The rift widens: Divided for a cause

Published: January 8, 2011
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Protests show increased polarisation of society. DESIG: SAMAD SIDDIQUI

Protests show increased polarisation of society. DESIG: SAMAD SIDDIQUI

ISLAMABAD: The twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi have been a centre stage for two kinds of protests after the tragic assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer – one by civil society and moderates, though very weak, against the rising tide of religious extremism and intolerance; the other by religious groups hailing the suspected assassin. This shows increasing polarisation in society.

Two such emotionally-charged protests were held on Friday, their purpose and sentiments poles apart.

A group of students from Quaid-i-Azam University seethed with anger at those rejoicing the assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. “Shame on intolerance, shame on silent politicians,” they shouted.

The other, activists of religious groups, marched to the residence of Mumtaz Qadri and laid flowers at his doorstep. “We are the slaves of the Prophet (SAW) and ready to die for his prestige and honour,” they chanted.

Kicking up a dust of dissension that some say has reached its “highest point” in years, the marchers turned
back home.

The opposing congregations were a grim reminder of the societal divide that the assassination of the governor has brought to the fore.

“The tragic killing of Salmaan Taseer confirms that Pakistan has reached the edge of the abyss,” said poet and intellectual Harris Khaleeque. “It will be impossible to survive, let alone grow and prosper if sanity is not restored and those provoking people and taking law in their own hands are not brought
to book.”

Renowned historian Dr Mobarik Ali, said, “The power of orthodoxy is getting stronger. It seems liberals and political voices have surrendered. One is afraid to even speak out.” He added that it was the responsibility of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party government to react and control the situation. “If it fails, there is no alternative,” Dr Ali said.

The polarisation in society was underscored as a large number of Quaid-i-Azam University students and faculty members not only condemned Taseer’s murder but also decried the “disturbing response to it from various quarters of society, including lawyers, politicians, religio-political organisations, and sections of the upper-middle class.”

They chanted slogans against what they called the cowardice of mainstream political parties who refused to openly condemn the incident, and against the state for adopting a soft posture towards such crimes.

The protesters also demanded a paradigm shift and overhauling of the training being given to state functionaries given the fact that Qadri was part of the police force responsible for protecting the life and property of Pakistanis.

On the other hand, a march by thousands of religious activists expressed solidarity with the assassin urging “everyone in the Muslim world to stand by him.” The march started from Transformer Chowk and ended at Qadri’s residence in Muslim Town, Rawalpindi, with participation from members of Tehrik-i-Fidayan-i-Khatm-i-Naboowat, Shabab Islami and other religious groups.

“This isn’t the first time that the society has divided into opposing ideologies,” said Iftikhar Arif, eminent poet and chairman National Language Authority. “It happened in the 70s, it happened under General Ziaul Haq’s military dictatorship. But the bottom line is that everyone is a Muslim here, and no religion, no country condones the murder of a human being.”

Suggesting a way to move forward from the current crisis, he said Ulema, media and scholars should step up and work on this “troubling situation”.

“Ultimately, I believe sanity will prevail,” he said optimistically. Fearing the exploitation of the situation by different vested interests, Khaleeque was of the view that the issue today was not just the brutal act of the killer but those who provide legitimacy to such acts and use faith to further their political agenda and gain space.

“These forces – all religio-political parties without exception, including the hypocrites sitting on the fence like different factions of the PML, the PTI – are essentially responsible for bringing us to a stage where no critical dialogue is possible between people holding different opinions and dissenting views,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • arif khan
    Jan 8, 2011 - 10:42AM

    in our society anyone mentioning the word ‘islam’ now has to be scared lest any of his friends,relatives,colleagues decides his ‘ jazbaat have been majrood” .Everyone has a right to a difference of opinion,if a person believes that the blasphemy law should be amended or repealed,he/she has a right to their opinion.Recommend

  • muhammad asad
    Jan 8, 2011 - 10:58AM

    the secular ppl should start raising their voices confidently & publicly now,keeping quiet won’t keep u safe or alive,you will be killed by the islamic fanatics.It’s better to raise your voice now rather than live life in fear,falsely agreeing with what your fundoo colleagues,relatives or classmates are saying,just because you are too scared of their reaction.Recommend

  • muhammad bilal soomro
    Jan 8, 2011 - 11:07AM

    “First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.”

    If the sane people of our society keep on remaining silent out of fear,these savage animals will take us back to the stone age.Not speaking out conveys the message that these religous barbarians are on the path of good.
    Speaking up,sharing well written articles contribute to dispelling the impression the savages have that they are the only voice in pakistan.Recommend

  • Jan 8, 2011 - 2:16PM

    I dont believe the liberals in Pakistan have any notion of the path ahead of them. For instance as social reformers in India fought against Sati, Child marriage, the confinement of widows, the caste system etc – they were questioning the claims of divinity vis-a-vis the religion. The power of the priests eroded gradually though not without protest and pain. This process is still under way and has taken over 400 years if you take into account the 16th century Bhakti movement that had holy men and women preaching in vernacular languages rather than in Sanskrit.

    The liberals need to debate the path ahead. It would have to start with owning the movement (with heroes like Mukhtaran mai and Salman taseer, the liberals can boldly say this movement is not a western/RAW conspiracy to weaken pakistan) but it will end with the cataclysmic realisation that religion is manmade and faith is strictly a matter of personal choice. Unfortunately in my conversations with even the most liberal muslim I am confronted with a wall of resistance – an Iranian girl believes that it is right that woman are not allowed to become judges. Another liberal Indian muslim sought to justify polygamy. The justifications for Salman Taseer’s assassination are only an extension of the arguments made to justify a way of life in 7th century Arabia as God’s truth. Recommend

  • nadir hasan
    Jan 9, 2011 - 8:08AM

    Couldn’t agree more with prasad (copied below).
    NO HOPE.
    Nuff said!
    I dont believe the liberals in Pakistan have any notion of the path ahead of them……….
    ……….but it will end with the cataclysmic realisation that religion is manmade and faith is strictly a matter of personal choice. Unfortunately in my conversations with even the most liberal muslim I am confronted with a wall of resistance – an Iranian girl believes that it is right that woman are not allowed to become judges. Another liberal Indian muslim sought to justify polygamy. The justifications for Salman Taseer’s assassination are only an extension of the arguments made to justify a way of life in 7th century Arabia as God’s truth.Recommend

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