The spot-fixing scandal has broken my heart. I’m a die-hard Pakistan cricket fan. Yes, I’d long heard about the corruption in our team, including by some of our greatest players in the 1990s. But I never wanted to believe it.
So when I saw the no-ball video evidence last month, it shook me. I was disgusted by our players, and even more so by the Pakistan Cricket Board. Whether or not anyone is convicted of a crime, if the video wasn’t a fake (and there’s no reason to think it was), then it and the horrifying behaviour of our officials in response are all I need to be convinced that our national cricket administration is rotten to the core.
In recent times Pakistan cricket has seen increasingly overt displays of religiosity. We’ve had conversions, sudden changes in appearance (with beards sprouting on many a formerly clean-shaven chin). We’ve had group prayers led by captains and (if rumours are to be believed) secret, sacred oaths sworn to unseat captains. We’ve had after-match press conferences prefaced by invocations of the divine.
Why, then, are we confronted with endemic cheating by our players and the unsavoury sight of our administrators seemingly scrambling to hide what has been going on? Why is our cricket infrastructure in as sorry a state as our political infrastructure?
For me, a large part of the answer has to do with the politicisation of religion.
I have always been a strong believer in Pakistan’s potential. And despite the terribly difficult times our country is going through, I’ve never accepted that our future needs to be bleak. But it is clear to me that Pakistan is being bled by a terrible enemy. That enemy is not America or India or any other external power. No, our enemy is within. Our enemy is our own hypocrisy.
To an extraordinary degree, we Pakistanis have a culture of hypocrisy. We condemn corrupt officials but cheat on our taxes. We have little evidence for conspiracy theories but spout them anyway. Our police take bribes. Our champion sportsmen throw matches. Our state both fights militants and supports militants. Our People’s Parties steal from the people. Our Muslim Leagues wink at those who kill Muslims.
Our hypocrisy is so rampant that one would think it’s a state-sponsored ideology.
And, in fact, it is. In moving from the secular state envisioned by Jinnah to the so-called religious one brought into being by Bhutto, Zia, the Sharifs and the Bhutto-Zardari dynasty, Pakistan has created a political template that makes hypocrisy essential.
Religion, like love, is at its core about sincerity. Saying you love your spouse or your child in public as loudly as possible does not make it true. But imagine a state where everyone was encouraged, indeed coerced, to do this. By law, no one would go to work on their child’s birthday. Wedding anniversaries would be marked with televised speeches. In order to be issued with passports, childless couples and the unmarried would be forced to fill out special declarations to the effect that their status was not of their choosing.
What would happen? People would lie. In order to be accepted and get ahead, they would say one thing and believe something else. And by so doing, they would devalue truth (and indeed love) in their society. They would create an environment of hypocrisy in which those who love and those who don’t love both claim to love, where those who don’t love would be denied the chance for honest self-assessment, and where those who do love would find the words they use to express their feelings drained of meaning through rampant misappropriation. The result would be a society utterly toxic to love and to its own people.
The same is true of religion. A state that mandates religious practices, as Pakistan does, is a state that mandates hypocrisy, because the law can only govern outward behaviour. It can say that such-and-such behaviour is prohibited, but it cannot say that such-and-such belief is prohibited. And as the gap between belief and behaviour widens, hypocrisy sets in. People with beards still kill. People who cover their heads still steal. People who thank God for their victories still cheat. And because so many people do these things, the split between religion and morality becomes profound and widely accepted.
Secularism need not be anti-religious. A secular Pakistan could be a Pakistan in which the religious life of its citizens is enhanced, just as love is enhanced in a state that does not seek to legislate love. We need to re-evaluate the notion of politicised Islam that has worked its way into our politics, our constitution, our culture and our sports teams.
There is no hiding from our hypocrisy. We have to confront it. It lies at the heart of our state. The choice between an Islamic republic and a republic with a Muslim majority is ours, and it is not merely a matter of words. There is a reason why religions say there should be no compulsion in matters of religion. The reason is that compulsion leads to hypocrisy.
And hypocrisy leads to the crises Pakistan faces today.
The writer is the author of the novels Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.