When we drag our revered figures and symbols into politics we must face the music too. In order to practice our religion we need to separate it from state and politics
During my teenage life, while going to my school once I saw hundreds of men gathered in front of a hotel in the bazaar holding an effigy of a man with beard. The men were chanting ‘Allah-o-Akber’ as the effigy was set on fire after a thorough thrashing. I was informed that ‘this man’ had abhorred our Prophet. Being credulous I did not enquire further and fell upon the effigy. The demonstration was held to protest against the Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. The demonstration ended without much ado but left a deep mark on my mind. I remained curious about the novel and wanted to read the Satanic Verses. Later, during my college years I looked for the novel at some famous bookstores. Though the novel had been banned yet its photocopies were sold secretly.
Meantime, Ayatollah Khomeini announced head money against Salman Rushdie leading to further pandemonium. The violent demonstrations and the Khomeini fatwa led Salman Rushdie to an underground life for a few years but also catapulted him to a multi-millionaire celebrity status. His Satanic Verses stayed on the bookshelves [outside of the Muslim world, of course] as a best-seller. It still is available in the libraries as well as the bookstores in dozens of countries.
In contrast, once on Pakistan Television (PTV) I happened to watch the late Maulana Kausar Niyazi quoting from a book titled, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, by a certain Michael H. Hart. The very next day I rushed to a bookshop and secured a copy of the book. Maulana Niyazi was particularly exalted as Michael Hart had ranked Prophet Muhammad on top of the list. According to the Hart ranking, Newton was the second most influential person ahead of Jesus Christ. However, I did not hear about anybody protesting in the Christian world against this ‘blasphemy’.
Prophet or profit:
In the West, a writer can become either by lavishly praising our revered personalities and religion or by resorting to ‘blasphemy’. Salman Rushdie made millions by invoking us. Michael Hart was able to pocket handsome royalties by massaging our egos. We are happy to have an endorsement from some Hart and incensed at disapproval from Nakoula [Sam Bacile]: Orientalism-upside-down!!
Nakoula alias Sam Bacile, the notorious producer of the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video has now become an overnight celebrity. According to Wikipedia, this video was shown initially to an audience of less than. The original title of the movie is ‘Desert Warrior’. According to media reports, it has originally nothing abhorrent. It was dubbed with blasphemous materials later on and that, too, without the consent of the actors. I had no clue, like millions others, to Nakoula’s provocation.
But his success in provoking was writ large all over Pakistan on ‘Yaum-e-Ishq-e-Rasool’ (21st September). On the day, while leaving home I did not carry my laptop for the fear of the mobs. At my workplace, my visibly-upset colleagues were glued to the TV screen watching the mob violence.
Actually the day was exploited by the terrorist outfits to settle their scores with the people of Pakistan. The victors of the day were the terrorists and the losers, the people of Pakistan. The PPP government simply capitulated to the fanatics. The political parties otherwise absent in the parliament, exploited the occasion for their political agendas.
The party flags of certain semi-terrorist parties were particularly prominent while bearded young boys and men were on the frontlines. It is all politics. Islam for them is the tool to further their political agendas; and hatred against the political opponents.
Beyond Pakistan, I am afraid these anti-Islam video protests have the potential to further derail the Arab Spring. Eerily, Saudi Arabia remained calm. There were no violent uprisings in Saudi Arabia over the blasphemous movie while rest of the Muslim countries had violence, looting and killing.
Another aspect of all the mess needs mention: The Muslims have politicized their religion more than any other people. One of the basic principles of politics is criticism. When we drag our revered figures and symbols into politics we must face the music too. In order to practice our religion we need to separate it from state and politics. This is the lesson of human history and we must learn this, the sooner the better.
The writer is based in Bahrain, Swat and belongs to Torwali tribe of Dardic origin. He writes for different national dailies of the country. He is a coordinator of an independent organization IBT, Center for Education and Development. He believes in liberal and secular values and studied English literature and Political Science from University of Peshawar.