KARACHI, April 18: Secularism is not against religion; it is the message of humanity.

This was the gist of the speeches delivered by eminent speakers at the launch of the Pakistan chapter of the Forum of Secular Bangladesh and Trial of War Criminals of 1971 at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday.

Prior to the launch, a documentary Portraits of Jihad directed by distinguished Bangladeshi filmmaker Shahriar Kabir was screened. The subject of the film was the spread of religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh. It gave a detailed account of how extremist groups tried to shake the foundation of Bangladeshi society through terror, making their recruits acquire training abroad and target those who spoke against fundamentalism or upheld secular values.

It was a moving documentary that commenced with the footage of an attempt on the life of Shaikh Haseena Wajid in 2004 and ended on a positive note with Lalon Fakir’s mystical words.

Iqbal Haider, the president of the forum, complimented the people of Bangladesh for having got rid of militancy. He said the foundation of Bangladesh was laid on four principles enshrined in their constitution — secularism, socialism, nationalism and democracy — which made all the difference.

“On the contrary, we Pakistanis are infected with fundamentalism, ethnicity, sectarianism etc,” he said, and claimed that the largest number of Muslims were killed (by Muslims) in Pakistan.

He said that extremists were free to attack jails, shrines and schools; 900 schools were destroyed by Taliban within the last three years in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, depriving children of education.

Following the path of secularism did not mean deviating from the basic principles of Islam, he argued. “Secularism is the message of humanity; it is not against religion,” he concluded.

Shahriar Kabir informed the media that when the BNP and Jamaat-i-Islami were in power in Bangladesh, a vibrant civil society movement in the country took root because of which extremist forces suffered a humiliating defeat in the next elections. He said Bangladesh had succeeded in coming up with a viable education policy introducing uniform curriculum in schools and madressahs. He was of the view that no government could fight against terrorism without the help of civil society.

With respect to Pakistan, he said he was optimistic as the people of the country were not fundamentalists.

Speaking about the importance of the forum, he said while religious parties had built their networks all over the world, those who spoke with reasoning did not know each other.

Senator Hasil Bizenjo praised the way Mr Kabir’s documentary highlighted a sensitive issue, and lamented that despite the fact that Pakistan was more affected by violence no such documentaries were made in the country. He remarked it was time that intellectuals of Pakistan came forward.

Artiste Sheema Kermani stated that there were two victims of fundamentalism — women and art & culture —, adding that “we could only move forward if we adopted secularism; otherwise there is little hope for Pakistan”. She complained that the media, especially the electronic media, did not give enough coverage to the activities that highlighted tolerant values.

Advocate Javed Qazi agreed with Shahriar Kabir that there should be a Sufi conference in Pakistan and told the media that it could be held in Karachi in winter.

Later, the host of the programme, Munazza Siddiqui, read out the names of the ad hoc committee of the forum.

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