Page A3 of Daily Times of 21st February features the story, ‘NA committee for programmes on war on terror‘ about legislators calling for new initiatives “for changing the people’s mindset on war on terror”. The problem is larger than just creating new programmes to change people’s mindset, however.
Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) recently convened its conference in Lahore where the top issues were discussed. A report by Raza Rumi notes the unprecedented support for minorities given by PUC chief Allama Tahir Ashrafi, and a resolution was passed saying, “government had the responsibility to protect the lives, wealth, honor, dignity and places of worship of all its citizens regardless of their faith.”
This message of tolerance and inclusion is welcome, but it is a paragraph late in the report that exposes the root of our problem.
In his speech Allama Tahir Ashrafi said madrassas were guarantors of peace in the country. Maulana Muhammad Ali Sherazi said an education system given by Christians was a conspiracy against Islam, which had become a victim of the west. “True education is spread through religious seminaries, which are the fort of Islam,” he added.
Is there any better representation of what ails us? In one moment, Ulema calls on government to protect minorities. In the next moment, they accuse non-Muslims of using education as part of a ‘conspiracy against Islam’.
Which is it? Are We are told note to be suspicious and hateful, and then we are given reason to be suspicious and hateful. If government has a responsibility to protect minorities, doesn’t that responsibility include doing something about the lessons in intolerance being taught at certain madrassas?
Ridding ourselves of the curse of religious extremism, the root cause of terrorism in our country, will require us to move beyond mere words of tolerance. We must shed our victim mentality and stop pretending that the threat is coming from outside and not inside our own house.
In Pakistan, religion is supreme. Which is why one would be forgiven for taking the mistaken impression that the Ulema, or religious clerics, would have great influence on society. Actually, they are almost completely irrelevant, and their irrelevance is a result of their own words.
Pakistan Ulema Council issued a condemnation of IS militants on Friday as reports of infiltration by the jihadi terrorist group across the country. This condemnation of IS militants by the respected clerics is welcomed, but the qualified statement highlights dangerous double standards toward extremism and militancy that must be addressed.
The PUC statement only addresses one group (IS) and includes the following qualification:
“The PUC appeals to people and youth in Islamic countries to not cooperate with any violent group whose teachings or actions are against the teachings of Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).”
The problem with this statement is that it gives a free pass to violent groups who do believe their teachings and actions are in line with Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). In other words...all of them.
Freeing Pakistan of the scourge of extremist violence requires a comprehensive, unqualified condemnation of militancy. No exceptions. Until then, qualified condemnations will not only be fruitless, they will continue to provide an ideological justification for terrorists of all stripes.