing individual freedoms is the butchery of our soul. This decision by the Islamabad High Court sets a dangerous precedent, which will cast a long shadow on our jurisprudence with respect to our individual rights and the question of cultural limits? After all if Valentine’s Day is an alien, foreign, Christian or English custom, was cricket, our national past time, invented by the Muslims? Tomorrow an equally spurious petition may be brought up against playing or watching cricket. Remember terrorists have already managed to drive international cricket away from Pakistan. And why stop there? Are we going to distance ourselves from science, from computers, and from all other modern conveniences that have not been invented by Muslims? What about the court procedures and the entire legal system? These are also bequeaths of the British. It is for this reason that Jamaat-ul Ahrar has already made plain its intentions of targeting judiciary and lawyers’ organizations.
Pakistan must realize that it exists in the 21st century and is part of the global village that the world has become. With CPEC, Pakistan has a golden opportunity of becoming a major player on the world scene. That would mean people from all over the world converging on this area. With the Chinese will come inevitably their culture, the influx of which we are already seeing. Tolerance and acceptance of other people is key or we will see a repeat of what happened in 2007 with Lal Mosque again and again. Those of us who have travelled to China or have worked with the Chinese know that they are not going to sit idly and accept any such outrages timidly. It is therefore in our supreme national interest to cry halt and nip in the bud these useless questions of cultural limits that we are so insistent on imposing on ourselves.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality