Inciting violence in the name of religion has become an all too common theme in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to whip up mobs into frenzy whenever the divine is concerned. Religious faith provides a route to inner peace for individuals and all of the major religions share the golden rule, to treat others the way you want to be treated. In the case of Pakistan, religion has been misused as a tool to promote violence and deny women’s rights. We’ve allowed Islam to be hijacked by fanatics who have subsequently sabotaged our Constitution. That was never the Quaid-e-Azam’s vision; nonetheless each amendment to the Constitution further engrained fanaticism in our society at the expense of minority rights and freedom of speech.
The violent mob that descended on Islamabad to demand the imposition of the Sharia law while participating in a protest against the hanging of a murderer, was appallingly misguided. The attack on Easter in Lahore was disgusting. The government appears to have a bottomless stomach for this ongoing violence.
Pakistan’s government is helpless as long as religion is used as the pretext for murder and violence. It has become the victim of its own mutated Constitution and cannot differentiate between a sin and a crime. For instance, Christians celebrating Easter, the hanging of a murderer, and a women’s protection bill, could all represent symbols of betterment of our society. In practice, they are construed as secular concepts and a threat to Islamic principles.
In the rest of the world, we’re seeing the implications of this fanaticism that is broadcast non-stop. Muslim refugees escaping from the IS might just get banned altogether from Europe, following terrorist attacks and the ogling of women at public swimming pools. Looking at the US, a once farce of a candidate like Donald Trump, has a real shot at the presidency since his statements about banning all Muslims or requiring them to carry an ID card are becoming increasingly popular.
An ideal way to reverse this trend is to make sure that the rule of law is supreme in the country and religion is not misused in a way that makes this aim impossible to achieve. This would free everyone to observe their faith as they see fit and also provide personal freedoms to Pakistani men and women that the rest of the world takes for granted. Can any of this happen in our lifetime? The momentum doesn’t favour the optimistic as Pakistan’s government already acceded to the demands of the mob in Islamabad.
Will the government eventually learn from history and realise that each concession to these fanatics, dooms the nation to an even longer period of self-inflicted troubles? While military operations can destroy the terrorist infrastructure, the government will eventually need to step up and address the obsession with religiosity that has seeped into our identity. This is unlikely to happen until the voices of reason are loud enough to silence the madness of mobs.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2016.