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.