Waris Husain Editorial- The Empire Without Clothes

To be published in Pakistan Post.

The heinous murder of Governor Taseer was shocking, but one should consider the reactions in support of his assassin amongst some Pakistanis as a sign that the society is at a crossroads. Governor Taseer’s life was stolen from him because he rejected a blasphemy law based on a narrow-minded view of Islam that subjects the nation’s minorities to discrimination. Laws such as these reveal the increasingly conflicting view of Pakistan’s future: either as a nation that is able to adapt to modern times and protect the rights of all its citizens or one destined for devolution into chaos through a medieval view of Islam and the state.

For a moment, I would like to speak to the readers of this column who ardently and passionately believe in the direct role of Islam in the state.  The only way to describe the benefit of a secular and modern society is to understand that the body of Pakistan may undoubtedly be Islamic for some. However, just as any human body requires clothing to protect itself from the elements, so then does a religious-minded public require secular and tolerant policies that provide protection against the political elements.

Just as when individuals put on clothing to protect themselves, their body remains unchanged, a tolerant secular state does not challenge the beliefs in the heart of Pakistani Muslims. Rather, it provides protection for their faith unfettered by political winds. This protection is especially necessary when facing a harsh environment, which well describes a Pakistan beset with economic crises, a war raging across its border, and its flood of international extremists.

Without recognizing that the fallacy of obsessively attempting to create an Islamic state devoid of tolerance, the Pakistani Islamists are walking through a cold winter night naked, believing they will not catch pneumonia and die. However, we know that if the body continues to stay in the environment of Pakistan today, it is destined to become sicker and sicker until it meets an unfortunate end. And it would not just symbolize the death of Pakistan, it would be demise of the true components of Islam that compose its body.

The most striking thing about Islamists who proclaim the necessity of harsh blasphemy laws is that they are embodying a perspective of false prophets who have been prophesized about throughout the Old Testament, and Koran. Mullah Shahi and his cohorts blasphemously assume the role of Allah as omnipotent judges of the Pakistani people, issuing infallible fatwas against the likes of Salman Taseer and Benazir Bhutto. Their irreverent rhetoric provides credibility to horrendous and unjust acts of violence, like assassinations and discrimination against religious minorities. Thus the analogy remains true, that with increasingly intolerant laws that are falsely proclaimed as being Islamic, the body of Islam in Pakistan is withering.

However, the inability of the general public to see the nakedness of Pakistan is due to the inter-generational brainwashing towards conservative orthodoxy. This process was started by Z. A. Bhutto due to his appeasement of conservatives as a means to garner more political support. While Bhutto enacted such laws as the banning of alcohol, the brainwashing of the public with jihadi rhetoric was masterminded by General Zia ul Haq during his 1980’s military dictatorship. General Zia created the blasphemy law as part of an overall propaganda campaign to spread an violent form of Islam in order to achieve his political goals of gaining popular support.

The General encouraged the influx of ultra-conservative Muslim scholars, especially from Saudi Arabia, who established free madrassas and began indoctrinating poor Pakistanis who could not afford to send their children to schools. General Zia also believed that his brand of bellicose chauvinistic Islam should be spread to the middle class. By allowing ultra-conservative groups like the Jamaat-i-Islami to exercise power through force and terror on middle class-dominated institutions like Punjab University, he accomplished this goal. 

The presence and intimidation by the Jamaat-i-Islami led to the silencing of most liberal professors who were attempting to counteract the religious brainwashing of their students. In fact, huge numbers of the professorships were given out to these ultra-conservatives who began to infect the mind of the middle class, just as had been done with the lower class through madrassas. Thus, the reaction from across Pakistan’s socio-economic spectrum in favor of the assassin is directly attributable to this long-term brainwashing the public has widely spread in the body politic.

As the cold darkness envelops Pakistan, its people have become increasingly sick. The only way for the nation to survive is to cover it with ‘clothing’ — the kind of governance necessary to survive in the modern world. This requires correcting the misinformed about religion and its role in the state.  Without developing a secular and tolerant state identity that can provide equal protection to all its citizens regardless of their background, incidents like the assassination of Gov. Taseer will become common-place. And to the millions of Pakistanis who have been forced to stand by as their society is overrun with hate and violence- the words of Bob Marley should resonate: “Rise up fallen fighters, rise and take your stance again… when the heathen back them against the wall.”

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