IT seems that Karachi’s prestigious Institute of Business Administration has been forced to cancel an online seminar scheduled for early November. It would have featured world-renowned economist of Pakistani origin Atif Mian talking about why the economy is slowing down in the country — something we should all be very concerned about. We are open to being instructed on money matters by experts who are not necessarily our co-religionists. However, there is one exception, and so impassioned has been the campaign against this particular community declared non-Muslim by an amendment to the Constitution that it is surprising that someone would still risk inviting a member of the community to an event — any event, even one that is purely academic. Was it the scenes of a group of young Pakistani students at a college in Punjab defacing a poster of the country’s first Nobel laureate that jolted the dreamers who had planned the seminar out of their reverie? The bets had been on for a while about the fate of the event. For some people, it was a lecture unlikely to be held in an atmosphere that encouraged faith-based bans on all kinds of pursuits.

The hosts have not been too forthcoming about the reasons for the cancellation. Some commentators on television channels, and more of them on social media, have been wondering whether it was outside pressure or overpowering voices from within that thwarted this ‘bold’ attempt to fight the taboo in our midst. All that would be of pure academic interest. Inside and outside, and all around, it is the same attitudes that dictate. The spell can only be broken by those in a commanding role — by a government that not only nominates Dr Mian as an economic adviser but one which can also stand by its choice even in the face of threats. This requires a leadership that can separate religion from other affairs of the state. How long will it take for the rulers to realise this?

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2020

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