OVER A COFFEE : Need for de-radicalisation of Pakistan — IV — Dr Haider Shah
Our national discourse is increasingly being controlled by religious leaders who run a network of seminaries
The month of Moharram is
hardly a few days old and already all provinces of Pakistan have been rocked by bomb blasts. Every passing day without a major incident is counted as a blessing by the officers entrusted with the job of maintaining peace in the first month of the Islamic calendar. Even if peace is ensured after sealing all major cities and paralysing social life, there is no guarantee that the lull will last long. From the members of religious minorities to the leaders of various sects and from political leaders to honourable judges, everyone demands foolproof security. From places of worship to centres of entertainment and from the visit of a dignitary to holding a simple ceremony, heavy deployment of policemen is needed everywhere. Put simply, the demands for security arrangements are infinite while the resource base is very small. The situation is therefore untenable and cannot be sustained for long.
About a week ago, Qazi Hussain Ahmed survived a suicide attack. Qazi sahib declared soon afterwards that the attack was carried out by the US. The statement issued by Qazi sahib thus aptly describes the unintelligible state of denial that we have grown accustomed to living in. Day and night suicide bombers are being prepared in the areas controlled by militant extremists and every now and then, we witness the horror unleashed by these indoctrinated attackers. Only a few days ago, a 13-year-old boy wearing a suicide jacket was arrested along with his 20-year-old operator who happened to be a schoolteacher while they were entering Peshawar from the tribal area. Our lack of seriousness in comprehending the root cause of the problem is more tragic than the situation itself.
Any organisation, small or big, when it registers a poor performance, needs plain talking to as laying the blame on others hardly ever prevents a further slump in performance. We need to begin a truly sincere discourse on the role of faith in our social life. No doubt, faith is a source of contentment and happiness for many people and it often acts as a natural anti-depressant. In the evolution of human society, religious beliefs have played a pivotal role in transforming hunting packs of humans into stable social groups. We, however, know that improper doses of anti-depressants can cause severe behavioural damage to the patients. Anti-depressants, therefore, are administered by a qualified doctor. History tells us that faith is always practised under the watchful eye of the state because when the ‘faith market’ is left unregulated, the schizophrenic effects are experienced at the societal level. The history of medieval Europe is replete with religious movements that sought purification of the faith and establishing an ideal society according to the belief system of the leaders of those movements. After much chaos and upheaval, one truth finally dawned upon the western mind that there were no ideal solutions to human problems. Only through regular use of rationality, can problems be better addressed.
We have been trying to be even more Arab than the Arabs. Faith is highly regulated in the Gulf countries while we seem to have given a free hand to the faith market. In the process, we have diluted our own cultural identity based on our folklore beyond recognition. But nothing happens without a cause. The over-glamourised two-nation theory has been trumpeted by our establishment as the ‘raison d’être’ of Pakistan, which in turn necessitated the anti-India rhetoric in the official discourse and syllabus of educational institutions. Quaid-e-Azam did try unsuccessfully to put the genie of communalism released in the politics of the Muslim League in the 1930s back into the bottle as it had already served its purpose. But it is the genie that seems to have had the last laugh.
Our national discourse is increasingly being controlled by religious leaders who run a network of seminaries. While the state-run educational institutions are hardly any better, the religious seminaries (madaaris) do not even acknowledge the formal control of the state. The students of these madaaris serve as a convenient readymade material for any procession or protest meeting organised by religious leaders of various organisations. The effect of radicalism can, however, be seen in almost all walks of life. Even our daily language shows clear signs of an imposed transformation. Urdu, which carries a strong flavour of Sanskrit and Persian, is gradually getting Arabised by professional sermonisers and showbiz maulvis. Worryingly, society is being polarised along dangerous schisms. While we see the emergence of a cosmopolitan culture in some sections of the urban youth, mushrooming of Arabic cultural traits is also noticeable.
The media and the judiciary have emerged as the two most important agents of change in the country. There are some obscurantist preachers of hate and irrationality in the print and electronic media, but there are also those who are using their pen and intellect to fight off the demons of darkness. Alarm bells were rightly rung when the honourable courts banned Facebook some time ago. The Rimsha Masih case verdict has renewed our hopes that the honourable judges are determined to play the more challenging role of the ‘defenders of fundamental rights’, as the populist ‘defender of faith’ role is more suited to the rabble-rousing politicians.
When a pot is on full flame and the boiling water is spilling over, the best solution to control the situation is to turn the knob to a lower level and decrease the flame. The analogy best describes our survival strategy that seeks the de-radicalisation of society as a matter of urgency.