Life was so simple when wars were fought with bravery and chivalry; when the enemy was across the border. There was a time when the brunt of the battle was taken by armies facing each other, not by children in schools or playing in parks accompanied by their mothers.
Those fighting prided themselves on giving their enemies an equal chance to defend themselves. Shooting someone in the back was an act of cowardice. There was a code of honour, which protected children and unarmed people because it was considered disgraceful to harm them.
But the war game has changed. The enemy is within now. The white and black have merged into grey. It is a war of ideologies, fought in the minds. The enemy can be anyone; it is difficult to decipher who is in which camp. The conventional code of conduct in war is misplaced and conventional weapons are inadequate. We are pitted against those who do not play by the rules. For them, striking where it hurts most is important – code of honour be damned.
There was a time when being religious made a person magnanimous, kind and humane; when religion broadened the mind, instead of making people blood thirsty and intolerant. Those who were well-versed in religion had the grace and patience to listen to differing points of view. They won people over with sound arguments, instead of acting as judge, jury and executioner, killing those who dared to disagree.
It was not a very distant past when everyone gave alms with open hearts for religious reasons. Now, people are wary, wondering if their donations will be used to harbour or train potential suicide bombers. There was a time when the soft-spoken clergy commanded respect and admiration instead of fear; when religion was not used as a garb for the lust for power. The clergy have become rigid, their sermons increasingly harsh and intolerant. Can they command respect when they spring into action against domestic violence bills or in support of child marriages, but remain silent when children get blown up?
Where has the era gone, when Christians, Parsees, Sikhs and Hindus coexisted peacefully as equal citizens in this land, contributing positively to our nation? They lent essence to life and justified the white in our flag. Of course, the Shias and Sunnis argued heatedly about their viewpoints, but they did not silence each other with guns.
People lived in their own spheres when religion was not predominant. Faith was an inner glow, not to be thrust down the other’s throat. People believed all religions were like rivulets, basically flowing down to the same ocean. Everyone had the right to choose which river to float in. They could consider their river better, but not force others to join in. Religion was like a halo, making people tolerant and not heartless barbarians.
It is unclear when and how things changed so drastically for the worse. How has so much intolerance, hatred and violence crept into our lives? The transformation was swift and we remained silent and helpless spectators. Silence and inaction appears harmless but causes the worst damage over time. Brushing problems under the carpet, hoping that they will disappear and not upholding what is right create worse complications.
Christians have been killed in churches, Parsees have quietly left the country, the Ahmadis’ houses have been burnt, Hazaras have been killed, innocent people have been blown up, hospitals and funerals have been targeted and people have been lynched by mobs. All in the name of religion.
And our silence has been deafening.
When justice is not dispensed indiscriminately and quickly, the repercussions are far-reaching. The war of ideology can only won when people are not judgmental, with pre-conceived views. Perhaps we have lost our will to listen. Perhaps we have become so rigid in our self-righteousness that we cannot tolerate anyone who does not agree with us. Perhaps we are terrified to stand up and defend what is right because we fear dangerous repercussions.
And perhaps we are not wrong.
But does closing our eyes solve our problems? Does it make our children safe when they venture out for ice cream?
The dreaded Third World War is upon us. The war of ideology is enveloping the world. Conventional forces can delay it, but cannot eradicate it. Each person needs to stand by what is right, to overcome their fear and speak their mind.
We need to protect innocent victims, regardless of their religion. We need to isolate those fanning the flames of hatred.
Our people have turned into mindless robots, following any Pied Piper’s frenzied speeches. Have they lost their power of reasoning, or do they lack anything substantial to do?
Differing points of view should be expressed in a civilised manner. Resorting to violence and destroying public and private property is counterproductive. The moral high ground can only be achieved with intelligent reasoning, not pressure tactics.
Intelligent reasoning needs to be cultivated by our scholars, politicians, clergy and media. It needs to be imbibed in our students and our people. The first step is to be a good listener, because people are entitled to their views.