When a Christian church and copies of the Holy Bible were set on fire in Mardan on the 21st of September 2012, mullahs remained mum while the state looked the other way
After killing three thousand US citizens on 9/11, the Muslims who did not resort to the conspiracy theory; American establishment and Jews did it, or who did not openly support the terrorist act, took the stance that it was the handiwork of a few individuals who did not represent the whole Muslim world. However, when a single individual, a US based Christian Copt from Egypt made a so-called “blasphemous” film, it was ascribed to a full-fledged US endeavor and Muslims all over the world stood up against the “great Satan”.
When Salman Taseer, ex-Governor Punjab showed his support for the ill-fated Aasia Bibi, almost all the mullahs were all fire against him. The same behavior was demonstrated against police officials, lawyers, judges, politicians and all those who took an independent stance against the “accused” in “blasphemy” cases. However, when a Christian church and copies of the Holy Bible were set on fire in Mardan on the 21st of September 2012, these mullahs remained mum while the state looked the other way.
Although we repeatedly claim that Islam is a religion of peace, what we witnessed in our streets on that day was anything but peace.
Extremely provocative banners and buntings were visible all over the major cities calling for the beheading and burning of the film- maker, while all rage was directed towards the Jews and Christians. So much so that, otherwise socially outcast, the eunuchs of Rawalpindi were demanding nothing less than the head of Nakoula Basseley, the producer of the film.
Earlier on, to capitalize on the issue, not only right-wing religious factions but even the government had become a party where right from the Prime Minister, to the leaders of MQM and others contributed in instigating the man in the street. That resulted in several deaths and property losses worth billions. In addition it portrayed an extremely negative image of the state which celebrated the day of protest at the official level; no other Muslim country officially sponsored the protests.
What happened on September 21st should act as an eye opener for the government which is still accusing “some miscreants who penetrated into the crowd and caused all the mayhem, while majority was peaceful and calm”. This was not the case, I am afraid. September 21st provided a golden opportunity to hardcore religious parties and militant outfits to transform huge processions into a violent hysterical mob.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, JUI, ex- Sipah-e-Sahaba (now Jamaat-e-Ahle-Sunnat) and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa showed their street power with sticks and stones. Most of these are now in possession of weapons of sorts and what if next time they come up with all their firepower.
The state has unfortunately failed to address the social, economic and political dimensions of the problem where our uncertain and disgruntled youth is fast seeking refuge in obscurantist philosophies characterized by a hard-line religious world view prone to sectarianism and violence. They are not socialized into interacting with a cool mind employing logic and reasoning, cultivating strong feelings of persecution and revenge. The main target is the West in general and the US in particular. Anti-Americanism has also been excessively promoted by our security establishment and it has penetrated into the very fabric of our society.
Any person, perceived to be having a soft corner for the US is regarded as a US agent or part of a grand “Jewish conspiracy”.
While the state promoted Islam, it transcended the borders and now “we are part of the Muslim Ummah”. Hence from Malaysia to Morocco, a large part of our populace identifies with the Muslims of the world and not with the state of Pakistan. Religion remains at the centre of every interpretation of international relations and the USA is regarded as the main perpetrator of all “crimes” against the Muslim Ummah. Violent acts like the ones seen on 21st of September serve as expressions of group identity and a means to demonstrate the group’s capability to inflict harm.
The madrassah networks and banned religious outfits are well integrated and there is no shortage of new recruits. Iran is funding Shia outfits while Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are financing Wahabi denominations. Since there are groups having a strong nexus with the Pakistan army, the political establishment, even if it wants to, is helpless in neutralizing them.
The affiliation of such madrassahs with political, sectarian and militant organizations remained a major cause of concern for the government which in late 2011 had decided to close down at least 4500 unregistered madrassahs during the first quarter of the year 2012. However, complete lack of political will and political expediencies prevented any action on part of the PPP government.
Apart from unregistered madrassahs the government also identified religious seminaries which accept huge funds from foreign countries. Still, completely oblivious as to how religiously motivated unemployed youth would act; the present government has other considerations.
It is unfortunate that radicalization has also infiltrated our military and the attacks on all defense establishments could not have taken place without “internal” assistance.
It is also a pity that the space for any progressive and enlightened debate is fast diminishing and majority resorts to adopting the populist stance on an issue; conspiracy theory being the most popular of all.
So a country where militant organizations with every kind of weapon are deeply entrenched with support from foreign countries and some even enjoying backing from the army and intelligence agencies; where the government adopts a policy of appeasement and even secular/liberal parties pander to the demands of the militants; can there be a ray of hope?
The situation is fast deteriorating and nobody in the corridors of power either has the foresight to see the shape of things to come or has no concern with whatever happens to this country.
While loot and plunder remain the order of the day, right from Islamabad to Rawalpindi Cantt and beyond, the country rests on the verge of anarchy. Whatever happened on 21st of September was not a one-off; it would continue to haunt us for we failed to understand that once ignited fire burns its source before it could engulf others.
|Waseem Altaf is a social activist.