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Smokers’ Corner: Not my faith, really

May 08, 2011

Extremism never rests. It keeps growing like a cancer until it completely devours its host. It is nobody’s friend. It only deals in might gained from coercion. What’s more, even after it has defeated its ideological opponents, it goes on to destroy even those supporters whom it deems too soft or moderate.

This is an aspect of extremism that a lot of its more ‘moderate’ supporters in Pakistan have not comprehended. Educated men and women can be heard and seen concocting outlandish explanations and justifications in a bid to sympathetically define the economic and political reasons behind religious extremists’ acts of terrorism. What they do not realise is that to the extremists these sympathetic ‘moderates’ are as much infidels as any westerner or a non-Muslim.

It seems many moderate Pakistanis who ( rather mindlessly) echo the usual anti-West rhetoric doing the rounds in mosques, madressahs, drawing rooms and TV studios do so for two reasons. But rest assured a firm belief in the ideology of the extremists is the least of these. Because after all, one either has to be clinically insane or stark, raving crazy to fall for an ideology that is based on utter hatred and a ferocious appetite for human blood.

The most prominent reason behind the ideological pitfalls that many Pakistanis find themselves in has something to do with a state of mind that is a culmination of fear, ignorance and guilt. Thanks to the maliciously tempered history taught in schools and colleges, I have noticed that very few young Pakistanis have any ability left in them to question (in an informed manner) what is dished out to them by the courts, the state, the clerics and the televangelists.

This, despite the availability of a vast treasure of knowledge available in bookstores and libraries with which a questioning mind can easily puncture the spew of half-truths and myths spun into the nation’s collective psyche—all in the name of defending the country’s Islamic credentials and the so-called ideology. For example, some ten years ago when Islamic evangelists were out in force asking Pakistanis to stop saying khuda hafiz and replace it with Allah hafiz, no one bothered to ask them why. They heard the word Allah and that was it. No questions asked.

The same social preachers then got enough leverage to go on and ask Pakistanis to stop saying wa-alaikum assalaam to non-Muslims who greet them with asalamalaikum. Sure, these are trivial nuances but the sort that go a long way in gradually turning society into an intolerant whole that some men and women would actually like Pakistan to be. Their weapon is distorted history and selective interpretations of Islamic laws unquestioningly understood as being correct by a majority of Pakistanis.

Learned, rational and modern Muslim leaders and intellectuals of yore like Jinnah and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan have gradually been turned into near-fanatics by those writing our textbooks and harbouring blind hatred for Hindus. So the great leaders of the past are taught in schools as being the original purveyors of a theocratic state, a notion that has no roots in reality whatsoever.

Historians of note, who have convincingly rubbished the history taught in schools, and peddled by the state and its right-wing allies, have been sidelined. A concerted effort to subdue and repress rationalist Islamic scholars of yore and today has been underway by elements pushing in narratives of political Islamists and even some obvious crackpots to portray a highly aggressive, xenophobic and militant image and understanding of Islam and Pakistan.

Through decades of disseminating fantasies of glory and myths about what a Pakistani Muslim is to believe and behave like, advocators of a hybrid version of faith and national ideology—in which traditional understanding of the faith is updated by a myopic and paranoid understanding of modern society—have been successful in turning much of society into an knee-jerk mass of people. This mob has little or no capacity to think beyond what is handed out as faith and patriotism to them.

What goes missing in such a setting is the ability to think and reflect. Knee-jerk applause for so-called popular Islamist causes and conservative social behavior make it a society that is both fodder and food for nihilism—all in the glorious name of jihad, patriotism and Islam.

This misplaced understanding of nationalism and religion is not only the vocation of crackpots and some clerics, but it is also found in our courts of law, the intelligence apparatus, the military and politicians alike. Their propagated goals are the supposed Islamisation and sovereignty of the Pakistani state. But the truth is that so far the many actions taken to achieve this goal have only managed to make society collapse inwards and gradually turn Pakistan into a kind of forbidden island whose inhabitants simply refuse to give up ideological cannibalism, even if this means their existential, economic and diplomatic exclusion from the rest of the world.