Preaching to the converted — I

Published: February 2, 2011

The author is a barrister currently based in the UAE alizeh.haider@tribune.com.pk

One realises today that Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s belief “Democracy is the best revenge” was not merely an electioneering slogan. Her advice to the nation held at its heart the secret to a strong, modern Pakistan.

Democracy is the best revenge for it gives the citizens as well as the legislators of a country the opportunity to clean the slate and undo the ill effects of a dictatorial regime. Democracy provides the government with the legitimate mandate to counteract the degeneration of thought, beliefs, laws and practices, which is an inevitable consequence of prolonged dictatorship.

One such ill sown by successive dictatorial regimes, which is devouring our country today, is that of religious fanaticism. Ziaul Haq invited the mullah from the pulpit into the parliament and then Pervez Musharraf empowered the mullahs and madrassas and nurtured and patronised these extremist elements as they distorted and disfigured the face of Islam and gave it a fearsome, violent and merciless appearance, one quite unrecognisable from the Islam traditionally practiced in this region.

Today, however, Pakistan is a democracy — weak, wobbly and uncertain, but a democracy nonetheless. The onus now lies upon the people and the legislature to weed out these destructive elements from our society and restore Pakistan to its moderate and tolerant self.

That extremism has spread to infect all cadres of our community is no news. What is an eye-opener, though, is the fact that Mumtaz Qadri was not a commissioned hitman, he was not invited by a terrorist outfit to claim his ticket to heaven, he was not part of one of the so-called ‘banned’ jihadi groups. Killing Salmaan Taseer was Qadri’s personal mission, which he was able to execute with shocking ease. Qadri is your ordinary Joe and there are probably hundreds like him out there — and that is a scary fact.

Qadri confessed that it took him all of three days to conceive and execute Salmaan Taseer’s heinous murder. Who is to blame for people like Qadri evolving from ordinary to murderer in a matter of three days? The mullahs who feed hate and bigotry to the people in the name of religion? Yes, but equally to be blamed are we, who looked the other way while our people were being treated to slow poisoning for decades by various so called maulanas and aalims. We all noticed a growing number of our society ladies attending Farhat Hashmi’s lectures, we all commented on a marked increase in people visibly demonstrating their religious zeal by altering their appearance to look more ‘Islamic’. The term ‘Allah Hafiz’ which increasingly replaced the traditionally used ‘Khuda Hafiz’ did sound odd to the ear, but like everything else which we just couldn’t be bothered to own up or address, we brushed it aside with nothing more than a raised eyebrow or a roll of the eye.

In a planned and systematic way, our society was infected with the poison of religious fanaticism right under our very noses and we did absolutely nothing to protect it. Today, when one Qadri has very brazenly executed what he considered a justified act, our sense of false complacency has shattered and we find ourselves exposed and vulnerable. Naked before the barrel of religious insanity pointed right at us.

Yet, even now, we are failing to act in a way that will ensure the retreat, if not defeat, of religious extremism. Facebook activisim, Twitter posts and attending vigils is all good in so far as they bring likeminded people together, but they do not counter the problem at hand. Writing columns in English dailies alone converts no one. Our venting is going to achieve nothing to practically turn the tide, unless and until we honestly and fearlessly charter a future course for ourselves.

What we lack is a well thought out and precise plan to combat extremism. For years, perpetrators of an extremist militant mindset have been working at every level of our society using a range of tactics. Some mullahs instilled fear, while others tried to reason. Some took to frontal attack, while others discreetly let our subconscious absorb their message. They targeted everyone, from the poor and impoverished right up to the affluent and wealthy.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (34)

  • Feb 2, 2011 - 12:52AM

    Welll written Alizeh- if only we could get this across to people who are creating these issues!Recommend

  • Huma
    Feb 2, 2011 - 2:08AM

    What an embarrassingly illogical and hilariously bad piece of “analysis” !!!Recommend

  • R S
    Feb 2, 2011 - 3:33AM

    I see a proverbial “elephant in the room”.

    The rise of extremism in Pakistan, I guess, is supported by a narrative, where anything that gives a semblance of protection from ‘Hindu India’ is looked upon as savior. What you need is an alternate narrative and more confidence in Pakistan as a nation than an ideology. If it helps, look at Bangladesh. India didn’t (or couldn’t, if it pleases you) grab the tiny Bangladesh, so what does Pakistan has to fear about?Recommend

  • Imran Ali Waggan
    Feb 2, 2011 - 4:58AM

    I hear you Alizeh. Recommend

  • Ani
    Feb 2, 2011 - 7:57AM

    Do proposals such as yours get published in Urdu language mainstream media because as you said ‘writing columns in English dailies alone converts no one’.
    Advice from us outsiders is rubbished. So what do you suppose Pakistan’s “well thought out and precise plan to combat extremism” ought to be? What is the Twitter and Facebook generation waiting for to fight for true democracy and tolerance for all? Recommend

  • Arifq
    Feb 2, 2011 - 8:51AM

    Very well said. In order to bring about a material change in our society we must tackle root of the problem which basically lies with GHQ. Recommend

  • pmbm
    Feb 2, 2011 - 9:18AM

    Does our religion really teach,condone,endorse what Qadri did? Or are we ignorant about our religion(islam).Recommend

  • Hamaad
    Feb 2, 2011 - 10:33AM

    Author makes some very pertinent points.

    The man in Uniform is a curse: We forget time and again that the Islmaisation we face today, the bombs we read about on a daily basis now, is a result of the Generals that have ruled us. While in Pakistan’s history the manipulation of religion for political gains can be tracked down to ZA Bhutto, the heavy extremism and structural damage began with Zia. We still grapple with un-Islamic and extremist laws promulgated by Zia. The otherwise side lined Islamist parties, now seen in mainstream politics, were again nurtured by Musharraf.
    The Boiling Frog: Quite right, if we don’t act we will cook to death like the boiling frog. The funny thing is, unlike the unaware frog, we are well aware of the consequences of our inaction.

    I would like to add though:

    While the Generals are the root of the evil and have no capacity or vision to cure the extremist defect, the democratic forces have been unable to do so as well. Babar Awan, our Law Minister said “In my presence as the Law Minister, no one should think of finishing this law,” he said while declaring himself to be a “Shaheen” (eagle). The anti-blasphemy laws are not only contrary to Islam but are themselves ‘blasphemous’. A law minister who knows not the law best step down.

    Solution: The Ata Turk model?

    With these Eagles and General and all alternatives worse than that, dear fellow frogs you reckon we can pull a rabbit out of that hat?Recommend

  • ahmed
    Feb 2, 2011 - 11:10AM

    ill go with pmbm here. Im sorry but this article presents a very biased view on Islamic leanings. Read up more about islam Alizeh – im not a fundo, I do not drink, i do not have a beard, and i will never make my wife wear a burqa – but at the same time I do believe that Islam is the greatest religion and that the principles that it teaches are the ones that will end our misery. They will end tyranny, they will end corruption and they will end a class based education system. Because that is the true selfless spirit of Islam.Recommend

  • AT
    Feb 2, 2011 - 11:29AM

    Well written.Don”t think the leaders of our democracy are concerned about the scale of responsibility on their shoulders.Recommend

  • Natasha Khan
    Feb 2, 2011 - 11:42AM

    A perfect outcome of mullah-military alliance! This alliance has resulted in the disintegration of Jinnah’s Pakistan once and if this alliance continues between our mullahs and our generals, there is every chance Pakistan will fall apart once more this time completely, no more to be any country with that name on the face of the earth. That will be in no one’s interest but these generals have never learnt their lessons and never will. Our Army chief, the real centre of power firmly believes Pakistan as the ‘fortress’ of Islam. Well who’s Islam, which brand or sect? Sticking with a deadly idea like that is only giving more power to the very enemy of this country: the mullah. The irony is lost on our generals when on the side they help the cause of obscurantists by sticking to the ‘fortress’ idea and on the other they are endlessly ‘fighting and eliminating’ the creation of that idea. God bless Pakistan but with friends like our generals and mullahs this country does not need any enemy! The Pukhtoons are complely alienated from the state as their lives have been destroyed by the ‘ideological children’ of the generals and the mullahs. The Baluch are almost at the verge of seperation as their leaders are kidnapped, disappeared and killed by the intelligence agencies of the ‘establishment’ terming them traitors. The Sindhi’s are not faring any better, as the mainstream secular political leadership coming out of that province is eliminated. This country is thus at the verge of complete implosion. The Punjabi dominated army, establishment must rein in their obscurantist agent, the mullah or else this country will soon shrink to Punjabistan.Recommend

  • omer
    Feb 2, 2011 - 12:54PM

    ‘democracy is the best revenge’… I’ve always had problems with this motto as democracy is a system of governance and should not be used to settle personal vendettas. So if the Bhutto clan gains power just to revenge the killing of their leaders, where does that leave the people who actually thought they were voting for the ‘roti, kapra aur makan’ promised in the campaigns??

    Secondly radicalism/extremism ( a case of ‘degeneration of thoughts’) is a product of dictatorships? FYI this phenomenon is not only restricted to Pakistan but it exists everywhere. And are ideas freedom of expression or freedom of judiciary which occurred during the Musharraf era a ‘degeneration of thought’?

    To combat extremism you have to change the way the public views issues like Qadri’s murder and to do that you need to educate (not indoctrinate) the masses. Politicians and the like always use populist slogans which appeal to the masses to gain political grounds (it is their job!).

    So please stop looking for scapegoats to pin the charge of spreading extremism on. Recommend

  • Harris
    Feb 2, 2011 - 12:59PM

    The people who can tame the mullah and Militants are the ones who gave birth to them and fed them, who are the real masters of this country. i.e if they are sincere to their so called motherland… People like us who are educated and are sitting idle, are in a majority these days, turn to Farhat Hashmi…the mindset is to have an identity in the society. people like being praised as conservative and religious. not to mention what they do in privacy, in most cases its short lived and people move on to the next experiment.
    We as kids are never allowed to have discussion on religion and most of the times told to shut up…that’s the time when kids are brain washed and set on a destructive path
    The poor are like a herd of sheep, will go in the direction they are led…
    I see an opportunity, if the youth who are almost 65% of the population entering marriageable age decide to seriously consider family planning, to put the brakes on our population. the rest can be set right. one example is the excise and taxation department Islamabad, you have to go there to witness it. Its becaz of just ONE man Mr Ehtasham AnwarRecommend

  • Mustafa Chaudhary
    Feb 2, 2011 - 1:01PM

    Alizeh you are right that we need to carve out a plan rather than only to speak up and debate it in our bubbles. However, let’s start working on it and may I know when do you plan to come to Pakistan? Recommend

  • Feb 2, 2011 - 1:39PM

    Disagree,absolutely disagree,the idea expressed by Alizeh,

    In fact, she crossed the facts considerable.

    What she want to say in her Article,preaching those ideas.which destroyed Tunisia
    and Egypt,listen carefully,Tunisia is gone,Egypt is going on and Pakistan appear to be on the way it is the result of ideas being expressed by such particular mind set.Recommend

  • Feb 2, 2011 - 1:45PM

    Democracy,is a best and unique way
    opened for all corrupt people want to enter into power
    without credibility and bogus education degrees.Recommend

  • Feb 2, 2011 - 1:54PM

    Tell me,
    what are the meanings of extremism?
    An American now exposing himself a consular,
    fired and killed two innocent people in the broad daylight,

    Please,don’t become interpreter of such power,
    God is the author of those books being criticized by you,
    be careful.Recommend

  • Feb 2, 2011 - 1:59PM

    In fact you have lost the way,
    leading to real destination.Recommend

  • Feb 2, 2011 - 2:03PM

    We must adopt the way leading to real destination.Recommend

  • Abdulla
    Feb 2, 2011 - 2:22PM

    @ahmed:
    If everything according to Islam then why there is soooo much barbarity in Islamic world bro., even after 1400 year we are residing on the single principle of Islam., so who is wrong, we preach but we never follow I am sick of being muslim with lots of hypocrates in Islamic people and world.Recommend

  • Ali
    Feb 2, 2011 - 6:27PM

    I think the article does not make sense IMO.
    What has democracy ever done for the people? It was under the nose of Benazir that the Taliban took power and grew into a formidable force. She never uttered a word against them. She had 2 terms in power, 8 years in power and what did democracy under her watch ever deliver the masses? Her party, the PPP, and the PML are made up of the feudal/industrial elite that do not care for the masses. Every year under democratic rule corruption/cronyism got worse. The PPP filled all the key posts in Sindh with inept people.
    No democratic party has yet delievered anything.Have any of them improved education levels, health indicators, delivered economic growth, reduced debt levels?
    A government should be judged by key indicators like those I listed above and bearing that in mind democracy so far has been an abject failure. Democracy is a sham. It is the play thing of the elites to keep the masses pre-occupied.
    The rich in Pakistan pay virtually no tax. They take from the government (& poor) and give nothing back. Every attempt to tax them is shot down in the national assembly by the PPP and PML. Recommend

  • Ali
    Feb 2, 2011 - 6:35PM

    It was Musharraf that tackled the Lall Masjid nutcases, the imbeciles in Swat. He forced the nation into doing these things even while the masses spoke against them. Benazir for example encouraged the international community to place sanctions on Pakistan so that Musharraf would be forced out even though the poor would be hit the hardest. She thought it more important that she be restored to her throne rather than improve the lives of the masses in Pakistan. The sooner democracy is disbanded and a government is formed that concentrates on helping the poor/middle classes to imporve their lot is established the better. Democracy in good in practice but the PPP and PML etc have shown it does not work. Recommend

  • SQ
    Feb 2, 2011 - 6:44PM

    Few of the commentators understand or are trying to understand what Alizeh is saying. I doubt any Pakistani would like to be killed in broad daylight for something they said without any chance to explain what they are saying. Please remember that there are many religious factions (even within the majority sunni sect) in Pakistan and so many disagreements on religion. If killing for religious differences is condoned not one of us would survive. I know we are not living in a very safe society and it is a shame but do not make it worse by condoning murder. Alizeh wants to reform the Pakistani society so that we and our family members are safer. Recommend

  • Asif
    Feb 2, 2011 - 7:30PM

    Seriously but Allah hafiz and Khuda hafiz doesnot make much. Wasnt it the BB who started the Taliban mess? Recommend

  • Ali
    Feb 2, 2011 - 8:30PM

    “One realises today that Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s belief “Democracy is the best revenge” was not merely an electioneering slogan. Her advice to the nation held at its heart the secret to a strong, modern Pakistan.”

    So what sort of revenge can your average poor/middle class individual expect against the PPP, PML, Bhutto andSharif dynasties that have led the country ineptly for decades and delivered nothing? We have only seen health, education, economic growth flounder while they have been in power. Bhutto’s reign saw near civil war in Karachi, key positions in Sindh handed over to PPP cronies etc etc (the list is endless). Nawaz Sharif’s terms in power have been just as bad if not worse.Recommend

  • Shahid Cheema
    Feb 2, 2011 - 10:07PM

    totally disagree !!!! it was an ordinary analysisRecommend

  • Ali
    Feb 2, 2011 - 10:08PM

    When “Shaheed Benazir Bhutto” said “Democracy is the best revenge” perhaps she meant that the best revenge for her against the people of the country who always voted her out after her corrupt reign was to be lumbered with a useless system like sham democracy that we have now that puts people like Zardari in power and where a good proportion of the democratic rulers are proven liars. Where politicians make ridiculous claims like if they had 12 years in power instead of the 8 they did have they would have turned Pakistan into South Korea(Sharif brothers), everybody should get their fair share of corruption (Jatoi, PPP NA member), a fake degree is the same as a real degree (or something to that effect, can’t remmeber who).

    So all Benazir fans, Nawaz Sharif fans keep eulogising your leaders, when it mattered they failed to perform and history will say as much.Recommend

  • Shahid Cheema
    Feb 2, 2011 - 10:12PM

    ordinary analysis.Recommend

  • Fighter
    Feb 3, 2011 - 4:27AM

    @Sultan Ahmed:
    am amazed at the conviction you used to state “two innocent people ” !!Recommend

  • Nimray
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:53AM

    Very well written, not sure I agree with benazirs version of democracy because it was lost in translation but all the other points hit the nail on the head. Brave move putting yourself out there ! Proud of you :)Recommend

  • rehan
    Feb 3, 2011 - 12:01PM

    What a naive and biased scribbling! Non Muslims(and some Muslims too…probably even “liberals”like the author)also use the term “Jesus!!”to imply surprise/disgust in place of “Oh my God!!”.What will you say about them Miss(or Mrs?)Author?Next she will be crying against “Asalamoalaikum” being used instead of “adaab”.Give me a break!! Recommend

  • S.Aziz
    Feb 3, 2011 - 1:24PM

    We need to implement the policies of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He once said that ‘Religion is an important institution. A nation without religion cannot survive. Yet it is also very important to note that religion is a link between Allah and the individual believer. The brokerage of the pious cannot be permitted. Those who use religion for their own benefit are detestable. … If our religion did not conform to reason and logic, it would not be the perfect religion, the final religion.’ Recommend

  • SL
    Feb 3, 2011 - 2:18PM

    What a badly written piece of writing! Not to mention biased.Recommend

  • sasha
    Feb 5, 2011 - 4:10AM

    @Abdulla:
    because the implementation of the religion is wrong not the religion itself.Recommend

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