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Countering intolerance

Published Sep 10, 2012 03:03am


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A FEW years before the Nazi government arrested him in 1937 and sent him to a concentration camp, Martin Niemoller, a German theologian, spoke the powerful words that have come to epitomise the guilt of the bystander who watches in silence as those around suffer.

He lamented how he had not spoken up as they came first for the communists, then the unionists, and then the Jews. Finally when they came for him, “there was no one left to speak out”.

Pakistan has arrived at a point where ‘they’ have come for the Ahmedis, the Christians, the Hindus, and the Shias. It has come to a point where we need to speak out because at some point they will come for even those that are not part of a minority community.

They will come for you either because you are a Barelvi, a Deobandi, a woman, an intellectual, a liberal, the wrong ethnic group, or simply someone who does not agree with the worldview of those who are armed and have no compulsions against killing a fellow human being. But what is the most effective way to speak out? What will make a difference?

The simple answer, of course, is that we need to learn to be more accepting and tolerant of each other. But while noble, this is a generally useless suggestion because there is a large difference between being intolerant and actually pulling people off a bus, identifying them as Shias and then murdering them for that simple fact.

What takes a person from general intolerance towards others to actually killing people for their belief? I do not have an answer to that, but I do know a few things that contribute.

It contributes when murderers like the Taliban are allowed to get away with it. Not bringing perpetrators publicly to justice in courts that speak out clearly in favour of protecting every single citizen — regardless of caste, creed and religion — contributes to making the next incident possible.

It contributes that in attack after attack, a few of which have been on their own bases, we do not see the police or the army going after the outfits that sponsor these.

It also contributes that in its official documents the state continues to divide us all into religious categories. What, and whose, purpose does this serve?

It contributes when public figures do not speak out loudly and regularly in favour of minorities and against the violent crimes that they suffer.

It contributes that electronic media is not awash with dramas, public service messages and talk shows promoting an understanding of minority cultures and beliefs, the value and beauty of diversity, and the idea that there should be no ‘us’ and ‘them’ within Pakistan.

It certainly contributes that the career of television anchors does not suffer terribly when they publicly convert members of minority communities to Islam on their shows. And despite popular belief, it is not a lack of education that contributes to this, but rather, the content of our educational curricula that appears to be responsible.

I discovered in my research in rural Pakistan that the person in the village with active membership of a sectarian organisation was never the uneducated farm labourer, but rather the schoolteacher.

The only person that I met who told me he had participated in a religious protest was a man with an FA degree who had travelled to Lahore to protest against the Danish cartoons. As we strive to educate more and more of our population without a review of what we are teaching them, where can we expect to head?

So, how do we speak out? Maybe the answer lies in becoming intolerant as well. We need to become vocally intolerant of religious groups that seek to organise people on the basis of differences and preach violence against others.

We need to become intolerant of the army’s strategic games, and of the fact that deals are struck with those that kill openly and thump their chests publicly to take responsibility for it.

We need to be intolerant of political parties that cosy up to the army and tow its line of negotiating with murderers. We should be intolerant of a state that requires us to reveal our religion in official documents.

We need to be intolerant of a system that is seen to go into hyper-drive to weaken an elected government, but that allows known religious fanatics to walk free for lack of strong evidence.

How do you express such intolerance? By getting our politics right. Withdraw support for the judiciary when it lets a terrorist go. Push the political party you support to have a clear stance against those that kill minorities, and do not vote for those that make excuses for terrorist outfits.

Change the channel when talk show hosts insist that the real problem is another country, politicians or corruption, all the while defending those that kill the name of religion.

Write to channels to demand that there be more programmes on issues that affect minorities. Use social networking sites, newspapers and public protests to reduce divisions within Pakistan. Refuse to identify yourself with a religion or sect when asked to do so.

And on a personal level, stop trying to match your children with a spouse of the same sect, biradari, or class. Embrace diversity and the possibility that that will only make you less insulated and less inbred.

Do this before they come for you.

The writer is a researcher of political economy.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (23) Closed

Daud Sep 10, 2012 10:19pm
Beautiful article! I wish such material could reach those who only read Urdu papers and magazines, which are written by bigots.
Yawar Sep 11, 2012 12:28am
Shandana Khan, I wish Pakistan had many more people who think rationally like you and are brave enough to speak the truth. But unfortunately, most Pakistanis, inlcuding our government officials and media, are lacking in at least one of these facets. You are right, as long as the majority continues to tolerate terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, TTP, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, innocent Pakistanis will continue to be butchered.
Yawar Sep 11, 2012 12:33am
You can only hear one Imam, out of millions of Imams, at a time. It only takes a few to create fervor via their "inflammable speeches." What happened in Swat only a couple of years ago is a clear example.
Bharat Sep 11, 2012 01:36am
To change this culture of Intolerance, stop denying it, and stop defending this problem with comarisons
Rao Sep 11, 2012 01:56am
As a first step, Pak Govt. should repeal blasphemy laws and remove restrictions on Ahmadis practicing their religion.
sri1ram Sep 11, 2012 05:12am
Maybe that reflects on you more. Perhaps you need to get out more, visit rural areas, visit more mosques and listen to vehement talks of quite a number of maulvis and Imams outside your protected enclave. Tell me, how many have the "secularists and liberals" killed or caused to be kill, with their "inflammable" rhetoric?
Laeeq, NY Sep 10, 2012 08:13pm
Very well writen True picture of the current state of our State.
andleeb Sep 11, 2012 08:11am
But don't the Govt approved books teach hatred?
rehan Sep 10, 2012 09:41am
I have yet to come across an Imam that gave "inflammable" speeches...I guess Secularists are much more inflammable that a normal person :)
sri1ram Sep 10, 2012 05:26am
Beautifully put, but rationals like you are a rare minority nowadays. I doubt if such practical sentiments are ever expressed so succinctly in mainstream Urdu newspapers. And if someone dares to go out of the way to translate such thoughts to Urdu, he or she can easily be silenced - remember Murtaza Razvi? Unfortunately for a nation with such potential and such talented people, the time for speaking out intolerantly against obvious problems seems to have long passed. I hope and pray for the best anyway, for the sake of ordinary Pakistanis.
andleeb Sep 10, 2012 06:01am
Your article is a slap on the two nation theory. If we are tolerant of minorities etc, then how are we different from India and where was the need to make Pakistan?
Jay Sep 10, 2012 06:02am
I agree 100% that we have a problem with extremism and minority rights are being eroded. Unfortunately, the writer mixes his own anti-army agenda into the debate, which effectively turns a very serious issue into the usual army v/s civilians debate which pollutes Pakistani discourse. We need to solve the problem of extremism in Pakistan not because we like or hate the army, not because the global media prods us, and not because it is the chic thing to do. We need to solve this problem to express our solidarity with Quaid-e-Azam, with our fellow citizens of all faiths, and to reclaim our beloved country back from the fanatics who have hijacked the true, progressive vision of Pakistan.
athar Sep 10, 2012 06:42am
Rabia Sep 10, 2012 07:29am
yes, really excellent
Cyrus Howell Sep 10, 2012 07:50am
So, how do we speak out? Easy, tell them to stop talking to Allah and start listening to Allah instead.
iagnikul Sep 10, 2012 07:51am
Good advice to all of us.
Dr.S.F.Haq Sep 10, 2012 07:57am
Convince local Maulvis and Imams of the mosques to stop intolerant and inflammable speeches and sermons against other sects and religion.Reputed Ulemas of all the sects have to come forward against intolerance as their religious and national obligation to save innocent Muslims from brutal killing by misguided extremists.
Z Ali Sep 10, 2012 08:45am
Well said, Sir!
Ram Krishan Sharma Sep 10, 2012 09:06am
I agree with the writer's sentiments expressed here , but nothing can be done now when for generations the children have been imparted lessons of hatred and intolerance towards other religions and sects , in schools and at home.
Imran Ahmed Sep 10, 2012 11:30am
What a sensible suggestion!
Dr. Boodhun Sep 10, 2012 12:15pm
The Government of Pakistan made a mistake by acting on the recommendation of the Mullahs combined, in 1974 and declare the Ahmadiyya Muslims as Heretics. The Mullahs may be right and sincere in their beliefs but the Government should be for all Pakistanis and it has no right to decide about the faith of any of its citizens. We have to know our limits. When these limits are crossed then you have present day Pakistan. If one pays attention to how things were before 1974 and how things in Pakistan turn out to be after 1974,, then one will conclude that the Goverrnment was wrong to impose upon the conscience of its own citizens, a right that Allah has not given to anybody include the Prophets.
Asad Changezi Sep 11, 2012 07:04am
Really Apreciate the artical on recent violently killings and brainwashers of our society..This is a way of mass media to predict and perceptable views with a common thoughts whom hav no authority to speak....
A. Salma Sep 10, 2012 02:18pm
The irony of today's pakistani is that an uneducated rural farmer from sindh is likey to be more tolerant than an educated urbane. Our books from the primary school is full of hate and bigotry. We need to revamp the whole curriculum and make it inclusive, tolerant and secular. Other wise the future is hopeless. Also, all the madrassah should give the state approved education only.