T H White while narrating a scene from the lens of an ant describing an ant-hill writes in The Once and Future King, “The fortress was entered by tunnels in the rock, and over the entrance to each tunnel, there was a notice which said: EVERYTHING NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSORY.” I think that the statement on the notice read by the ant captures the essence of totalitarianism with more precision than any comparable phrase by George Orwell or Huxley. One cannot be sure if the drafters of the Ehteramul Ramazan Ordinance 1981 drew direct inspiration from the epitaph on the tunnel, yet the intention has an uncanny similarity.
Briefly the ordinance promulgated by Ziaul Haq prohibits eating, drinking and smoking in public places during the designated fasting hours while ordaining restaurants and hotels not to serve during the said time duration and violations punishable by imprisonment. To some, it would seem a completely rational law and also somewhat banal. Let me assure you that like most things done by Ziaul Haq this has nothing rational or harmless about it. Many people find fasting a rather pleasant activity, for reasons either of spirituality or an opportunity for detoxification, etc and I find the devotion rather admirable. My problem only really begins when you not recommend but force me to undertake this noble endeavour. There is something about mandatory piety and to some extent medical well-being, which prompts thinking people to resist almost as an instinct.
Christopher Hitchens once wrote about the Christmas season saying that it is the dreary fact that official propaganda is inescapable, which turns the United States from a constitutionally governed country to the equivalent of a “One Party State”. ‘One Party State’ is a term that has an import beyond the holy month of Ramazan for us, however it is only in Ramazan that the true extent of the pervasiveness and influence of the parties of the believers is unavoidable. For one complete month a public relation campaign for the JIs and the JUIs is run uninterrupted on all channels free of charge. Heads are covered, beards grown and more and more Arabic salutations find their way on national television. Tedious as it is, there is nothing truly malicious about all of this except when the affected displays of piety to garner ratings clearly cross the line from being warm and fuzzy religious stuff into cold, nasty exhibitionist bullying.
I had the misfortune to view a video clip recently where a lady previously of the fame of wandering about in the moral wilderness of our public parks outdid herself with a new low. The clip displays her along with a clerical gentleman converting a Hindu Sunil to a Muslim Abdullah. The young boy in rehearsed although frazzled manner is making the transition into the folds of Islam. I have nothing against people changing religion from free will in a private affair, yet the message sent to an already beleaguered Hindu community is loud and visible — we do not like you as you are but will spare you if you cross over to the right path. There is everything cheap and pathetic about the display. One almost hopes that the mediocre pretentious woman tells us again in broken tones that the boy was a hired actor. She, with this display of cruel idiocy, has also upped the ante in the clerical racket in the television business, I fear, if the fake doctor is planning on a live execution of a non-Muslim to compete in the ratings now.
Imagine if you will that in a television programme in the United States, India or any place in the world, a Muslim Abdullah was converted to a Hindu Sunil. That would be as stupid as what Maya Khan did yet imagine our reaction. It would not have been merely silly, it would have a frontal assault, a grand conspiracy, it would have been an attack on Islam itself, jihad would have been the cry. Lahore and Karachi would have burned; Bar Councils would have announced strikes, Hindu and Christian places of worship all over the country would have been set ablaze, a dozen or so killed for good measure. Some cleric with extra cash would have announced a meaty reward for killing the newly converted, the host, their neighbours and their dogs, etc. This apparently is a one-way street, almost like the words of Hotel California, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. Before embarking on these expeditions of piousness, it is worth reflecting on the golden principle of antiquity, which dictates do unto others what you would have them do to you.
I can imagine the Hindus and other minority communities becoming edgy when someone like the impeccable Justice Rana Bhagwandas says that the Constitution makes non-Muslims “less-preferred citizens”. In fact, I will not be surprised if they do not merely become edgy but are in a state of outright frenzied panic. This comes from a gentleman who rose to become the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court; it is frightening to ponder about the feelings of ordinary non-Muslims. My Lord, Justice Bhagwandas uses very serene language as is his temperament in employing the term “less preferred” as opposed to being outrightly discriminated and often-times hunted. No non-Muslim is allowed to become the president of the country as stipulated by the Constitution or even the prime minister as the oath requires affirming the basic tenets of Islam. So basically the coercive mechanism is already in place for nudging them or perhaps, more accurately shoving them to convert, without Maya Khan making more of a fool out of herself (if that is possible) on national television.
It has been said that personal faith is like some other things, it is very good to have one, quite natural to be proud of it, try not to make a public exhibition of it and whatever you do, don’t shove it down the throats of our children.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2012.