VIEW: Exorcising the demon of extremism —Dr Haider Shah
If we do not wish to follow western countries, we can at least look to the example of the Gulf Arab countries and, like them, show zero tolerance for those who incite violence through writings or speech
The word courage carries different meanings for different people. For some it is killing others with a remorseless heart. For others it is blowing oneself up with the intention of causing maximum havoc. On the more positive side of the spectrum, challenging a brutal dictator is an admirable act of bravery but, as J S Mill points out, questioning the brutal norms of one’s own society needs a much higher level of courage and character. Thirteen days before the ides of March, Shahbaz Bhatti got his name added to the growing list of silenced activists of human rights in Pakistan.
Investigators are again busy digging out who had planned and executed the gruesome murder. Regretfully, we are all linked to the conspiracy to a varying extent. Shahbaz Bhatti’s bloodstains can be found on the hands of the writers of those textbooks that glorify murders by presenting the killers as heroes to the impressionable minds of young students. Blood is dripping from the hands of those religious and political leaders and media persons who enjoy issuing inflammatory statements and play the sport of jingoism. The government, by dragging its feet after the murder of Salmaan Taseer, and following an appeasement policy, also facilitated the plotters of this gruesome murder. And, last but not the least, we are all also part of this foul murder by giving the hate-mongers a free hand to operate amongst us with impunity.
In the 1980s, General Ziaul Haq, at the behest of the then US government, turned Pakistan into a recruiting ground for the US-sponsored jihad against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. This necessitated the deep rooting of the jihadi culture in all sections of Pakistan’s social life. The constitutional and legal system also became infested as a result. With the 18th Amendment, parliament has restored the constitution after minutely examining the distortions made by the Zia and Musharraf regimes. The only offence committed by Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti was that they suggested that we should revisit and re-examine the distortions made by Ziaul Haq in our legal codes as those had been made with the malicious intent of gaining cheap popularity and legitimacy. They had never said anything on record that even remotely could be suggestive of blasphemy. It is the duty of parliament to continue updating the laws in accordance with the needs of the changing environment. If taking dictation from external governments is against sovereignty, how can we ever claim to be sovereign if we abdicate parliamentary sovereignty to a bunch of extremists and allow ourselves to become a terrified hostage?
Extremism is not just devouring liberal thinkers alone. Like a jungle fire does not discriminate among the trees, the rising flames of extremism have swallowed people like Maulana Hasan Jan, Dr Mohammad Farooq and Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi, and have forced scholars like Ghamidi to seek refuge elsewhere. The target of extremism, therefore, does not remain restricted to what a pro-Taliban media personality calls “liberal fascists” but rather all, irrespective of caste or creed, will be affected by this fast spreading malignant cancer. If we do not wish to follow western countries, we can at least look to the example of the Gulf Arab countries and, like them, show zero tolerance for those who incite violence through writings or speech. It is high time we, as a nation, decided that glorification of terrorist crimes has no place in Pakistan. In the face of imminent danger, we need to stop playing double games in the region and instead utilise our energies and taxpayers’ money on exorcising our society from the demon of extremism.
The government, unfortunately, seems to be too obsessed with accomplishing a one point agenda, i.e. completing its five-year tenure. In books on Chinese history, we read about ancient governments that were effectively run by eunuchs. If the present government does not want to be counted as one, it needs to come down heavily on those who instigate and glorify violence. It must announce boldly a zero tolerance policy and use the Anti-Terrorism Act’s provisions to arrest and prosecute all leaders who misuse their position to glorify terrorism. The appeasement of Hitler did not work in the 1930s, as we all know today. Appeasing terrorists also never works and it is, therefore, important that the government restores the abdicated sovereignty of parliament. It needs to tell supporters of the blasphemy laws that if they do not agree with the government they should wait for the next election, go to the public, win a two-thirds majority, amend the fundamental rights in the constitution and then pass even stricter blasphemy laws. They should, however, not be allowed to dictate their demands by brandishing their guns or issuing threatening statements.