OVER A COFFEE : Metro bus: from Gojra to Badami Bagh — II — Dr Haider Shah
In matters of blasphemy-related social violence, it appears that rabble-rousers reign supreme and, everyone feels obliged to embrace madness, and hence, become safer
In the port city and capital
hub of Pakistan, a selfless philanthropist was murdered by masked men a few days ago. Land mafia is suspected of carrying out the attack on the female architect who had been contributing to the community development projects in Orangi Town of Karachi. A highly respected academic was also killed by unknown assailants in another part of the same city. In Peshawar, a court bursting with legal activities was attacked by suicide bombers in broad daylight. After numerous attacks on law enforcement personnel, the daring attack on a courtroom emits a menacing message.
While these grisly games of death were claiming lives on daily basis, another gory drama of demonic nature was being performed in the plains of Punjab. A lecturer of English, who studied American Theatre and Literature at Jackson State University in the United States, has been arrested after a local university’s vested lobby accused him of blasphemy over his discussions on the facebook page. I neither know the hapless academic nor have access to all details relating to the story reported in the print and social networking media. What transpires from media reports is that the charge was allegedly motivated by self-seeking rivals who want to accommodatesomeone against the lecturer’s post. From Aasia Bibi to Rimsha Masih, we observe that the initial charge is often levelled as a result of a personal feud. The local community then suddenly goes berserk with blood seeking schizophrenia. Not long time ago a case was made against some school child for his note in an essay, and in another incident, a school principal was arrested after some photocopying mistake resulted in blasphemous sentences. A guilty mind is a prerequisite for establishing any criminal offence but in cases of blasphemy the mere raising of a finger at someone often proves sufficient to cause the damage.
The crazy situation reminds one of Khalil Jibran’s story that is worth sharing many times. A king was loved and respected for his just and wise rule by his subjects. One night, a witch entered the kingdom and poured a few drops of a magical liquid into the well from which everyone drank water. One by one every citizen lost sanity as water was drunk. Within days the whole kingdom was abuzz with whispers that the king had become mad and unjust. After defending their position without success, the king and his ministers also drank water from the same well and all noises of rebellion died down instantly. In matters of blasphemy-related social violence, it appears that rabble-rousers reign supreme and, from legislators to media to the courts, everyone feels obliged to embrace madness, and hence, become safer. A bird sleeping tight in her soft nest when woken up by the noise of falling trees may like to ignore the raging fire that appears to be destroying distant trees.
Universities are supposed to be nurseries of critical thinking where ‘intellectual depth and breadth’ is a necessary attribute of all graduates. But what kind of intellectual stimulation our universities are providing to their students when teachers themselves frown upon free thinking and conspire against educated men and women who exercise their God-given right of using their brains. If in exercise of this right someone crosses the line and causes wilful offence, the law should stop such individuals from hurting sensitivities of a common man. In the recent past, a British-born Pakistani posted an insulting comment against soldiers returning from Afghanistan. A case was registered against him and upon apology in the court he was cautioned and let off. Punishment should always correspond to the harm inflicted upon us by the offender. It is, therefore, something akin to the Stone Age reasoning to kill someone because he hurts our feelings.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in its previous rule showed extraordinary courage in reversing national holiday to Sunday despite stiff resistance of religious lobby. It is hoped that the long overdue rationalisation of the blasphemy laws will be carried out if it comes to power, as some opinion polls suggest. If the new government finds itself powerless against the rabble rousers and deems it pragmatic to remain part of the national madness, then it is left to the international community to pay heed to the advice of Heiner Bielefeld, the United Nations’ top expert on the freedom of religion. In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, he has demanded that all countries should repeal laws that punish blasphemy.
Establishing Danish schools with the aim of providing high quality education to disadvantaged children is a positive achievement of the outgoing Punjab government. But education is more than mere good buildings or securing top grades in examinations. When members of a particular faith community abandon their houses in fear for their lives as an enraged crowd approaches their colony, and when a university teacher is on the run due to mischievous charges of blasphemy, something has definitely gone terribly wrong. There is, however, a growing consensus that religious extremism — whether manifesting itself in the form of sectarian killings, or communal violence against religious minorities or blasphemy related vindictiveness against other citizens — is taking a heavy toll on our national progress and needs to be properly tackled. Promises of establishing metro bus projects in all major cities of Pakistan are no doubt encouraging. However, development of social attitudes, based on mutual respect and tolerance, should be given top priority by the future government. Physical and mental developments go hand in hand and a prosperous Pakistan needs to be successful on both dimensions.