Reading the comments in newspapers on the murder of Salmaan Taseer, I feel completely lost. Newspaper columnists and commentators have lost no time in declaring the rise of the religious right. Unfortunately, such comments in the vacuum of social research reflect only the personal reading of the events of the commentators. Both, for social discourses as well as public policy formulation, self-manufactured social facts can be disastrous.
For long, there has been a tendency in the media to project the image of the religious right as larger than what it is. One section of media commentators is ideologically and politically connected to the religious right, and as a part of its mission, it exaggerates its numbers and strength. The so-called liberalist commentators, not even knowing the basic philosophical ideas of liberalism, do a lot of fear-mongering both out of ignorance and for personal profit.
How do they profit from fear? Western donors have their own mission of creating a moderate Muslim society — without any clarity on what it means and how it can be done. But the running premise is that something has gone wrong with Pakistan’s society. Over time, we have manufactured some social facts that present Pakistan to be in dire need of an overhaul of all its vital systems from social attitudes to culture, values and ruling ideas. This creates an opportunity for our moderate activists to access the resources of western countries to reform Pakistan. Good luck to them.
True, militancy and intolerance has been on the rise in Pakistan. But it has also been constant and even grown in many other countries. No country in the world can claim to have conquered all forces of darkness and evil.
My submission is that to counter what is evil, we do not need to overstate the forces associated with it. The fringe elements of society don’t represent the whole of it. Also, the grounds of intolerance are not only religious. There is plenty of evidence of gruesome ethnic violence in Karachi and Balochistan.
Religious right groups and factions have grown clamorous and use religious occasions to publicise their point of view. For decades now, they have taken to the street for one cause or another. The question is, do they have a big enough social support base to claim electoral victories? Not yet, but there is no guarantee that they wouldn’t capture a larger public in the future, if our electoral elite continue to plunder the country and use every foul means to amass wealth at the expense of the poor.
Interestingly, our half-baked intellectuals have for decades invented causes for the rise of extremism by reading the fine lines of the curriculum, the nationalist historical narrative, the Afghan war and the Zia regime.
Such intellectual orientations amount to ignoring the real facts that may shift the social balance of power in favour of the religious right — poverty, the increasing gap between rich and poor, and an illegal economy that profits the rich and powerful. The Islamic revolution in Iran is the most relevant social fact to the contemporary conditions of Pakistan. The clergy led the dispossessed to an uprising. The terrorists, militants and suicide bombers with religious orientations are poor, deprived and marginalised. Frankly, flawed state building, flawed politics and flawed distribution of wealth are the real issues that need to be addressed to prevent further social damage.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2011.
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