THE assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and the popular reaction it evoked is a pointer towards two things in the main: One, intolerance in our society is on the rise and many look down upon dissent and disagreement, have little taste for frank debate, and a section glorifies fanatics and killers. Two, the law and order situation has deteriorated so much that no one nowhere is safe.

“Words without thought never to heaven go,” says William Shakespeare in Hamlet. The discrepancy between words and thought, desire and action, intention and deed, is amply brought out by our society. We want peace and security but promote violence and fanaticism and enthrone sentimentalism and sensationalism, belligerency and bigotry. Rationalism and moderation, logic and sanity, rule of law and respect for human rights are no more than a voice in the wilderness. Killing and molestation, loot and plunder are becoming our favourite pastime. The people are increasingly taking the law into their own hands. The entire society is swept by emotionally charged, high-sounding words of demagogues wearing different garbs. Is it a surprise then that our society has become an inferno, where gruesome gangs, malevolent mafias and blood-thirsty terrorists rule the roost?

The nineteenth century English philosopher J.S. Mills once noted that the most serious threat to civic liberties stemmed not from the government but from society itself, which could not bring itself to accepting diversity of views and heterogeneity of ideas. In such a society, even a slight departure from the prevalent norms and values is suppressed. This astute observation is perfectly applicable to us — a multi-ethnic society composed of people professing different creeds and speaking different languages.

The edifice of such a society must rest on the pillars of a pluralistic philosophy, which accepts diversity of beliefs, practices and codes without trying to reduce the diversity to a unity. In such a society if the social order is to work smoothly, full religious freedom needs to be granted to all communities, the state must not discriminate on the basis of caste or creed, cultural diversity has to be reconciled with national unity and above all religion should not be used for political purpose, because this invariably promotes one community at the expense of others.

But unfortunately starting from the 1949 Objectives Resolution, religion has been strongly and wrongly injected into the body politic. The Objectives Resolution, which purported to form the basis of the future constitution of Pakistan, sought to make the country a hybrid of Islamic and western concepts of government and made it obligatory upon the state to enable people to become good Muslims.

All the three subsequent constitutions of Pakistan — the 1956, the 1962, and the present 1973 — have drawn inspiration from the resolution. The Ziaul Haq-induced Eighth Amendment in 1985 made the resolution a substantive part of the constitution by inserting Article 2-A. The significance of this is that now the principles and provisions of the Objectives’ Resolution are justiciable, while previously they were not. The 1973 constitution declared Pakistan an Islamic Republic and made Islam the state religion. The highest offices of the state were closed to non-Muslims by declaring that the president and prime minister must be Muslims.

Later through an amendment to the constitution, a parallel judicial system was created through the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) entrusted with determining the Islamic character of laws and examining and correcting any order passed by any criminal court under any law relating to the enforcement of the hudood. No court, not even the Supreme Court except for the appellate jurisdiction to be exercised by its Shariat Appellate Bench, can entertain any proceedings or exercise any power or jurisdiction in respect of any matter falling within the power or jurisdiction of the FSC.

Successive rulers in Pakistan have used religion to consolidate their position, and power seekers to satisfy their ambitions. Under the state patronage, religion has been used as an instrument of hatred and animosity, violence and disruption. A number of religious parties and scholars are involved in promoting religious bigotry and fanaticism. To them, the root cause of all our problems is the existence of more than one sect or creed and the panacea for all problems is simply the elimination of all rival sects and creeds and the establishment of a monolithic society.

To them, the government should devote all its energies and use all its resources to accomplishing a single task — establishing the supremacy of a particular sect or creed in the name of Islamisation. And if the government is not willing to do so, the clergy will do it on their own.

In the so-called jihad, they have found an instrument for accomplishing this task. In the eyes of many religious outfits, killing innocent non-Muslims or dissident Muslims is jihad if it helps promote the cause of their creed. A society where poverty, unemployment and ignorance are endemic and an analytical, rational approach to problems is lacking and where lethal weapons are easily available, it is not much difficult to use people as a tool for committing violence in the name of religion.

Religious intolerance breeds mistrust, ill-will and chaos in society leading to the collapse of the social, economic and political order. When people are victimised for their religious affiliations, they develop antipathy towards the entire creed whose followers are victimising them. In this way they are alienated from that creed, which ends up in inter-creed hostility. Since religion is one factor on which people can easily be incited, victimisation on religious grounds often begets social unrest and violence, which if goes unchecked may shake the entire social order.

The failure of the Swat deal in recent past reminds us that the jihadi ideology precludes tolerance of any dissent, difference or opposition as tolerating any ‘antithesis’ would constitute kufr. Thus, according to that ideology, democracy and parliament are illegitimate being a western concept and institution respectively and thus an antithesis of the Islamic political system.

The constitution, the legal system and all subordinate institutions which are based on democratic ideals are likewise branded as un-Islamic. Based on this ideology, in recent times, the Taliban established a monolithic, retrogressive society in Afghanistan, where even a slight departure from the enforced code of conduct was severely punished. Such a society was nearly established in Swat by the Sufi Muhammad-Fazalullah combine and is the goal of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and allied movements.

Such an ideology is obviously incompatible with the modern society, which is multiethnic, multicultural. In such a society, social order has to be based on a pluralistic philosophy — tolerance of religious and cultural differences within society permitting the various groups to practise their distinctive cultures while cooperating in larger social, economic and political life.

In breeding and nurturing religious militancy, the madaris have played a lethal role. The pen is bloodier than the sword and this is perfectly applicable to our madaris. The madaris teach negation, and hence repudiation, of doctrines, rituals and moral standards different from theirs. Hence, those who profess a different creed or have a different moral standard are looked upon as an evil. Women who do not put on veil or men who do not have a beard are considered impious. Men and women who mix with one another are regarded as essentially wicked. Those who listen to music commit a grave sin. All such wicked or impious people have to be reformed — by the use of force if need be.

The education imparted in the madaris instead of inculcating in students a dispassionate quest for truth or at least enabling them to take to some socially useful profession, indoctrinates in them hatred for other creeds. The students are taught that only their creed is based on truth, whereas the rest are an incarnation of evil whose elimination is a most sacred duty of theirs.

The reward of performing that duty, they are taught, is an everlasting life of pleasure in the paradise. Most of the students owing to their impressionable age come to believe this stuff. Hence, when they leave their institutions, their hearts are filled with the strong desire to carry out their “sacred” duty. The madaris also churn out sectarian propaganda in the form of inflammatory literature, which denounces followers of rival creeds as kafirs, who must either be coerced into conversion or exterminated.