Pakistan’s descent into religious extremism and fanaticism is deeper than any moderate had imagined. Only a hard line against those inciting and condoning violence in the name of religion will provide any hope.
Two weeks before his assassination, my father-in-law, Governor Salmaan Taseer, tweeted: “Covered in the righteous cloak of religion even a puny dwarf imagines himself a monster. Important to face [religious leaders]. And call their bluff”.
The aftermath of his murder has exposed, in stark terms, where public opinion lies — on the side of anarchic, cold-blooded murder, in the name of religion and without any recourse to the law. Many of our learned lawyers are also on the side of chaos and the law of the jungle, as are a number of students, talk show hosts and others who are supposedly part of the progressive elite (though, of course, there are a number who are not).
As the drumbeats continue in support of Qadri, a premeditated murderer by his own admission, I sit in a combination of grave concern and deep sadness about the future of Pakistan. Until this event, I was certain that the vast majority of our population was moderate and abhorred acts of violence. I felt that, despite some bad years, Pakistan would move forward as a progressive Muslim country, influenced by a free press, the internet age and a common desire for economic betterment. I had envisaged that my wife and I would spend an increasing amount of time there as we aged and our children moved into universities and careers.
Everything has changed. I’ve suddenly realised where moderates and liberals lie in Pakistan — in an ivory tower, with pen and paper and surrounded by only their own kind. What are the numbers? A few thousand at best, in a country of well over 170 million people. Terrorists have murdered thousands of Muslims in mosques, in the markets and in the streets, yet there is little public outcry. But if it’s an amendment to the blasphemy law — largely designed by Ziaul Haq and given more teeth by Nawaz Sharif — that’s worth killing over and tens of thousands will march in the streets.
There is no moderate majority in Pakistan. The large majority of Pakistanis are poor, living from meal to meal and focussed (understandably) mostly on their survival. This makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation by irresponsible and ambitious maulvis. The majority have been brainwashed by clerics into believing that one word against their radical interpretation of Islam is a one-way ticket to Hell, whereas dying for the cause of Islam (even through killing innocent Muslims, as has been happening in Pakistan) is an immediate entry to Heaven. And many educated political leaders and professionals have decided that they will join the winning team.
Not only are acts of violence against innocents condoned, but those on the side of reason and moderation are told that they must not open their mouths. Religious leaders can issue fatwas at will, decide who they want dead with a price on their heads, and finance acts of violence and terrorism openly. But if any moderate speaks up against them, they deserve to die. Religious leaders jealously guard their monopoly on violence and also their exclusive right to free speech. They have realised that if one of theirs can openly murder a sitting governor, one of Pakistan’s best known politicians, without potentially any recourse, theirs will be the power and the glory.
If Pakistan is to stand a chance, someone with real power in Pakistan needs to take on the religious leaders. They need to have those who incited Salmaan Taseer’s murder arrested. They must prosecute maulvis who issue murderous fatwas. Any religious leader inciting hatred against others, or encouraging acts of terrorism or violence, should be chased to the full extent of the law, not hold the rest of us hostage. And, of course, the likes of Qadri should be dealt with swiftly and appropriately. Once those guilty of this behaviour are taken to task, the common man will begin to better differentiate right from wrong. Without civility and law and order, we certainly don’t stand a chance.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2011.