The Taliban and its sympathisers have on more than one occasion presented a skewed interpretation of Islam which endorses, if not outrightly supports the massacre of innocent Muslims via suicide bombings. The firebrand and perhaps suffocating way of life preached by the Taliban and their cohorts is such that the only feasible methods by which it can be enforced on a diverse population such as that in Pakistan is if they either make their proposed 'way of life' attractive and exciting enough to lure people towards it, or they ensure that no alternative world view exists to challenge their conception of the ultimate existence. The activities of the Taliban and their supporters in the recent past seem to suggest that they have chosen the latter method of enforcing their worldview rather than the former. Hence, a consistent pattern of targeting of symbols of cultural affinity can be observed in various areas of the country.
But if this wasn't bad enough, it seems that the government is putting in an extra effort to ensure the Taliban succeed in their strategy. The fact is that whereas the Taliban have deduced that the proliferation and spread of their world view rests on there being no alternative, the government has failed to understand that the only way to defeat a brutal ideology garbed in egalitarianism is to strengthen and bolster that very alternative.
Our films are poorly funded, and don't even constitute an industry. In fact, the number of cinemas in Pakistan have been decreasing exponentially ever since the late sixties, so much so that there are only an estimated 160 cinemas left. Our musicians are not encouraged to take up the art as a profession, and whoever so ventures into this field is on their own, has to contend with government ambivalence as well as piracy issues. Add to this the fact that as a result of terrorism, musical concerts have become an exception rather than the routine. Finally, whatever little arts and drama take place in the country are stifled by conservative censorship as was witnessed with the play Burqavaganza.
If this was not bad enough, the government has recently added insult to injury by increasing the military budget by 31 per cent and simultaneously reducing the budget for the promotion and encouragement of culture and arts by about 21 per cent. As such, the allocation has been reduced from Rs449.9 million in the previous year to Rs353.9 million in the current fiscal year. And this was done despite the dismal conditions in which our artists are forced to promote their arts, as exemplified by a recent survey conducted by a media outlet. In this survey, it was discovered that out of a total of 250 local artists residing in Islamabad, 180 were living hand to mouth with no better future prospects in sight, so much so that a television, film and theatre artist, was reportedly selling fried fish to make ends meet.
All in all, the government must realise that in order to effectively fight this war against extremism in all its forms and appearances, it must showcase the country's culture, traditions and way of life as the answer to the brutality and stone age mentality of the likes of the Taliban. As one concerned official in the Ministry of Environment so succinctly put it: “the less the cultural activities, the more we provide an open playing field for terror to overwhelm us.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2010.
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