Blight of extremism

December 28, 2016

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THE gradual but steady transformation of Mumtaz Qadri’s grave into a shrine is a powerful indictment of both society and state. Qadri was tried, convicted and hanged for murdering the then governor Punjab, Salmaan Taseer — the man who Qadri, as part of his security detail, was duty-bound to protect. Instead, the police commando turned his gun on Taseer for the ‘crime’ of sympathising with Asia bibi, a poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy, and asking that changes be made to the blasphemy law to prevent its abuse. And he gloried in his act till the very end, without compunction or regret — and garnered a huge following in the process. The travesty that a killer is on track to being immortalised as a saint flies in the face of our cultural traditions where saints in their lifetimes were recognised as icons of tolerance and pluralism. It also makes a mockery of the state’s claims of tackling extremism.

What we are witnessing is the effects of a far right narrative allowed to percolate unchecked through society for decades. No doubt, the state has vowed to counter the religious extremism that has exacted such a terrible toll on the people of Pakistan, and its prosecution of Qadri may have been an effort to assert its writ. Nevertheless, the varied manifestations of religious extremism, the different strands that make up the whole, continue to flourish. Banned organisations hold public rallies; sectarian elements participate in the electoral process; religious activists are mainstreamed as charity workers; madressahs continue to resist government regulation and control, etc. Lal Masjid’s Maulana Abdul Aziz, who not too long ago declared his support for the militant Islamic State group, named his library after Osama bin Laden, and called for jihad against the government, apparently remains above the law. While no longer in retreat as it appeared to be in the last few decades, the state seems unwilling or unable to confront the problem in its entirety. Its politically expedient approach — or timorousness, as the case may be — can only send mixed signals at a time when there must be a clear-cut policy based on an unequivocal rejection of any semblance of religious zealotry. Military campaigns and intelligence-based operations can only rid the country of the symptoms of extremism. It is the disease itself that must be cured, and that requires far more consistency than the state has thus far demonstrated.

Published in Dawn December 28th, 2016