MOST of Pakistan’s mainstream religious parties have either tended to remain silent on the issue of extremism, or at best offered lukewarm criticism of fanatical tendencies.
Perhaps this is why today, whatever the mainstream clergy’s views may be, extremist groups continue to recruit individuals to their cause with ease. Nevertheless, any effort by religious groups to try and stem the extremist tide should be supported, if only to prevent further loss of space to hate-mongers and demagogues.
In this regard, the Milli Yakjehti Council’s decision to monitor Friday sermons in order to counter hate speech is a laudable initiative. On Tuesday, the conglomerate of religious parties representing nearly all of Islam’s major schools of thought in Pakistan announced in Lahore that in order to promote religious and sectarian harmony, Friday sermons would be monitored and any cleric making ‘problematic’ speeches would be censured. The council also said clerics would be urged to speak on topics that centred on moral and humanitarian issues.
Know more: MYC to monitor Friday sermons in mosques
Indeed, the MYC has in the past also made attempts to promote religious and sectarian harmony — most memorably under the stewardship of the late Jamaat-i-Islami emir Qazi Hussain Ahmed — with mixed results. In the current atmosphere, where the mosque loudspeaker has far too often been misused to stir up hatred against different religious communities as well as various Muslim sects, the initiative is timely. But as always the question remains: how effective will it be? For example, over the past months the state has claimed to arrest a number of individuals for generating hate material. Yet we must ask if these efforts have genuinely succeeded in sending a strong message to hate-mongers that their actions will not be tolerated. In the latest initiative, will the clergy’s effort to police their own deliver better results? History would suggest otherwise as in the past, well-meaning initiatives — launched with fanfare and similar promises of cracking down on divisive elements — have fallen through as mainstream religious parties have failed to isolate hate-mongers. For example, whenever exigencies have demanded it, some of the MYC’s constituent parties have shared the stage with outfits that make no bones about demonising other sects and religious groups. Will the clerics, this time around, have the wherewithal to both publicly and privately condemn such elements? Well-meaning statements are fine, but religious parties will have to practically show they will not tolerate hate speech and will condemn rabble-rousing clerics.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2015