Pakistan has a long history of producing brave heroes. Strong, proud Pakistanis whose fearlessness is matched only by their sense of justice. So how is it that we are also plagued with cowards who prey on the weak and whose only sense of justice is the tip of a sword? The roots of our current troubles can be traced in part to a history of choosing to praise the wrong heroes.
Farhan Ahmed Shah explains this point perfectly in his piece for Daily Times, ‘Of textbooks, extremism and Mohammed bin Qasim’.
Mohammed bin Qasim’s heroism is our jealously guarded and artificially constructed mythology. This distortion was done at the behest of the vested interest groups that hijacked Pakistan immediately after partition, discarded Jinnah’s vision and devoted all efforts to make Pakistan something that ensured their political significance. To divorce from our Hindu past, the entire history of the subcontinent had to be distorted. Patriotism thus gave way to a misguided sense of Islamic nationalism, making us a confused, paranoid and intolerant people.
The trouble is that when we ascribe the spread of Islam to invaders like MbQ, we are ourselves creating the impression that Islam justifies use of force. Why find it strange then, when terrorists resort to violence to impose their agenda? Why cry foul then when the entire world considers Islam a violent religion? We have raised generation upon generation revering such mass murderers as our heroes, then why express dismay over Pakistan’s radicalisation?
Thankfully, there is a solution readily at hand. As I stated before, there is no shortage of heroes who represent the best of Pakistan and even Islam. One of the most widely revered men of the world, Abdul Sattar Edhi is considered by many to be a modern day saint. He has devoted his life to helping the poor, and doing so with no discrimination against any class or religion. The teenager Aitzaz Hasan who sacrificed his life to stop a suicide attack saved hundreds of lives of his schoolmates. His bravery was so great that even Chief of Army Staff has laid a floral wreath on his grave. And there is Malala Yousafzai who only a teenage schoolgirl still had the courage to stand up for education and justice despite life threats carried out by armed bandits who call themselves ‘Taliban’.
Who we teach our children are the heroes of Pakistan will influence the direction of the nation’s future. We can continue to teach that our heroes are Islamic warriors who conquer with the sword and continue down the path that has brought us to this point. Or we can pay tribute to the heroes of Pakistan who conquer with love and compassion and change our fate to match.