Protesting against apologists

Published: December 23, 2014
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The writer is a Karachi-based lawyer

The writer is a Karachi-based lawyer

The alleged khateeb of the Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz, appeared on television in the wake of the horrific attack on the Army Public School, and refused to condemn the Taliban. Such a refusal was met with widespread outrage, resulting in unprecedented protests outside the Lal Masjid in Islamabad. Being led by Mr Jibran Nasir (who on December 22 said he had received a threat from the TTP-JA), the protests have undoubtedly not attracted a huge number of people. However, despite this, the said protests are important for several reasons.

Firstly, these protests have highlighted a disturbing reality, which has been largely ignored by the influential in particular and the public in general. At the time of independence, although somewhat tenuous, the narratives of the state and that of religion, although running parallel, were weaved independently of each other. Over time, and especially in light of the Objectives Resolution, the narratives started over-lapping, and then eventually became one and the same. This was the result of a variety of factors, including the state’s decision to cloak the national narrative in religious clothing so as to preserve a false sense of unity independent of ethnic divisions. Relying increasingly on religion to justify its existence, the clergy gained in stature and influence, whereas the bureaucracy and the political players weakened in authority.

The protests outside Lal Masjid, although limited in nature, represent a realisation in at least a segment of society that Pakistan needs to reclaim the space lost to the clergy. Participants appear to want to “reclaim their mosques”, or have their opinions represented in the narrative of not only the country, but their religion as well. It recognises that as a collective narrative of state and religion has been intentionally manufactured over the years, any actual change in state policy would require civil society to participate in the development of the singular narrative of religion and state. This, although in its infancy, is an important development.

Secondly, the protests are directly taking on Taliban apologists as opposed to simply frothing at the mouth against the actions of the terrorists. Undoubtedly, the state and its people have traditionally maintained a soft corner towards the Taliban. In part, this has been made possible due to the existence of a counter-narrative, which has been eloquently advocated by individuals who may not be a direct threat to any citizen or institution, but are supportive of the extremists’ fringe narrative.

The focus of the protests on the apologists evidences an important shift in the way civil society is viewing the problem. It no longer considers apologists as free from blame. In fact, it puts them in the same boat as that of the Taliban. Their shocking opinions are no longer considered as simply misguided, nor are they willing to tolerate such opinions in the name of fundamental rights. Civil society, rightly or wrongly, recognises the importance of having its own robust narrative and limiting the counter-narrative.

The role of the media here becomes increasingly important. That is exactly what the protests have tried to highlight: that balanced electronic media coverage is missing and needs to be ensured. The initial coverage of the said protests indicated a worrying trend in the electronic media, which appeared ever ready to air the narrative of the likes of Maulana Abdul Aziz, but was seen to be in a state of lethargy and paralysis when it came to the counter-narrative offered by civil society. Although the said narrative did start finding mention in subsequent days, the ability of the Maulana to easily find himself on television shows, whilst Mr Nasir had to resort to Facebook and Twitter to get his message across to the public, showed a distortion in the manner in which the media was covering the events. Though blame can be somewhat attributed to the importance of television ratings, this in no way takes away from the media’s responsibility to be balanced and mindful of its own obligations. All in all, the fact that people have started to realise that the battle for the narrative of Pakistan and its religion is as important as the ongoing battles in Fata, and that society at large cannot win this war without offering a cohesive narrative that it is able defend, is an accomplishment in and of itself. It shows a degree of maturity in our classes and a better understanding of the crisis at hand. It represents a ray of hope in Pakistan, and although this may be a bit premature to say perhaps, it also represents the will of the people to finally change the national discourse on terrorism.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2014.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • raider
    Dec 23, 2014 - 8:27AM

    apologists of Taliban and apologists of foreign agenda should be viewed seriously and should be prosecuted in treason case.

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  • Adil
    Dec 23, 2014 - 9:19AM

    My prevailing narrative is that these days most article contain too many narratives. Surely there are narratives outside narratives. God, what if there were no narratives?

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  • Sexton Blake
    Dec 23, 2014 - 12:42PM

    Dear Basil Malik I see very little maturity in the various Pakistan groupings, and in particular the legal group and some journalists. There is a never ceasing mantra of ” let us execute the terrorists”, and of course, “bag the apologists”. The fact that the apologists wish to have a calmer approach does not appear to have any traction. However, taking a slightly different approach let us look at 9/11. Approximately 3,000 people died in the twin towers. As a result the US appeared to go berserk, invaded Afghanistan/Iraq, bombed them into the stone-age, killed about 2 million people, and spent 6 trillion dollars. If you wish to work it out 6 trillion dollars shared amongst 3,000 people works out at about 2 billion dollars per person; very expensive revenge. Moving back to Pakistan it appears that about 600 militants are up for execution. Obviously, there will be more payback from the militant groups if the executions go ahead. I would suggest that Pakistan needs all the apologists it can get unless it wishes to keep falling back to third world status at a greater rate than already exists. Revenge for Peshawar will be too expensive for Pakistan, and somehow we need to keep the military and Government fanatics under control. These are just a few points but they may help you.

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  • Parvez
    Dec 23, 2014 - 3:57PM

    Question is why do successive governments pander to the likes of Abdul Aziz.. To me it seems that just like the government nurtures a criminalised police force to do its small dirty work……..it nurtures the likes of Abdul Aziz and through him his militant proxies, to do its big dirty work.

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  • Ahmed
    Dec 23, 2014 - 4:35PM

    Totally agree. Civil society protests against the apologists needs to happen a lot more and in my view, probably the most important step in countering terrorism.

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  • Ghulam Mohiyuddin
    Dec 24, 2014 - 1:31AM

    Mr. Malik says, “Pakistan needs to reclaim the space lost to the clergy.” An uphill task, but it may be the only one that can save Pakistan.

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