ROVER'S DIARY: Governor Taseer’s assassination —Babar Ayaz
If Pakistan has to progress, it has to establish itself as a true democracy. No democracy is complete if it is not secular. Does that mean that 97 percent Muslim Pakistanis will lose their faith? No, not at all. In a secular dispensation they are free to believe what they want. The difference is that they cannot impose their thinking or their brand of shariah on others
Salmaan Taseer has been assassinated and buried. But the fundamental question that cannot be buried with him is: why is religious intolerance on the rise in Pakistan? This question has been haunting the bloodied people of the country since its inception.
Without going into the history of the Pakistan movement in the last century, we cannot get to the root of this troubling question. All historical evidence shows that the Muslims of India were living in the subcontinent for over a thousand years and were practising their religious rights according to their religion. The issue of having autonomous Muslim majority states within the federation of India emerged in the early 20th century, only when it was realised that the British were willing to give some powers to the people of India. This demand eventually matured into a movement for a separate homeland to serve the interests of the Muslim ruling elite, which was afraid of Congress’s strong Centre policies. Islam was only used as a ‘means’ to gather mass sentiment in favour of this movement.
David Gilmartin (1989) has documented the important role that some leading pirs in Punjab played in popularising the idea of Pakistan. However, the fundamentalist dimension in the Pakistan movement developed more strongly only when the Sunni ulema and pirs were mobilised to prove that the Muslim masses wanted a Muslim/Islamic state. While the central leadership at Deoband allied itself to the Congress, some prominent dissidents such as Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Shabbir Ahmed Usmani and their factions rallied around the Muslim League. Also, the fact that the central Deoband leadership was allied to the Congress meant that the Muslim League was rendered attractive to their much bigger and more influential rivals, the Barelvis, who entertained their own ambitions of establishing an Islamic state. The tables were turned when the Barelvi ulema and pirs of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh joined the Muslim League.
The founders of Pakistan thought that the end justifies the means. This Machiavellian approach was dangerous and was only good for short-term gains. The political formulation that ‘the end justifies the means’ is only half the story. The other half is that there onwards the ‘means’ used for such short-term political gains dictate another ‘end’ on which the creator of this formulation has little control. Such is the dialectics of history. And today we are dictated by these ‘means’ to another violent ‘end’.
The fact that religion was relied on by the founders of the country to achieve a ‘temporal end’ — a separate homeland for the Muslim majority ruling elite — has given enough space to the religious leaders in this country. They want to dictate because their strength comes from the dangerous political formulation forwarded by the rulers since Pakistan’s inception.
Right from the inception of Pakistan, these forces have pushed for laws that are contrary to democratic norms. First they pushed Liaquat Ali Khan’s weak government into accepting the Objectives Resolution. Then they unleashed the attacks on the Ahmediyya community in the early 1950s. But at that point we still had some sensible judges like Justice Munir who could take on the fundamentalists. Religious intolerance has increased subsequently, getting a major boost during General Ziaul Haq’s so-called Islamic jihad against Afghanistan. The extremists were not only trained but armed to the teeth by Zia and his American and Saudi allies. Little did they realise that the means they are using to bring down a progressive government of Afghanistan would ultimately be dangerous for Pakistan and the world.
What we are facing today is the logical outcome of the dangerous policies of the past. Salmaan Taseer’s murder has shown that even discussion about the blasphemy laws is dubbed as ‘blasphemy’ by the religious parties. Instead of the murderer, the victim is blamed by these bigots. In the space provided to the religious leaders, we see their statements offering head money for Salmaan Taseer and Aasia Bibi printed by the media. And the suo motu-happy judges do not take notice of such statements, which incite murder by announcing handsome rewards. Neither do they take the media to task for abetting by reproducing such statements. The government is too afraid of the religious militants and has no check on the hate speeches made by extremists in mosques and madrassas because the state is defined as an ‘Islamic state’.
Fanatics like Mumtaz Qadri would continue to kill and maim people for establishing their brand of intolerant Islam. The fact is that we have declared Pakistan an Islamic republic and have a constitution committed to make laws according to the Quran and Sunnah. This gives political space to religious parties. Their argument is that the state has failed to enforce shariah as stipulated in the constitution, so the ulema have taken it upon themselves to fulfil this duty.
If Pakistan has to progress, it has to establish itself as a true democracy. No democracy is complete if it is not secular. Does that mean that 97 percent Muslim Pakistanis will lose their faith? No, not at all. In a secular dispensation they are free to believe what they want. The difference is that they cannot impose their thinking or their brand of shariah on others. The state has to be neutral. Secularism has been misrepresented by the religious parties.
‘Secularism’, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, is “the term applied in general to the separation of the state politics or administration from religious or church matters”. Encyclopaedia Americana is more specific: it “is an ethical system founded on the principle of natural morality and independent of revealed religions or supernaturalism. Its first postulate is the freedom of thought — the right of every man to think for himself. (2) The right of difference of opinion upon all subjects of thought. (3) Right to debate and discuss all vital questions.”
The term was coined by George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906). In 1851, in his secularist doctrine he proclaimed: 1) Science as a rule guide of man; 2) Morality as secular, not religious, in origin; 3) Reason the only authority; 4) Freedom of thought and speech; 5) Concentration on improvement of human life.
Thus ‘secularism’, according to Syed Sibte Hassan, “is not an evil design of an evil mind whose object is to undermine our social and ethical values or which conspires to create chaos and confusion in the country. On the contrary, it is an enlightened social philosophy inspired by ideals of human progress and freedom.”
It should not be misconstrued as anti-religion. However, a secular state does not allow anybody to insult anybody’s religion by law. This is inscribed in the basic blasphemy law. At the same time, the state should also stop anybody from labelling any individual or an organisation kafir and the mullahs from issuing injunctions for killing people who do not agree with their viewpoint.
Many supporters of secular democracy are of the view that in a country where rationalising the blasphemy laws so that it cannot be misused is resisted violently, demanding a secular Pakistan is asking for the moon. But is there any other way to salvage Pakistan than to separate religion from politics? We can move towards this goal incrementally, but cannot turn our eyes from it. Otherwise the people who want a peaceful and progressive Pakistan will lose their sense of direction. Under no circumstances Islamic vigilantism should be tolerated by the government. Otherwise the country will drift into a violent abyss.
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