A famous quotation attributed to the British political philosopher Edmund Burke says that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. That may be the least that is necessary, but it’s not the only path. Evil can also triumph when good men undermine their own cause by taking a page out of evil’s playbook. Unfortunately, that seems to be happening among some in PPP, and it’s a losing strategy.
As elections draw near, politics naturally takes a turn for the worst. Disgust at the now well-known YouTube video was justified, but the hijacking of the people’s sentiments by religious parties and banned groups was not. By calling for a national holiday, PPP’s strategy to limit these group’s ability to exploit the situation was not only too clever by half, it actually played into the hands of extremist groups.
While most people have focused on the holiday’s giving legitimacy to the demonstrations, what has been largely overlooked is that the national holiday gave extremist groups cover to carry out violent attacks. By nightfall on Friday, groups like Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa took to the media to proclaim that any acts of violence were not carried out by their organisations who protested peacefully. As proof, they dared anyone to provide evidence of JI or JuD supporters doing such acts while they provided photos and videos of their supporters waving flags and chanting peacefully.
Of course this is a classic smoke and mirrors operation. All these groups had to do is make sure to document their supporters with flags acting peacefully, while their supporters without flags created mayhem. With the entire nation on holiday, it would be impossible to sort out who is who. Before you think this is going a step too far, keep in mind that we’re talking about groups that claim they don’t engage in violence and believe they’re telling the truth because they have redefined violence.
Unfortunately, some PPP leaders didn’t stop with the passive strategy of declaring the national holiday that gave cover to the extremists, they started parroting them themselves in order to appeal to the national mood.
Headlines reporting Rehman Malik’s telling the West to stop supporting Pakistan’s enemies sounded more like a speech at a DPC rally than the statements of a Federal Minister. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Rehman Malik has ventured off of his script in an attempt to appease the right wing – the worst episode being when he threatened to kill blasphemers with his own hands following the murder of one of his own party leaders by a crazed lunatic.
Then there’s Ghulam Ahmed Bilour who sounded more like Mullah Yousaf Qureshi than a Federal Minister when he announced a bounty of $100,000 for murder of the maker of the offensive video. Granted Bilour is ANP and not PPP, but as the leader of a coalition government, the PPP must take responsibility for his presence in the Cabinet.
That these statements and the national holiday are poorly thought out should be obvious. Not only do they undermine the PPP’s position as a modern, progressive political party, they also gain nothing. Let’s face reality – no matter how much support PPP leaders give for right-wing issues, they will never be enough to win the support of the right-wing.
Munawar Hasan and Hafiz Saeed attack the PPP as irreligious not because they want PPP to accept their positions. They do it because they have nothing to offer the people and therefore have to rely on attacks. Giving in to their demands will not neutralise their attacks, it will only make their demands more extreme. Today it is protests against an internet video clip, tomorrow its funding for jihad…then what? Continue down this path for very long and at a certain point, the PPP becomes completely irrelevant.
And this brings us to the point. If the PPP leadership does not have the courage of conviction to sack Federal Ministers who cross the line to openly advocate murder, on what moral authority are they asking for our support?
The PPP became the most popular political party across the nation not because it campaigned on religious symbols, but because it campaigned on the substance of our religion. What is ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan’ if not the command of almighty Allah to care for the poor of society? Just as Islam was spread across the region not at the tip of a sword but by the demonstration of tolerance and love that was shown by earlier Muslims, the PPP’s popularity was gained not through threats and intimidation but by fighting for the rights of the country’s poorest and least powerful.
Bilawal’s passionate speech on the martyrdom of Salmaan Taseer Shaheed exemplified the type of courageous and inspirational leadership that the people are desperate for – one that stands up for justice without fear, not when it is toeing the popular line, but when it stands out. In this, he has reminded the people of his mother who never pretended to be an extremist to gain popular support, but rather watered the roots of tolerance and democracy with her own life’s blood.
We have seen this courage in other recent PPP leaders, also: Salmaan Taseer Shaheed, Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed, Sherry Rehman, Farahnaz Ispahani. We have heard it in the statements of Ahmad Mukhtar and Nadeem Afzal Chan, both of them unwavering in speaking out against the sectarianism that is ripping our nation apart at the seams. This should be the public face of what is supposed to be the nation’s largest liberal party, not appeasement and parroting.
There is another, less popular quotation from Mr Edmund Burke that bears remembering as well: “I take toleration to be a part of religion. I do not know which I would sacrifice; I would keep them both: it is not necessary that I should sacrifice either.” The PPP does not need to sacrifice tolerance to align itself with the religion of the masses, it only needs to faithfully stick to its founding principles. Doing otherwise is a losing strategy.