VIEW : Pakistan: the game of religious bigotry — Adil Shahzeb
We cannot be teaching our children stories of the
so-called jihad and martyrdom and then expect them to remain peaceful, law-abiding citizens of a tolerant society
I remember going for the Friday prayers with my father at the age of 12, listening to the imam’s fiery speech. The imam sahib was angry at the government of Pakistan for importing potatoes from India, calling them “Hindu aloos” (potatoes) and urging the Muslims to boycott the potatoes as Indians may have poisoned them. Coming out of the mosque my younger brother, 10 years old at the time, questioned my father why vegetables could not be Muslim. A couple of years later, I visited Sadda, Kurram Agency, where the prices at a local stall were slashed because the seller had discovered that the fruit grew in a Shia-dominated area, Parachinar. Years later, Pakistan was bombarded with notices to ban drinking Jewish cold drinks, followed by the news of pig’s skin sandals.
Living in a hostile environment where it was even mandatory for the fruits and vegetables to have a religion, a country where we were taught at school that our worst enemy is a ‘Hindu banya’ closely followed by a ‘Yahoodi’[Jew] and ‘firangi’ [foreigner], it is no surprise that we believe the entire world is after our ‘Islamic Bomb.’ And that Jews do not sleep until they conspire against the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and its people. A tolerant and peace loving Pakistan really deserves mercy.
Where is the end? Are we ever going to trash our old school mullah mentality? Right now, a schoolgirl brutally attacked in Swat is still lying on a hospital bed and we have had all the time to refer to the attack on her as ‘an American and Jewish conspiracy’. This is despite the fact that the Tehrk-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) spokesperson claimed responsibility and even tried to justify the attack with Quranic verses. A self-made hardline Islam and its preachers have taken over the logic and rationality of a vast segment of society.
If the TTP’s spokesperson admitted that his group attacked Malala Yousafzai and that it would be done again, why are we not ashamed to associate the attack with anyone else but the TTP? The fact that Samia Raheel Qazi, a highly educated daughter of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Qazi Hussain Ahmad tweeted a picture of a meeting between the US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the UNICEF representative and Malala Yousafzai, referring to it as a meeting of military officials, makes the entire scenario unbearable.
More yet, why would prominent religious leaders hold back in exploiting yet another opportunity to add fruits to their basket? Some have called Malala an American agent; some have referred to the attack as fake and an act to pave the way for a military operation in North Waziristan (NW). Malala was treated in Swat, Peshawar and then in Islamabad, and if the attack on her was a fake one, what makes us think that there was no ‘true Muslim’ at either of those hospitals who would not have attacked her again with a justification that she defamed Islam? What the state-paid guard, Mumtaz Qadri did to the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, could have happened to Malala too; those who showered Qadri with flowers seem to have a presence in many places.
It is senseless to believe that the Pakistani military or the Americans would choose a young schoolgirl to pave the way for a military operation in NW. Many did not condemn the brutal attack on a girl but were hands on and efficient enough in opposing a military operation in NW. Why? Do we have law-abiding Pakistani nationals living there peacefully? Or is there a bunch of Pakistani and foreign criminals there, living among the local population, who have literally kept the entire nation hostage?
It is not that the majority of us still fall for malicious campaigns, but it is the level we can bend down to to justify nonsense that is a worrying sign towards the decline of a once peaceful and tolerant society.
Mosques, once the platform to preach peace and tolerance for all religions and minorities, have been turned into centres for spreading Islamist ideologies that are based on nothing but hate and violence. Our curriculum, even in the 21st century, is a means of creating and injecting extremism and violence. All we see in our Pakistan Studies textbooks is the discussion of wars that Pakistan fought with India and the mention of our biggest mistake — interfering in Afghanistan — that heralded guns and the violent culture in Pakistan as our biggest victory.
First, the curriculum at school level must change now. We cannot be teaching our children stories of the so-called jihad and martyrdom and then expect them to remain peaceful, law-abiding citizens of a tolerant society, which is yet be created 67 years after the birth of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
We need to recapture our mosques from those who have so far successfully exploited this platform to dominate a huge section of society. Those who teach and educate their self-made Islamic values and are shameless enough to justify the attacks on innocent men, women and children through Quranic verses need to be taken care of — that is if we wish for a new beginning: a tolerant and peaceful Pakistan where there is no place for the justification of the ‘genocides’ of the Shia, Ahmadi, Christian and Hazara communities.
The writer is a London-based international broadcaster and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @adilshahzeb