A proposed ban on cartoons inspired by Hindu mythology being discussed by legislators in Punjab highlights our government’s skewed priorities and blinkered vision. It is unfortunate and in fact ridiculous that lawmakers choose to occupy themselves with forming committees to discuss a perceived threat to Pakistani culture from a few animated characters at a time when southern Punjab, and indeed much of the country, has been devastated by floods. Surely the economic and social upheaval that has followed the floods is more of a danger to the fabric of our society than a cartoon showing symbols of a non-Muslim belief system. To think that one’s culture and faith will be diluted or tainted because of the availability and broadcast of programmes showing the values of a different faith or religion is to underestimate the power and resilience of one’s own values and beliefs. Besides, banning interaction with or exposure to other cultures and ideas only breeds more intolerance, unease and extremism — and there is far too much of these already in our society. Furthermore, the proposal to ban the cartoon pre-supposes that all of Pakistan’s population is of one faith, when that is clearly not the case.
Juxtapose this outlandish development with what the Punjab government has done (read not done) in battling extremism within its jurisdiction. For instance, Ahmadis have been denied relief because of their belief and so far there has been no development on catching those who ordered the attack on the Ahmadi places of worship in Lahore in May of this year. This perception of being soft on battling the extremists is reinforced by instances of the law minister travelling with a senior leader of a sectarian outfit in central Punjab during a bye-election campaign some months ago. No wonder then that Punjab has become a hot-bed of militancy and extremism and who has suffered as a result of this: no one other than its ordinary hapless citizens who have had to bear the brunt of repeated attacks and bombings. And it is precisely absurd proposals such as these that send the militants the message that the provincial government for one will not seriously come after them.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2010.
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