Extremism gathering pace

Published June 23, 2024
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

“THANK you, Mr Jinnah”, said one social media user under a video clip post, which went viral. The clip showed a mob comprising Hindu extremists ransacking and looting a Muslim’s shop in India, enraged because the shop owner shared a photo of his Eid qurbani on WhatsApp.

The obvious implication of the remark was that by creating Pakistan, Mr Jinnah created a safe haven for the Muslims of the subcontinent or they would have faced the same fate as the Indian Muslim shopkeeper, who was confronted for doing his religious duty.

Of course, the social media user did what many of us do. Become delusional and selective. Having read Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speech: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan”, on numerous occasions, I am sure he’d be enraged at what we have done to his tolerant, equal opportunity vision/ mission.

Just look at the state of the minorities in our blighted, albeit beloved, land. We have atta­cked, maimed, murdered/lynched Chris­tians at will, often, as investigations show, on the flimsiest of pretexts, mostly fabricated, and torched their hearths and homes and bombed and burnt their churches.

We have witnessed unmoved as one after another, young Hindu girls have been kidnapped and then forcibly converted and married to their abductor. We have seen the cries of the families and the victims themselves falling on deaf ears.

When the state makes religion its business, groups with vested interests take it upon themselves to decide the interpretation of faith.

We have not been content with constitutionally declaring a particular community not part of our faith, and a minority, but continue to target its members. Assassinations of this community’s members, destruction of its properties and a bar on its practice of its beliefs and rituals even within its own four walls are routine.

Let alone minorities, who have virtually no rights in practical terms here, even numerically smaller Muslim sects have not been spared and continue to see their members murdered or locked up again on highly suspect charges.

The blasphemy law has been weaponised and is enforced by mobs and not police and/or the courts of law. An allegation is more than enough reason for mobs of a particular bent of mind to take the law into their own hands and act as judge, jury, and executioner.

The second part of the Quaid’s speech said: “You may belong to any religion, caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” But from the Objectives Resolution on, there are many examples of the state making faith its business.

When the state makes your faith and mine its business, groups representing vested interests take it upon themselves to decide the interpretation of the faith. Not just this, enforcement of their interpretation of the law (basically mob rule) becomes the order of the day.

The state is culpable in more ways than one. Over the years, it has weaponised faith as a force multiplier to be used to meet external challenges — in other words, to fight wars which weren’t of any benefit to us but brought riches and immense powers to those at the helm. For example, the establishment is often rightly cited for its role in fomenting extremism for its foreign policy goals, which it has also called ‘national security imperatives’. It is for all to judge what national security has gained from these policies. The policies continue to draw the blood of our civilians and soldiers.

The heartache is indescribable. Former dictator Gen Ziaul Haq may have been the worst culprit in promoting extremism and intolerance for narrow personal gains but, tragically, he isn’t the only one. Since he was killed 36 years ago, which military leader has tried to stem the rot in any meaningful manner? None, if I am honest.

You would be right in asking about the role of the civilian leaders. Well, the mention of ‘national security’ and any Pakistani will instinctively tell you that the civilian leadership is wholly marginal to decision-making in the area. We saw what Nawaz Sharif had to face when he raised the issue of militant surrogates with the establishment leaders.

Perhaps, having learnt a lesson from Mr Sharif’s fate, his son-in-law is openly promoting intolerance and is involved in the beatification of a convicted murderer who was executed when his own father-in-law was in government. Oh yes, hypocrisy is an integral part of those who use faith for their political ends.

Pakistani authorities have failed repeatedly to implement the judgements of our own superior courts. One need only see two judgements. The first was authored by chief justice Tassaduq Husain Jillani in 2014 after the church bombing in Peshawar and the second by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah just two years ago.

You can google both and read the details but they quite categorically spell out the rights of the minorities and how to safeguard their freedoms from bigoted behaviour. Tragically, the fate of these two judgements, as has been repeatedly evidenced in our country, has been no different to the fate of the so-called National Action Plan.

The 20-point NAP, which was approved by the widest consensus possible as parliament and the military leader both signed off on it has been largely gathering dust somewhere, while the scourge of terrorism is once again exacting a heavy toll of life of our civilians and young soldiers.

We are a nuclear power and have often declared our desire to be among the leading economies of the region in the future. But let’s not be delusional. Extremism is eating away at our very roots. If we remain helpless in tackling it head-on, our fate will be no different to that of other basket cases around the world.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2024

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