THE despondency over the increasing number of coronavirus infections that have claimed over 1,000 lives in Pakistan has been compounded by Friday’s PIA air crash that killed 97, robbing the country of whatever little joy had been left at the prospect of Eid festivities. Indeed, rather than celebrating, the nation will find the day an occasion for sober reflection on a global health crisis and a national tragedy. The socialising that normally characterises Eid has been replaced by social distancing. Far from embracing each other, the coronavirus forbids even a handshake. Masks hide smiling faces, and one cannot dine out with relatives at home or at eateries. If all the SOPs, imposed by terror-stricken governments everywhere, are observed — and they should be as the mayhem the virus has unleashed is far greater than any sense of privation — one would not even be able to take a stroll in the neighbourhood park or the beach. Some have gone so far as to say that the SOPs hold sway over our fundamental rights, among them the freedom of assembly. On a lighter note, some of history’s most ruthless dictators must be turning in their graves out of sheer jealousy because Covid-19 now exercises over billions of people the power they wished they could have wielded.
We can turn our thoughts to the brighter side of life and hope that by the time we observe the next Eidul Fitr, the pandemic would be a thing of the past. But what will take years to end is the pitiable condition of millions of Muslims the world over — poverty, war and persecution have led to much suffering. Many Muslims are refugees, some in their own country and others outside it. Unceasing fratricidal wars have pulverised state structures and pauperised the citizenry. As depressing are certain religious tendencies that promote violence or an extremist discourse that have seen states capitulate — as in our case where sections of the clergy have resisted the measures taken to lessen the threat of the virus. This governmental powerlessness highlights the prevalence of an ambience hostile to reason and science. No wonder scientists of the Muslim world prefer to work in ‘infidel’ states where their talents are recognised and honoured. The other day, President Donald Trump named Moncef Slaoui, a Moroccan-born pharma specialist, as one of two experts charged with developing a coronavirus vaccine. In the country of his origin, Mr Slaoui would have been sitting idle.
These are all thoughts for Eid day. Perhaps it will help Muslim countries including Pakistan resolve to break out of their intellectual inertia and focus attention on creating a milieu that encourages the uninhibited pursuit of liberal knowledge. The OIC has done nothing to encourage scientific research in the Muslim world in spite of the enormous wealth of many of its members. That must change.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2020