Press Gallery: MMA, govt extremists and moderate PPP
By Mubasher Bukhari
An unseemly row over the mixed ‘marathon’ in Gujranwala that Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal workers disrupted on Sunday dominated yesterday’s Punjab Assembly session. The verbal brawl began soon after the house started proceedings at 3.40 pm and essentially consisted of legislators hurling abuses and threatening each other.
The MMA legislators argued that the mixed race in Gujranwala had nothing to do with the idea of a moderate Pakistan, but was an attempt to Westernise Pakistani women, something that was a blot on the national and religious identity of the people of Punjab.
The women treasury members defended the mixed race and condemned the MMA activists who tried to stop women athletes from participating in. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supported the MMA’s stand and they walked out of the house when Law Minister Raja Basharat moved a resolution condemning the incident.
The MMA’s Arshad Mehmood Bagoo said the religious alliance supported women’s role in society and their participation in indoor sports, but would not tolerate them running in the open in front of leering men. The alliance Mr Bagoo is part of strongly supported the Taliban in Afghanistan. Perhaps he has forgotten that the Taliban used to whip veiled women who were caught working in offices before hundreds of male spectators in the markets of Kabul. The self-styled Islamists once punished a men’s football team from Chamman, Pakistan, for the sin of wearing shorts during a match with a local Afghan team.
The silence of the treasury’s men in response to the MMA legislators was conspicuous, indicating that many of them agree with the MMA. Only the women on the treasury benches tried to counter the MMA leaders’ arguments.
The MMA legislators also vowed not to allow another ‘mini marathon’ with both male and female athletes in what was an open challenge to the government.
Regardless of whether the MMA is right or wrong about mixed races being against societal norms, surely attacking women with clubs and throwing stones at them, which is what MMA workers did on Sunday, does not fit into our national and religious identity.
Rana Sanaullah, parliamentary leader of the PML-N, was his usual fiery self on the floor. He also opposed the mixed race, raising an interesting point. He said the government had forced girls from school and colleges to participate in the race. He said Rukhsana Nayyer, principal of Government Girls College Gujranawala, ordered all the students in the college to attend the race.
The government accuses the MMA of imposing Islam forcibly. This is an example of how the government tries to enforce ‘moderate Islam’. If the attitude of the MMA can be called religious extremism, the government attitude can rightly be labelled moderate extremism.
Mr Sanaullah ended his speech by saying that no such race should take place unless the daughters and sisters of ministers also took part. Such a remark would normally be met with outrage from the treasury benches, but the ministers remained mum, re-enforcing the impression that they agree with the MMA and PML-N.
It appears as if the treasury, the MMA and the PML-N are all hardliners in a way. But at least they were able to show, by contrast, who the real moderates in the assembly are. The Pakistan People’s Party lawmakers didn’t walk out with the MMA or PML-N, nor did they support the government resolution. It goes to show, once again, who President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s real “moderate friends” are.