THE wave of intolerance that has been sweeping across Pakistan for many years is now threatening to deprive society of the last vestiges of resistance to barbarism and insanity.
Barring a few voices of protest there has been no sign of the kind of outrage that was warranted by the ultimatum to the Kalash and the Ismailis in Chitral — convert to Islam or get ready to be killed. What is the government doing about it? Or does it believe that after a settlement with the Taliban the militants will stop converting to their belief all citizens, non-Muslims as well as Muslims? Such wishful thinking could lead to a catastrophe of incalculable magnitude.
It is not enough to assure the communities under threat of the protection of law-enforcing agencies. For these agencies themselves have apparently been infected by the virus of intolerance, and no ideas, however illogical, can be suppressed by force alone.
The authorities must identify the authors of the warning and, more importantly, their accomplices within the Chitral population, especially those who want to deprive the Kalash people of whatever property they have been left with after successive forays by land-grabbers.
Similarly, it is necessary to track down the tradition-bound individuals or groups that have been offended by the social change the Ismailis have brought in the region by educating children, raising the status of women and establishing drug-free enclaves — this because quite a few pious-looking zealots have been found to be fired by their lust for material gain.
But to be able to rid the people of Chitral of the paralysing effects of fear the government and the people both will have to shed their habit of abject surrender to savagery.
This weakness is also visible in the way the authorities are trying to meet the conservative elements’ opposition to polio vaccination. It is doubtful if they realise the gravity of the disaster Pakistan is courting by failing to protect its children and by being held responsible for obstructing the dreaded disease’s eradication.
Attempts to find brave health workers or fearless escorts or ceremonial administration of polio drops under safe canopies are not going to help. Those attacking anti-polio missions are driven by a queer belief and they will not give up until they are cured of their affliction. In this case too the government can get away with its flabbiness because of the people’s indifference to the growing hazards to their lives, liberty and security.
The daily toll of targeted killings and attacks on individuals on account of their belief are increasingly being accepted as an unalterable routine. Worse, instances of interference with citizens’ literary pursuits and media freedom are multiplying.
The state has not bothered to find out why playwright and teacher Asghar Nadeem Syed became the target of a murderous attack. Since he has survived, the higher authorities are not pushed to take notice of the police failure to trace the assailants. The matter has been added to the fast-growing list of closed files. The mystery will remain until the culprits make the mistake of getting caught for some other crime and confess to having attacked the popular writer and then somebody will claim reward for solving a difficult case.
Meanwhile, the high priests of religiosity will advise the people against blaming the criminals, and tell the writer not to provoke the armed vigilantes by using the word ‘Syed’ in his name.
This was also the conclusion the authorities reached while closing the file of the murder of the Gujrat University’s professor Shabbir Shah who was gunned down three months ago. The smart sleuths in the law-enforcing agencies spend quite some time on finding non-sectarian motives for even clear cases of sectarian targeted killing. They could easily convince themselves that Professor Shabbir was not killed for being a Shah, he was liquidated for his leftist views. Hence nothing to worry about.
That the writers face a rough time ahead is confirmed by the attack on the Gujranwala home of Dr Saulat Nagi, author of a book on the evolution of religions and a contributor to English-language newspapers. Somebody has taken exception to a harmless story in English that he had read out at a literary gathering.
An example of the extent of the newborn puritans’ intolerance of views different from their own is available in a new edition of Dewan Singh Maftoon’s book, Na-qabil-i-faramosh. The publisher who wanted to make money by reprinting the Indian journalist’s book did not agree with the author’s description of a character as Muslim. It was considered necessary to insert in brackets the words ‘not a Muslim, Ahmadi.’ Does belief allow anyone to interfere with the text of an old book?
Nobody can deny that quite a few forms of intolerance in our society are condoned — wrongly in most cases — in the name of religion.
The ulema know that their religion is being abused but they choose to remain silent. Maybe they see in the possible elimination of rational persons and ideas their path to power. They may have to pay dearly for this mistake, for they too will not be spared by the enemies of reason.
The same is likely to be the fate of the progressives who keep telling the people that the whirlwind of today is the result of our having sown the wind long ago, and do nothing to extricate their fellow beings from the abyss of bigotry.