The recent issue to have riled up a good number of Pakistanis — including jihadi networks — is the alleged blasphemy against Islam committed by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. The imagined gatekeepers of the Ummah and the country in possession of an ‘Islamic bomb’ must protest against the ‘degradation’ and ‘defamation’ of the ‘faith’. Nowhere in that discourse is mentioned how brutal murders by gunmen could be justified, let alone explained.
European societies must not be bailed out for their growing Islamophobia and the uneven integration of the ‘Muslim’ into secular societies. Nor can the double standards on free speech be condoned. Western Europe needs to introspect where it has gone wrong in breeding such alienation and discontent. But that is their problem.
For Pakistanis, and many Muslim societies to get outraged at the offensive material about their faith, is at best duplicitous.
In Pakistan, we grew up with Friday sermons and prayers that ended with calling for the defeat of Christians, Jews and Hindus. In some cases, there is an explicit invocation of divine help for their ‘destruction’. The grievances that such sermons manifest are political, often real, but largely imagined. Mahsaal, a Lahore-based NGO, has compiled a few sermons and one of them dated 2010 advocates thus: “O Muslims, get up and take in hand your arrows, pick up your Kalashnikovs, train yourselves in explosives and bombs, organise yourselves into armies, prepare nuclear attacks and destroy every part of the body of the enemy. The Holy Quran instructs us but since we have not followed it the Europeans have published the cartoons …”. This was perhaps said in the wake of the Danish cartoons saga where we only harmed ourselves by burning public buildings and getting innocent Pakistanis killed.
This phenomenon is not restricted to mosque leaders. Our textbooks are replete with references to kafirs or infidels. A distorted picture of other religions is presented. A major study by the National Commission for Justice and Peace published in 2012 said that Pakistani school textbooks view religions other than Islam “with contempt and prejudice”. For instance, an Urdu grade five textbook has a lesson with a story about a selfish Jew who owned a well and never allowed Muslims to take water from it. Punjab textbooks are the most problematic. Some books also have material on “the Muslim world and colonialism” berating Western and Christian governments for narrow-mindedness and fanaticism. Let us not even talk about the Hindus as they are conniving, cunning and mean. Little wonder that Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi referred to Indians as small-hearted. He retracted the statement later but the textbooks spoke through his words.
The Shias in general and Hazaras in particular have been under attack. There are mainstream groups — violent and ostensibly non-violent — that castigate them to the extent of calling them infidels. Zikris in Balochistan are no longer safe either. The Ahmadiyya community is openly declared ‘wajibul qatl’ (fit for murder) on national television. There was some online protest against a leading televangelist doing this again and again, but nothing happened. Churches and Christian settlements have been attacked, killing hundreds; and working class Christians have been burnt alive. But we hardly witness protests against these atrocities, especially from clerics and faith-based networks that want to showcase Islam as a religion of peace. One of the key reasons for this is the subterranean brainwashing that has seeped into society — certain groups of people are fit for murder anyway.
Al Bakistan — as so many number plates in Lahore declare our country as such — identifies with Saudi Arabia, where churches and temples are not allowed to function. Many Gulf states — the unfortunate representatives of mainstream Islam globally — have limited freedoms for non-Muslims. Iran is no better with a repressive control over its population. Both these models present a version of state conduct that easily turns into a stereotype.
Protests against Charlie Hebdo have focused on blasphemy. Much has been said about our blasphemy laws and the way they are misapplied to settle scores. Our moment of shame continues: a few days ago, Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer of former governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, was represented by a large number of lawyers (more in number than the policemen), including two former judges of the Lahore High Court. Every person has a right to defence and the law provides for that. But the inclusion of two former judges in Qadri’s legal team is symbolic. Earlier, it was thought that extreme ideas had only influenced the lower functionaries of the state. That is now proving to be a comfort-inducing fallacy. Radicalisation has made its way into the higher echelons of state. Being religious or pious is not the issue here, but imposing a worldview in secular dispensation of official duties is a problem.
The former chief justice is on record on having said that if parliament were to declare Pakistan a secular country, the judiciary would strike this down. Sadly, neither parliament, nor the courts or the people of Pakistan want that. And this is why the vicious cycle of hate and violence is not going to end anytime soon.
A faint glimmer of hope was kindled in the aftermath of the Peshawar attack. But that is also fading fast. The National Action Plan — a comprehensive way forward — is not too clear or committed on the mass-deradicalisation that Pakistan needs. This long-term detox project will only begin the day we decide that Pakistan is a nation-state, not an Ummah outpost; and a peaceful, pragmatic state, not an ideological one reeling under the contradictions of its identity.