Bigotry as policy

November 16,2018

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When General Sisi ousted Morsi’s regime in Egypt, members from Ikhwan al Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) thronged to the capital for sit-ins in August 2013.

Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt, was ousted one year after his election. The operation to clear the sit-in, known as the Rabba massacre, was the most brutal exhibition of state power in modern times, dubbed as “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history”. According to conservative estimates, 1,000 people were killed – mostly Ikhwan members. Today, Sisi rules the country with an iron fist whereas the Ikhwan is banned as a terrorist organisation.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision to release Aasia Bibi, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), led by Khadim Rizvi, orchestrated sit-ins all over the country. When the TLP leader threatened state institutions and leadership of the country, many interpreted the state’s lack of response as weakness. When the prime minister issued a stern warning to the TLP, liberals across the political spectrum lauded his initiative to take the bull by its horns – notwithstanding his own history of fanning these very flames.

Be that as it may, the TLP is no Ikhwaan al Muslimeen. Unlike the Ikhwaan, the TLP is not an organic movement built around broad Islamist principles. At best, it is a nascent force which politicised blasphemy and is riding the wave of religious sentiment in the aftermath of Mumtaz Qadri’s execution. At worst, it is a spoiler against traditional democratic forces. After all, did anyone even know of Rizvi and his party two years ago?

More importantly, it is hard to imagine that the TLP will have a lasting impact as a legitimate political force. Barring any flashpoint events like Salmaan Taseer’s murder, the TLP will not have much to do its politics around. It can only milk Mumtaz Qadri’s ‘martyrdom’ for so long. If anything, it may be running out of steam already. Yes, the TLP successfully brought the country to a halt but it could have been preempted. The police and other LEAs did not anticipate their movement or try to block them. The TLP leadership was not arrested, and no serious crackdown was ordered. Ironically, the TLP is probably the only party which has never seen the full might of state power.

Why did the state allow the TLP to walk all over it then? Simply because, according to the state’s calculus, the political cost of destroying them outweighs the benefits. The Pakistani state has time and again showed reluctance to mobilise against those challenging its writ because at some level it thinks of them as useful proxies. It took the shocking genocide at APS for the state to fully commit all its resources in going after the TTP. Rest assured, the notion that such groups pose a grave threat to the writ of the state is flawed. The state can and will dismantle them with ease, as is evidenced by the case of the Taliban and the MQM.

There is no denying that religious extremism is a problem that requires redressal. But these issues are have not surfaced because the state chose to look the other way. On the contrary, these challenges are born out of the very interventions that the state made. Starting from our attempts to define a Muslim to our embrace of Jihad as policy, the state consciously created social conditions which allowed for mushrooming of bigotry.

Religious intolerance, which often manifests itself through violence, is a national shame. But there is nothing particular about our people or our Islamic ethos that begets this bigotry. What is particular is the history of the appropriation of power which fuels this bigotry. Those baying for blood should think about how it will impact our democracy through the securitisation of our politics. Moreover, state-sanctioned violence will set a bad precedent for other progressive movements.

Ultimately, the only far-reaching solution is that the state stops treating the security of all Pakistanis as a trade-off in its quest for power. It will have to commit itself to an idea of a plural and progressive state. Action or no action, until those at the helm start putting our interests on top of theirs we will continue to be the collateral damage.

The writer is a development sectorprofessional. Twitter: abdullahz88


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