By: Agha Haider Raza
When Salmaan Taseer was assassinated eight weeks ago, I quoted Max Weber in my article: “If the power of violence shifts from the state to the people, we also see a shift from a state to anarchy”. Weber’s paradigm of anarchy is becoming more evident in Pakistan as time progresses. The brutal murder of Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad has solidified the notion that the PPP led government is ignoring extremism. This perturbed ideology is challenging the writ of the State and if not handled with the delicacy and precision required, we will surely dissolve into a state of oblivion.
During the past year, President Zardari has sent over 70 press releases to the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP – GoP’s official wire agency) “condemning” deaths, murder and terrorist actions. Yet Mr. Zardari seems ignorant of the very extremists who killed Benazir Bhutto, assassinated Salmaan Taseer, murdered Shahbaz Bhatti and thousands of civilians. Zardari changed his children’s surname so they would carry the name of their maternal grandfather and even went to the extent of renaming his own hometown of Nawabshah to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto district. Why invoke Benazir Bhutto if the extremists who murdered her are still wreaking havoc in Pakistan?
I am not undermining the sacrifice Ms. Bhutto gave this country. But what use is it to Pakistan if Mr. Zardari refuses to acknowledge the very threat of violence that has forced him to name cities after his slain wife? Where is the speech of a President uniting a fractured country? Where is the public condemnation of murder? Sitting within the Presidency’s bubble and sending 250 words to the APP will surely not break the shackles dragging us towards anarchy.
Having recently travelled through southern Punjab, it was highly disturbing to see the number of madrassahs being constructed. These institutions are being set-up every 20 kilometers along Multan Road through Sadiqabad. The graduating batch is more fodder for the “extremist Frankenstein monster” Benazir Bhutto spoke of two decades ago.
It is arguably difficult to tame the monster. However, a thoughtful analysis of threats and opportunities is required in order to break free from extremism. The Islam being preached at such institutions needs to be modified and reexamined. This concept of invoking fear into the hearts of “infidels” and “blasphemers” through violence is not an Islam that was practiced by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) nor advocated by his followers.
Islam can survive without violence, as it has for 1400 years. It is truly mesmerizing where a religion that was not spread by the sword is now synonymous with suicide bomb and cold-blooded murder.
Those who are inspired by carnage and terrorism through religion need to be shown that Islam at the core does not follow such principles nor evokes such behavior. Education is one method of response, but that is a long-term goal. Pakistan requires a proactive responsibility from the government, opposition parties and civil society in order to marginalize the thought-process of extremist elements threatening our social fabric.
The government needs to take a lead role in countering religious violence. First and foremost the writ of the state is being challenged as civilians are utilizing the power of violence. Despite all odds, Mumtaz Qadri (a self-proclaimed assassin) needs to be dealt with according to the law. If religious parties, the government and political parties constantly rally for Raymond Davis to be dealt in accordance to the laws in Pakistan, I don’t see why we should be discriminating. Providing military training for mujahid’s in covert operations needs to cease. Investments for NGOs providing roti, kapra aur makaan (food, clothing and shelter) should be increased exponentially, while the public-private sector partnership needs to assist the government in dealing with the monster of terrorism. The Zia-ul-Haq era of textbooks containing religious violence should to be revoked.
Islamic History is absent from books utilized in schools across the country. From the very basic public schools in rural Pakistan to elite institutions like Aitchison College, 1200 years of Islam is absent. Islamiyat is taught from the birth of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the death of Imam Hussain (AS). Pakistan Studies picks up from the reign of the Mughal Emperor Babar to the inception of Pakistan in 1947. The Umayyads, Abbasids, Ottoman Empire, Safavid dynasty are crucial to Muslim history but is overlooked. These dynasties brought about a social cultural change through religion and would be an important aspect to countering religious violence in Pakistan.
There are some who may argue that if the government is absent, the people of Pakistan need to voice their opinions. While this may be true, I still feel that an elected, representative democratic government is required to take the lead on such a sensitive issue. Harping on the Shaheeds of a party will not rid us of the Frankenstein monster that has taken the life of thousands across Pakistan. Pakistan’s very identity and survival is at stake. Actions truly speak louder than empty rhetoric.
In his inaugural speech Pakistan’s founder stated, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”. It is only fair we live up to his expectations; it’s the least we as a nation can do to the very man who gave us Pakistan. If the government refuses to provide this safety net to those who practice other religions, we most definitely are sliding towards anarchy.