AHR: A Deadly Silence

Agha Haider RazaWhen Salmaan Taseer was assassinated eight weeks ago, I quoted Max Weber in my article: “If the power of violence shifts from the state to the people, we also see a shift from a state to anarchy”.  Weber’s paradigm of anarchy is becoming more evident in Pakistan as time progresses.  The brutal murder of Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad has solidified the notion that the PPP led government is ignoring extremism.  This perturbed ideology is challenging the writ of the State and if not handled with the delicacy and precision required, we will surely dissolve into a state of oblivion.

During the past year, President Zardari has sent over 70 press releases to the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP – GoP’s official wire agency) “condemning” deaths, murder and terrorist actions.  Yet Mr. Zardari seems ignorant of the very extremists who killed Benazir Bhutto, assassinated Salmaan Taseer, murdered Shahbaz Bhatti and thousands of civilians.  Zardari changed his children’s surname so they would carry the name of their maternal grandfather and even went to the extent of renaming his own hometown of Nawabshah to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto district.  Why invoke Benazir Bhutto if the extremists who murdered her are still wreaking havoc in Pakistan?

I am not undermining the sacrifice Ms. Bhutto gave this country.  But what use is it to Pakistan if Mr. Zardari refuses to acknowledge the very threat of violence that has forced him to name cities after his slain wife?  Where is the speech of a President uniting a fractured country? Where is the public condemnation of murder? Sitting within the Presidency’s bubble and sending 250 words to the APP will surely not break the shackles dragging us towards anarchy.

Having recently travelled through southern Punjab, it was highly disturbing to see the number of madrassahs being constructed.  These institutions are being set-up every 20 kilometers along Multan Road through Sadiqabad.  The graduating batch is more fodder for the “extremist Frankenstein monster” Benazir Bhutto spoke of two decades ago.

It is arguably difficult to tame the monster.  However, a thoughtful analysis of threats and opportunities is required in order to break free from extremism.  The Islam being preached at such institutions needs to be modified and reexamined.  This concept of invoking fear into the hearts of “infidels” and “blasphemers” through violence is not an Islam that was practiced by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) nor advocated by his followers.

Islam can survive without violence, as it has for 1400 years.  It is truly mesmerizing where a religion that was not spread by the sword is now synonymous with suicide bomb and cold-blooded murder.

Those who are inspired by carnage and terrorism through religion need to be shown that Islam at the core does not follow such principles nor evokes such behavior.  Education is one method of response, but that is a long-term goal.  Pakistan requires a proactive responsibility from the government, opposition parties and civil society in order to marginalize the thought-process of extremist elements threatening our social fabric.

The government needs to take a lead role in countering religious violence.  First and foremost the writ of the state is being challenged as civilians are utilizing the power of violence.  Despite all odds, Mumtaz Qadri (a self-proclaimed assassin) needs to be dealt with according to the law.  If religious parties, the government and political parties constantly rally for Raymond Davis to be dealt in accordance to the laws in Pakistan, I don’t see why we should be discriminating.  Providing military training for mujahid’s in covert operations needs to cease.  Investments for NGOs providing roti, kapra aur makaan (food, clothing and shelter) should be increased exponentially, while the public-private sector partnership needs to assist the government in dealing with the monster of terrorism.  The Zia-ul-Haq era of textbooks containing religious violence should to be revoked.

Islamic History is absent from books utilized in schools across the country.  From the very basic public schools in rural Pakistan to elite institutions like Aitchison College, 1200 years of Islam is absent.  Islamiyat is taught from the birth of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the death of Imam Hussain (AS).  Pakistan Studies picks up from the reign of the Mughal Emperor Babar to the inception of Pakistan in 1947.  The Umayyads, Abbasids, Ottoman Empire, Safavid dynasty are crucial to Muslim history but is overlooked.  These dynasties brought about a social cultural change through religion and would be an important aspect to countering religious violence in Pakistan.

There are some who may argue that if the government is absent, the people of Pakistan need to voice their opinions.  While this may be true, I still feel that an elected, representative democratic government is required to take the lead on such a sensitive issue.  Harping on the Shaheeds of a party will not rid us of the Frankenstein monster that has taken the life of thousands across Pakistan.  Pakistan’s very identity and survival is at stake.  Actions truly speak louder than empty rhetoric.

In his inaugural speech Pakistan’s founder stated, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan.  You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”.  It is only fair we live up to his expectations; it’s the least we as a nation can do to the very man who gave us Pakistan.  If the government refuses to provide this safety net to those who practice other religions, we most definitely are sliding towards anarchy.

The author Agha Haider Raza posted this piece on his blog 4 March 2011.

Will The Political Establishment Wake Up?

This post by Agha Haider Raza was originally published at his blog on 12 January 2011.

Our country is at a crossroad.  Pakistan has come to a point where thousands believe they are righteous and have divine authority to carry out God’s acts on this earth.  The repugnant response by the supporters of Salman Taseer’s alleged killer has truly been mesmerizing.  Qadri’s fan base has distorted Islam to such an extent that it has become laughable to comprehend how they perceive themselves to be protecting the sanctity of Islam.  Are they protecting the very Islam, which teaches that murder of one human is the equivalent of killing mankind? Are they protecting the very Islam, which allows for questions over ambiguity? Are they protecting the very Islam that believes in modernity and equality for all? The unfortunate reality today is the religious parties although do not have the political capital; they have influence over our society.  These parties need to be exposed to the Pakistani public through education and the media.  Their dangerous interpretation of Islam needs to be questioned and highlighted.  Many in our country have been manipulated through religion and this should not be tolerated anymore.  This twisted ideology has taken too many innocent lives in our country.  Surely this madness needs to come to an end?

Mumtaz QadriMuch has been discussed, gossiped and publicized on Governor Salmaan Taseer’s inhumane assassination a week ago.  Above the chorus about the Governors personality, character and political viewpoint, what I find completely baffling is the absence of condemning cold-blooded murder.  I am not talking about the monotonous paragraph that has appeared on behalf of our government officials denouncing the murder, “we condemn the killing…will investigate”.  What we need from our ‘democratically elected’ leaders is, showcase to Pakistani’s around the country the draconian way of life many of our ‘religious scholars’ have adopted.

I find it highly unfortunate that the President of Pakistan and co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Asif Zardari, has not used stronger words to deplore the heinous act.  Furthermore, only two politicians, Imran Khan and Shujaat Hussain have linked Taseer’s murder to the growing extremism that many of the political establishment enjoys turning a blind eye towards.  Murder is not justified – under any circumstances.

Those who argue that Islam has no place for modernity are incorrect.  The Prophet (PBUH) was a 7th century Arab who married an older businesswoman.  He broke with tradition.  The Prophet broke idols that were in the Kaa’ba.  He broke with tradition.  The Prophet stopped female infanticide during his time.  He broke with tradition.  Islam was introduced at a time of jahaliyat and it was Prophet Muhammad who brought about a social change, expanding the concept of modernity.  Why have we been estranged from the very foundation of Islam?

What is the purpose of believing in the Day of Judgment if we are judging people and deciding their fate in this world? Is it not blasphemous for Qadri to be carrying out God’s work? If Taseer was wrong in what he said or did, why was Qadri allowed to take away the Governor’s opportunity of repentance?  Is it not blasphemous of Qadri to kill a human being when (in Islam) only God is the decider of our destiny?

The clergy has always been a powerful institution throughout history.  One cannot deny the power and sway they maintain, but in a religion where we believe that God has the divine authority, I find it hard to believe how a moderate country like Pakistan has allowed the ‘right Ummah’ to become the ‘righteous Ummah’.

It also seems very hypocritical that we seem to merrily criticize any other religion on this earth.  We mock the Jews, pass judgment on the concept of the Holy Trinity and laugh at believers who worship their own deities.  And yet, when it comes to Islam, we don’t stand for any religious tolerance.  How does one expect others to respect our religion when we don’t return the favour?  What right do we have in condemning Aasia Bibi (who is a Christian) for blasphemy, when we are guilty of the same charge when it comes to her religion?  Have we forgotten what the white stripe represents on our national flag?

The rising bourgeoisie in Pakistan needs to be exposed to heinous crimes that are being committed at the beck and call of the religious right.  Such parties are entitled to voice their opinions and sentiment, but they are not allowed to instigate violence.  The religious party (JuI) has been active prior to partition (1947).  They have never been able to secure the Federal Government.  If Pakistan believed in the ideology the religious parties put forward, we would have been a very different country today.  It is in fact, the Pakistan Peoples Party, a grassroots, liberal, secular party that is not surprisingly, the largest political party as well.

The Establishment needs to wake up and smell the putrid air that has encompassed Pakistan.  Pakistan no longer believes in their concept of ‘strategic depth’, Pakistani’s don’t want any further deaths in Kashmir, Pakistani’s don’t want to fund madrassah’s that mass produce suicide bombers.  It is the very seed that was planted decades ago, which we reap today.  It is the very ideology that was preached during the 1980s, which convinced the alleged assassin Mumtaz Qadri to empty two magazines on Governor Taseer.

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are no doubt a very sensitive issue.  But so was the Hudood Ordinance, which was rectified by Parliament.  Pakistan went through a very turbulent period under General Zia-ul-Haq.  Laws were incorporated that reeked of a very conservative and distorted form of Islam.  But as the Governor rightly said, these are ‘man-made laws, not God-made laws’.  They can and should be amended.  The Political Establishment needs to challenge and enlighten those parties, groups and individuals who believe in suicide bombings, murder and religious intolerance.

Governor Taseer was murdered for what he rightly believed in a law that is dangerous to a prosperous society.  This law has been interpreted to a point where a citizen believes it is lawful to murder another citizen.  The blasphemy laws have been interpreted in a manner, where a citizen believes he does not need to respect the law enforcement agencies, the judicial courts or the legislative authority of Parliament.  Max Weber famously articulated that a state solely possesses a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.  When the power of violence shifts from the state to the people, we also see a shift from a state to anarchy.

Maybe this is what President Zardari meant when he awkwardly stated, Mumtaz Qadri threatened democratic institutions.  The only logical explanation would be that if the blasphemy laws can be interpreted in a manner that threatens institutions, would it not be appropriate to repeal or amend such a law?