Dangerous turn

Published September 16, 2022

OVER the years, much ink has been spilt warning against the misuse of religion in settling petty enmities and political scores. It is depressing to see that it has had little effect, even on those who should conduct themselves with more restraint and maturity than the average citizen.

The new campaign to vilify former prime minister Imran Khan on religious grounds is both condemnable and unsettling, especially because several senior PML-N leaders — including Maryam Nawaz herself — seem to be quite unabashedly promoting it.

Party stalwart Mian Javed Latif’s press conference on Wednesday — in which he attacked Mr Khan on vague grounds, repeatedly denigrated a minority community and seemed to willfully misinterpret offhand remarks made by the PTI chief during a recent event — made for arguably one of the worst displays of bigotry by a mainstream political party in recent years.

Read: Religion and politics

This is not to say that Mr Khan shares no blame. His frequent use of religion has forced his opponents to play their own ugly hand. He repeatedly invokes sacred beliefs to buttress his worthiness as a leader and paints his opponents as lesser Muslims for crimes they allegedly committed. It is, obviously, impossible to judge his intentions, but if one were to consider some of his own actions, it is apparent that he falls well short of being the righteous leader he likes his supporters to believe him to be.

He is also rather lacking in wisdom, and his inability to clearly articulate what he has on his mind has led to him putting his foot in his mouth more times than one can count. This becomes particularly troublesome when he starts speaking about religion.

In a country where, in matters of faith, a slip of the tongue can result in a bullet in the back, one cannot always count on their privilege to save them whenever they make a mistake. For all these flaws, however, targeting him by calling him a blasphemer is unconscionable and cannot be condoned.

It is an extremely dangerous escalation by the PML-N, which can expose Mr Khan to grievous harm. The political leadership on both sides needs to de-escalate and engage within the bounds of civility. Using the religion card against a political opponent crosses a major red line and ought to be roundly condemned by anyone who wishes to see a progressive Pakistan freed from the shackles of intolerance and bigotry it has been caught in.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2022

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