Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

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OVER A COFFEE: Culture and dogma, Daily Times, February 27, 2016

When someone invokes culture for the purpose of opposing a change he displays his lack of proper understanding of the concept enshrined in the word. Culture embodies the same duality of meaning as is demanded by our survival needs as a human race


This time it was the turn of the president of Pakistan to take a carefree stroll along the street of irrationality. His excellency is often targeted by humourists in the social media for his lack of visibility as the head of state. I instead always took the view that his elegant silence is befitting of his job. The president is a ceremonial post, like the queen of Britain. It is the PM who is the executive head and must appear as such in our public life. The president is there to make prewritten ceremonial speeches when a ceremony requires him to do so. What are the contours of public policy, neither the British queen nor Pakistani president should have any say in that. So far, Mamnoon had performed this role very well by remaining economical with his public speeches. This month he decided to open his mouth and, unfortunately, only managed to get his image blown to pieces. It is not the job of the office of the president to prescribe how individuals should spend their personal time. The PM of the country had recently desired in a televised address that he be invited to a holi party. The president seems to be totally out of sync with the public policy of his own leader.

Globalisation is the interconnectedness of the world where ideas and practices travel freely from one part of it to another. In ancient times, religious movements were the main agents of globalisation. Religious warriors would conquer new lands and introduce their cultures wrapped up in the new religion. In the modern world, technological advancement has greatly facilitated the hassle free movement of people, goods and ideas, and consequently the world has shrunk to the size of our smartphone today. Now we live in one cosmopolitan culture where our regional cultures are just a shade of the main world culture. If the daily routine and hobbies of a youth of Lahore or Karachi are contrasted with those of a youth in Mumbai or Istanbul we will find that by and large they are not much different.

When someone invokes culture for the purpose of opposing a change he displays his lack of proper understanding of the concept enshrined in the word. Culture embodies the same duality of meaning as is demanded by our survival needs as a human race. In prehistoric times, humans needed the stability of a pack by practicing the same rituals again and again. But, in the long run, they also needed the ability to respond to environmental changes and evolve to remain the fittest. Culture, therefore, should not be seen as a set of static norms and practices that are cast in stone. Like the human race, culture is also organic and changes over time. For instance, a few centuries ago in Britain, challenging another man to a duel, by sword or gunfight, was considered a honourable practice reserved for the upper classes and an essential qualification to be called a true gentleman. “A man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.” The quote belongs to Samuel Johnson who was one of the most famous literary figures of the 18th century and best summarises the motivation for the cultural norm of duelling in the then British society. Today, in the UK, taking the law into one’s own hand is considered one of the most despicable acts. Cultural norms are seldom static.

In British primary schools, all children are taught basic yoga. Societies are learning from each other and happily import practices that they like to other cultural settings. If by celebrating Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Karwa Chauth or Rakhsha Bandhan, sentiments of love and affection get communicated between two humans why should we feel the urge of poking our long noses into the private lives of others? If we want to interfere we should try stopping those who preach hatred and violence in various sections of our society.
Mr President, you looked graceful when you did not speak much. If you remain that way, you will do yourself a service and serve the country better as well.

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OVER A COFFEE: From Aasia to Junaid: the monster devours all, The Daily Times, December 13, 2014

Unfortunately, often the first deadly symptom of born again faithfuls is the tendency to consider females inferior to men. This is a great disservice that clerics like Maulana Tariq Jamil are doing to society

Dr Haider Shah

The demon of blasphemy has gone berserk. After targeting the poor, illiterate and deprived sections of our society it has turned its attention towards those who live off the fat of the land. How life suddenly turned topsy-turvy for the stylish morning anchor Shaista Wahidi when a mischief monger from a rival channel actively promoted a blasphemy allegation against her morning show we have already seen in the recent past. So potent is the weapon of the blasphemy charge that the biggest private channel in the country was stabbed and wounded by a handful of hardwired instigators. And now blasphemy has the most interesting victim. The pop singer-turned-cleric-cum-fashion designer Junaid Jamshed is now in the jaws of this demon.

In all honesty, while I feel a bit sorry for the hapless sermoniser on the one hand, I draw some comfort from the fact as well that now the potential destructive power of the blasphemy laws and related rhetoric can be seen in its full, horrific detail. This latest episode again reminds me of the story of two cadaver (corpse for anatomy) supply criminals, which I narrated in a column about two years ago. Burke and Hare, two poor opportunists from a 19th century Edinburgh slum area, accidently found a new moneymaking opportunity by supplying the corpse of an old tenant to Dr Knox of the University of Edinburgh to reclaim the debt the dead tenant owed them. Like vultures, they started spotting old and abandoned persons and would bring them to their lodging to let them die and, realising profit from the corpse supply to Dr Knox, instead of waiting for natural death, they started suffocating their drunk victims to death for a quicker delivery. After some local uproar over the missing persons, the police arrested the criminals when one day a student of the university was murdered by the two and his corpse was supplied to the medical school. As long as blasphemy had its jaws upon the poor like Aasia, Rimsha and Shama Bibi, little did we care about the issue. A little alarm was caused when, more recently, two Karachi University Religious Studies professors were killed in broad daylight over alleged blasphemy charges. However, for the first time, we see the sinister shadow falling upon someone who had iconised faith-coated piety for the rich and fashionable. Using his celebrity status he became a very sought after showbiz cleric, threatening the monopoly of the likes of Aamir Liaqat.

On the Rationalist Society forum we have had frequent discussions over many misogynist statements made by Junaid Jamshed. Unfortunately, often the first deadly symptom of born again faithfuls is the tendency to consider females inferior to men. This is a great disservice that clerics like Maulana Tariq Jamil are doing to society when they turn useful contributors of social services into self-centred male chauvinists. Jamshed’s music was a source of comfort to millions of music lovers who would listen to his songs to neutralise the toxic effect of our stressful lives. Ever since Junaid Jamshed became Tariq Jamil’s disciple, the country lost that singer. Instead was born a highly arrogant male chauvinist who equated piety with the propagation of irrational views about women’s role in society. On one programme he forced a morning show host to wear a hijab and then went on declaring that he had banned his wife’s driving as that was against Islam. His recent outburst against women that has led to him becoming a fugitive is therefore just a manifestation of his newly prejudiced thinking, installed by the Tableeghi programmers in his brain. In that way, Junaid is himself a victim of surgery gone wrong.

In Pakistan, hypocrisy is institutionalised on various levels of society. Junaid Jamshed constantly issued venomous statements against the 100 million living females of Pakistan yet he remained a darling of the media and its viewers. Neither was he ever boycotted nor did his super expensive apparel business suffer. However, hardly had he uttered something that referred to a personality from the distant past, so strong was the reaction that he had to flee alive from his dil dil Pakistan. Day and night Junaid Jamshed taught us that secularism was a synonym for evil. Today he has found refuge in the streets of London, a secular, evil city. The supporters of Junaid Jamshed rightly argue that he should be forgiven after he has apologised for his comments. But if we compare the cases of Aasia and Jamshed, we find Aasia a much more sympathy-deserving case. In Jamshed’s case the evidence of blasphemy is well established and irrefutable. In Aasia’s case the evidence is based on hearsay as no documentary proof is on record. Secondly, Junaid Jamshed made the comments fully knowing the nature of his offence as he has made a living out of religious sermons. Aasia is an illiterate, poor, rural Christian woman who cannot be imagined to fully appreciate the nature of blasphemy and related law.

A Baltistan’s judge’s verdict against Veena Malik, Dr Shaista Wahidi and Mir Shakilur Rehman had already shown that the blasphemy law was like a loaded pistol left unguarded in a house full of children. Now, after Junaid Jamshed’s case, no one should feel safe from the pernicious reach of the tentacles of blasphemy. Pakistani society and its sensible opinion makers should revisit this burning issue as sleeping over grave matters is hardly a strategy at all.

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Rationalising the rituals of Ramzan — II, Daily Times, Saturday, July 20, 2013

OVER A COFFEE : Rationalising the rituals of Ramzan — II — Dr Haider Shah

Why is it that we think certain verses of the Quran are more or less important than others? 

Our students are never exposed to Sir Syed’s views on various socio-religious issues. The great Muslim rationalist is merely presented as the architect of the two nation theory and founder of Aligarh University. The following verses that form the basis of the fasting ritual have been analysed by Sir Syed in his tafseer (commentary) after referring to various viewpoints: 

“Believers! Fasting is enjoined upon you, as it was enjoined upon those before you, that you become God-fearing” (2:183).

“Fasting is for a fixed number of days, and if one of you be sick, or if one of you be on a journey, you will fast the same number of other days later on. For those who are capable of fasting (but still do not fast) there is a redemption: feeding a needy man for each day missed. Whoever voluntarily does more good than is required, will find it better for him; and that you should fast is better for you, if you only know” (2:184).

“During the month of Ramadan the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance to the people with Clear Signs of the true guidance and as the Criterion (between right and wrong). So those of you who live to see that month should fast it, and whoever is sick or on a journey should fast the same number of other days instead. Allah wants ease and not hardship for you so that you may complete the number of days required; magnify Allah for what He has guided you to, and give thanks to Him” (2:185).

The viewpoints analysed range from claiming that 2:183 referred to non-Ramzan fasting to claiming that 2:185 repeals 2:183. After a logical discussion it is concluded by Sir Syed that God proposed fasting and feeding as two choices. If someone is keen on fasting but is prevented from doing so in Ramzan on account of travel or illness, he can fast in later months for the days missed in Ramzan. But if someone is not keen on fasting he can instead feed at least one destitute as compensation. In the carefully shaped popular discourse promoted by the religious establishment, this option of feeding the hungry instead of fasting is never disclosed. Some translators go to the extent of making insertions of their own to hide the availability of this option.

As the Quran is the primary source of law, if some choice has been explicitly given, no opinion of any jurist can take that right away. The last verse also states that God does not want to make our lives difficult. In wars the Holy Prophet (PBUH) would often advise against fasting so that the competitiveness of Muslim warriors was not compromised. What we need to ponder is that if the Quranic verses provide a choice of feeding instead of fasting, how come we deny this choice in our society? At a rational level let us suppose if half of the population, instead of fasting, exercises the feeding choice, wouldn’t we see the eradication of hunger at least during the month of Ramzan? The rationale of fasting given in verse 2:183 is to make a person righteous. Imagine we see a 10-year-old orphan in the street who looks hungry and thirsty. Would it be more righteous for us to remain hungry like him the whole day or instead feed him properly after earning through some economic activity?

A few days ago the news of Pakistan getting a $ 5.3 billion IMF loan was splashed by the media. Apart from a few murmurs from professional critics, we hardly noticed any nationwide protest. Now let us revisit the Quranic verses on the issue of interest-based loans.

“O ye who believe! Fear Allah and give up what remains of interest, if you are truly believers. But if you do it not, then beware of war from Allah and His Messenger; and if you repent, then you shall have your principal; thus you shall not wrong nor shall you be wronged” (2:278-9).

Quranic verses contain very clear admonitions against those who indulge in interest-based trade, and in one verse such transgressors are termed as smitten with insanity by the devil. But from government to the ordinary faithful, some kind of pragmatic silence has been developed over the years on interest-based transactions. Even the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government, which recently issued an ordinance prescribing three-month imprisonment or a fine of Rs 50,000 as a punishment for anyone seen eating or drinking in public during the day, has given no indication of scrapping the Bank of Khyber that institutionalises ‘the war for Allah and His Messenger’ by promoting interest-based trading in the province.

Why is it that we think certain verses of the Quran are more or less important than others? In case of fasting we not only don’t see admonitions in the scripture as we see in the case of interest-based trade, we also find mention of a choice between feeding and fasting. Still culturally we feel obsessed with treating fasting as more important than other directives found in the Holy Book. These culturally defined attitudes not only stifle economic activity for one month every year but have also promoted a popular culture of institutionalised hypocrisy and lying as many are forced to resort to ‘pretend fasting’ during the month.

Perhaps the educated sections of society can use their own thinking to rationalise their choices. It’s a challenging task but not an impossible one.


The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com

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Rationalising the rituals of Ramzan — I, Saturday, July 13, 2013

OVER A COFFEE : Rationalising the rituals of Ramzan — I — Dr Haider Shah

The month of Ramzan with its distinctive social discourse has always been an important feature of our culture. If the ratings-hungry private TV channels have commercialised news and current affairs programmes, how can they spare religion in their cutthroat competition? Leading showbiz personalities that masquerade as distributors of heavenly rewards can be seen doing brisk business after commodifying the holiness of the month of Ramzan.

It is always a daunting exercise to examine a ritual that enjoys the emotional support of an assertively vocal majority in an unbiased and scientific manner. Faith and scientific analysis do not happily go together. Does this lead us to conclude that the potential Galileos, Brunos and Darwins of our society should remain permanently silenced by the muzzling authority of the majority? Descartes’ famous line is, “I think, therefore I am.” By abdicating our birthright of free thinking, we not only turn ourselves into wandering zombies or remote-controlled robots, we also rob society of continuously growing and adapting to the changed times. No doubt freeing oneself from the cobweb of culturally dominant conversation is itself a perilous and an injury-prone adventure. Those who reclaim their inalienable right of free thinking soon find themselves lost in the wilderness of a social community where no one understands their language and they are treated as social outcasts. Despite all these hazards, rationalists should speak their mind with sincerity of purpose.

With this in mind I am setting myself the task of reviewing the social discourse that accompanies the month of fasting every year. I am quite keen on sharing the line of argument presented by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in his commentary on verses relating to fasting in the Holy Quran. But before engaging in that discussion I deem it appropriate to first deal with the issue at a more fundamental level.

The basics of social science research tell us that any assertion or claim made by a proposer is treated as a hypothesis. Taking the positivist scientific perspective, no preconceived notions can, therefore, be allowed to interfere with our analysis. We can easily identify a few hypotheses that are prominent in the discourse of religious scholars that appear on television or in the daily conversation of a layman. One, Ramzan is a month of blessings and special rewards. Second, it helps in minimising vices as we practise self-restraint by fasting for a month. Third, it is a divine recipe for health improvement. Fourth, it promotes feelings of social bonding by making us aware of the sufferings of the hungry. Fifth, it provides contentment and happiness when families and social groups dine together at sehri and iftari times. All these claims have some merit in them but for a rationalist analysis we need to suspend our judgement till we have empirically tested the hypotheses with some credible data-based evidence. Both in the physical and social sciences, that is how textbook-based theories are tested and improved.

For the ‘blessings’ claim we need to collect crime data during Ramzan and Shawwal for, say, the last 10 years and then compare with the crime patterns of the remaining months. If significant changes are spotted then we can be persuaded to believe that the claimed relationship between communal fasting and crime does exist. Similarly, if the correlation is there then over the years we should expect a gradual reduction in crime rates due to the blessings effect in all societies where fasting is practised. More importantly, the crime rate in Muslim societies must be then significantly less as opposed to those societies where fasting is not practised. To test the claim of purification of the soul by fasting, we need to have some quantifiable ‘constructs’. Perhaps the classical demand and supply law of economics can be helpful, which says that the price of commodities is determined by the gap in aggregate demand and supply. If the demand is more than the supply, prices rise, and conversely, if the supply is more than the demand, prices drop to restore equilibrium. Now as the whole society practices restraint in food to feel the pain of the hunger-ridden poorer sections of society, one would expect a sharp decline in aggregate demand for food in the month of Ramzan. This would in turn result in a slump in the prices of food commodities. In reality, we see a surge in prices, which suggests that aggregate demand for food increases. Thus, the actual observations fail to support the hypothesised relationship between fasting and self-restraint known as ‘taqwa’ in the scripture-led discourse. As Durkheim argues, religion is a social construct to perform certain social functions. We see that iftar dinners in reality are a social contrivance to facilitate a brazen display of our love for sumptuous food and waste.

The health-related argument is often emphasised when some rationalist discussion is done by scholars. Giving rest to the digestive system occasionally is no doubt a good idea. But disrupting the natural cycle of food consumption and stuffing the stomach with a massive intake of food and fluid twice a day does not necessarily help in health improvement. In hot, humid weather, our bodies need a regular supply of water and minerals. Rebelling against this law of nature results in a heavy toll on our body, which ranges from commonly observed lethargic and irritated behaviour to more severe consequences like dehydration, heat-strokes and seizures during Ramzan. These observations notwithstanding, if the health statistics of Muslim societies can be shown as significantly better than those of non-Muslim countries, then the health argument would be a clear winner.

(To be continued)

The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com

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A bit of rationality, please! , Daily Times, 13/4/13

OVER A COFFEE: A bit of rationality, please! —Dr Haider Shah

A bad law is a bad law and should never be left on the statute book. The blasphemy law and certain faith-propelled insertions in the Constitution need rationalising 

After registering embarrassingly grotesque episodes, some sanity seemed to have returned by the timely rebuke of the Lahore High Court to certain misguided decisions of the returning officers. Otherwise, it appeared as if the long shadow of Mangal Bagh of Khyber Agency was cast on the Pakistani courts as well. 
Article 62 of Pakistan’s Constitution provides for a list of seven qualifications, categorised a-g. The first three comprise matters of fact such as citizenship, minimum age of 25 years for the National Assembly and 30 years for the Senate with enrolment as a voter. Fourth, one requires good character and observance of Islamic injunctions. This is a matter of opinion rather than a fact. For a member of the Taliban group, those who are associated with the vaccination campaign or population welfare schemes are people of doubtful character who do not observe the injunctions of Islam. For an average resident of Charsadda or Mardan, a woman of good character does not leave her house without proper purdah (burqa/veil). Members of various sectarian groups, for example Salafi Sunni Muslims, Barelvi and Shias, consider each other not following the proper injunctions of Islam. Who has given any individual the authority to decide on matters that remain highly controversial and divisive? The best solution, therefore, is to presume everyone has a good character unless he or she has been convicted by a court of law for a criminal offence. The fifth qualification refers to ‘adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings’, ‘practice of obligatory duties’ and ‘abstention from sins’. These are also matters of opinion, as for many jihad is an obligatory duty while others believe it is the prerogative of the state only to declare a war. What about observance of basic civic duties? Does it count as an obligatory Islamic duty or not and how many can qualify on this account? The sixth qualification requires the candidate to be sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen (honest). As these adjectives are highly value-loaded, the sub-clause itself provides a mechanism for operationalising the qualification requirement by implying that a person will be assumed to possess these qualities unless a court of law had ruled contrary to this presumption of innocence. The last qualification requires the person not to have worked against ‘the integrity of the country’ or ‘opposed the ideology of Pakistan’. What is the integrity of Pakistan and what is its ideology? Every country exists to provide a secure home to its residents and maximise their welfare. Isn’t this the ideology of Pakistan as well?
A bad law is a bad law and should never be left on the statute book. The blasphemy law and certain faith-propelled insertions in the Constitution need rationalising. There are two ways of rationalising Article 62 of the Constitution. One, the four sub-clauses that pertain to subjective opinions should be deleted. Second, a general proviso is added for these four qualifications whereby the power of ascertaining these subjective qualifications should be vested in the superior judiciary and/or voters. If a particular candidate has been convicted by a court of law in a criminal offence it would be deemed as evidence against the qualifications required under the four clauses. If no conviction from a court is in the field, we better let the voters decide on these qualifications.
We all know that every organisation, whether a small business firm or a multinational enterprise or any faith community, comprises three fundamental constituents. One, physical assets; second, humans who use those assets, and third, agreements among the humans how to use those assets so that various human needs are best satisfied. We can call those mutual agreements ‘systems’. With different systems, people with similar training background possessing similar assets can produce different results. In the business world one organisation quickly imitates another organisation’s better systems if it finds itself struggling. That’s why the term ‘isomorphism’ is used by institutional theory scholars to denote the trend of organisations becoming very similar in a short span of time. Societies and countries are also organisations. They also imitate good things from each other and, consequently, we see that advanced economies look so similar and developing economies also register very similar problems.
Imagination is a human faculty that has set us apart from the animal world but we also know that when our bodies overproduce any essential secretion, we get seriously ill. Similarly, when our imagination faculty is overworking and we populate our external world with the imaginary world created by our beliefs regarding how the world works and what is our place in the scheme of things, we begin deriving vicarious pleasure and, hence, do not feel the urge for improvement by learning from better performing societies. We must acknowledge that every human is a rational person. We all have, however, bounded rationalities dictated by our previous experiences and environmental constraints. Rationality should, therefore, mean three things. First, explaining one’s views without any threatening demands for acceptance. Second, being ready to listen to others’ point of view. Third, if some strength is seen in the opposing view, one should be ready to amend/change one’s own view accordingly and not feel any shame in doing this. 
Pakistan is the sixth largest nation and 27th biggest economy in the world. It is neighbouring the two biggest economies of the near future — China and India. In order to be an international player we need to update our laws. We want Pakistan to be a major economic player in accordance with her true potential. That is only possible if we use rationality in our internal and external policies in place of sheer emotionalism or misguided patriotism.

[The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com]

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Metro bus: from Gojra to Badami Bagh — II , Daily Times, 25/3/13

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.