Coup détat and pandemonium of extremism — Ali Salman Alvi
The message was loud and clear — that no other religion in Pakistan enjoys the same reverence as Islam does — and thus the only way of survival for the minorities living in the ‘Land of the Pure’ is to embrace Islam
Minorities in Pakistan have long confronted a nexus of numerous grave issues, the likes of intimidation and seclusion, pushing them against the wall. The situation has turned out to be a can of worms for this unprivileged section of society who now strive for their existence as they face the biggest challenge — of survival in the hostile conditions besieging them. In Pakistan, the ratio of Hindus alone is reduced to 1.6 percent of the total population as compared to 20 percent in 1947. The representation of the other minorities at all ranks has been negligible too.
From the case of Aasia bibi, a mother of five, who has been sentenced to death under the Blasphemy laws by a local court, to the deplorable murder of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, the slain federal minister for minorities’ affairs, the situation seems to spiral out of control. So much so that the prayer leader of the well-known Mohabat Khan Mosque in Peshawar offered Rs 500,000 for killing Asia bibi during one of his sermons at the Friday prayers, adding that the payment would be made from the mosque’s fund. If the unproven case of blasphemy against Aasia bibi and the subsequent murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were not enough to take the bull by the horns, this statement alone should have set alarm bells ringing in society. Unfortunately, though, no action was taken — neither by the concerned authorities nor by the Supreme Court, which has an eye on any chance to take a suo motu action promptly — against those responsible for making the lives of the beleaguered minorities more vulnerable and thus festering the exponentially growing menace of extremism in our insensitive society. The public mindset that condones this kind of extremism was cultured and endorsed under a decade-long military regime of General Ziaul Haq from 1977 to 1988. A whole generation of Pakistanis has grown up with textbooks producing a mindset that conflate Pakistani patriotism with Islamist ‘exclusivism’ whilst another generation is in the making on the same lines of thought.
Contorted Islamisation of those who have altered it by degrees ad nauseam of extremism, manifests when it comes to a show of tolerance and reverence to other religions. It is a society that fervently hails unjust and unscrupulous practices, such as condoning the extremist mindset and glorification of the terrorist figureheads like Osama bin Laden, terming such praxes a great service to Islam. Oddly, a whopping majority of Pakistanis believes that Islam is exactly what they think and whosoever thinks otherwise would definitely end up in the deepest parts of hell for being an infidel. But is it truly indispensable that we have to give the world a sneak peek into our depleted society regularly? From the sickening display of hero-worship of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer of the governor Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, to the blatant marginalisation of the underclass minorities being broadcast live on television, we never cease to stoop lower and lower. Just when I think it cannot get any worse than the monstrosities I have witnessed, it gets worse, making a mockery of my wishful thinking.
The latest nail in the coffin is driven by none other than the unparalleled queen of sanctimoniousness, Maya Khan, which involved converting a Hindu boy to Islam during a primetime Ramazan special show being broadcast live on national television, taking the issue of intimidation and segregation of religious minorities in Pakistan to another level. In a matter of a few minutes, the 20-year-old Sunil officially converted to Islam under the guidance of a cleric to be followed by a packed studio audience congratulating and yelling suggestions for his new Muslim name prior to being renamed to the consensus choice of the zealous spectators — Mohammad Abdullah. Distressingly, the channel did not realise the message that whole escapade disseminates to the minorities living in a country where they already face a number of grievous issues. To any sane person the message was loud and clear — that no other religion in Pakistan enjoys the same reverence as Islam does — and thus the only way of survival for the minorities living in the ‘Land of the Pure’ is to embrace Islam. The ecstasy with which Sunil’s conversion was hailed and the congratulatory messages that followed clearly depicts that the fever of extremism is growing more and more.
Matters of faith, belief and religion are highly personal and they should not be commercialised. Religion should not be bought or sold through a channel’s TRP ratings. Televising the conversion must have been profitable for the channel but inevitably, it has further strengthened the trend of commercialisation of Islam. Religious beliefs are polymorphous in nature and they do not happen or change overnight. This was exactly the reason why Sunil replied incoherently about his intentions when asked what motivated him to accept Islam, as most of his responses gyrated around praising Sarim Burney Trust where he worked. What his work environment had to do with his conversion remained an elephant in the room. To me Sunil has just landed in hot water, as he has to make some other decisions quite soon. One of them being which school of Islam he would follow as there is a variety of options available, each calling the other inferior and in some cases, ‘infidel’.
I believe it is not just Maya Khan and her escapades of chasing couples in parks or converting Hindus to Muslims; the crisis is definitely more serious. The quandary lies in the mindset that makes many feel that it is in line with the ethical parameters of any civilised society and to get that distorted school of thought on track, a biased and controversial media is barely a solution. A much needed code of conduct, which has been vehemently opposed from the ranks of the electronic media, is found missing. Thus, its absence is one of the major reasons why such bizarre shows are aired without any system of checks and balances. Article 25 of the Constitution states, “All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of law”, whilst Article 36 maintains, “The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.” It is high time we as a society recognised the need of living in a culture of respect and tolerance for those who differ ideologically from a particular set of beliefs. Media needs to mend its ways and come up with a code of ethics to be followed by all channels operating under PEMRA. In the holy month of Ramazan, media should be spreading the message of peace and inter-faith harmony instead of airing such codswallop that propagates negative propaganda about Islam, making a mockery of religions followed by scores of people out there. With the psyche represented by the likes of Khan, there is an identity crisis among the minorities, alluring the fanatics rather than admonishing their practices and their diktats. Those who have been trying to gag the voices and slaying minorities — be it Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis (religious minorities) or Shias (populace minority) — in the name of religion, are achieving pyrotechnical Pyrrhic victories against humanity. Religious intolerance will only aggrandize fanaticism because intolerance will eventually make reasoning dead and people parochial in their way of thought.
The writer is a software engineer by profession. He is also a writer and peace activist. He tweets @alisalmanalvi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org