What kind of Pakistan will we choose to become?

The Army of Irate Maulvis was yelling “Apostate!” outside the home of Governor Taseer. This was in addition to burning effigies and issues fatwas against the Governor, who took a solid, bold stand against a heinous blasphemy law. The Army of Maulvis and other far-right persons seem to present the public with two disappointing ideas of God.

1. God is evil, and He obviously wants us to vilify all non-Muslims in our country. The problem with this is that it becomes rather difficult to hate people once you get to know them, so I propose all the Muslims live underground. The funds set aside for development should immediately be routed to create tunnels and cities at least a mile underneath the surface. Otherwise, a Muslim may actually befriend a non-Muslim! Imagine that…imagine knowing that a Pakistani Christian woman has the same struggles in her life, the same hopes for herself and her family, as a Muslim woman might. Or the idea that an Ahmadi child can be as cute and funny as a Sunni or Shia.

2. Oh no! Wait a second…God also wants us to be proper Muslims…that would mean no Shias. Development funds should therefore also be used to scrub the pages of history! In this version, the Father of the Nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah cannot be a Shia. We should also set up tribunals of angry, powdered-wig wearing cranky men to investigate the bloodlines of all federal government employees…for purity’s sake, of course.

3.The other option is that God is an underachiever, and didn’t plan on having a planet with billions of people, of varying race, ethnicity, religion, and favorite ice-cream flavors.

Does this sound ridiculous yet? We have come to a point in our nation’s history where we cannot just look at the message. We have to look at the messenger. What are his or her beliefs? Do they serve the public good? Is this person or party capable of participating in the democratic process, with respect and civility?

Everyone, from all sides of the political spectrum, clamors for a functioning democracy. Indeed, whichever party is in power – be it the PML-N or PPP – hears criticism that it isn’t doing enough to create a stable democracy in Pakistan.

The critics remain willfully ignorant of one fact: successful democracy takes more than elections. It needs more than debates in Parliament, more than striking government buildings in Islamabad, more than the men’s suits and stiffly ironed dupattas of the women in government positions. It needs the public conscience and common sense to serve as watchdog over executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Democracy needs a national, rational discourse where each and every Pakistani’s rights are given due respect. That includes every Shia, Ahmadi, Christian, Hindu in our country. Pakistan, created as a place where Muslims could practice their faith in peace, must never take that right away from people of other faith.

We are not that country, and we must never be.

Aasia Bibi is accused of breaking an archaic law of blasphemy. Yet the blasphemy law itself breaks the law of common decency.

How can we accept laws – let alone, silently obey them – that go against all that we know in our hearts to be right and good?

This is where national common sense and conscience come into play. If there is anyone clamoring for blood of a woman, they are as barbaric and revolting as the law that gives hatred a legal platform.

Here is a tradition that needs to return: let us have mature intellectuals in power, like the honorable Jinnah, who seek to serve all the people of Pakistan. And also, let us have a population that values common decency and their own conscience.

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