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February 27, 2012

The ultimate achievement of wisdom


February 27, 2012


When Socrates professed ignorance at the Delphic oracle a mysterious voice proclaimed that he was “the wisest of men” and the timeless advice “Gnothi Seauton (know thyself)” was given to him. That indeed is the first achievement of knowledge. But, as Oscar Wilde believed, the ultimate achievement of wisdom is to recognise that the soul of man is unknowable.
The rejection of this verity breeds false morality which leads to persecution and violence in the name of religion. In Pakistan it has progressively radicalised society and spawned terrorist groups which, in their relentless pursuit of power, have perpetrated atrocities with the zeal of proselytising missionaries. Sectarian carnage and pogroms against non-Muslims have occurred with dreadful frequency and are the leitmotif of this article.
Only one incident needs be cited here. Politically-motivated sectarian violence returned to the volatile Kurram Agency on Feb 17 when a suicide bomber killed 31 Shias of the Turi tribe at the main market in Parachinar. Responsibility was claimed by the notorious militant Fazal Saeed Haqqani, who, on breaking away from TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud last year, established a splinter group known as Tekreek-e-Taliban Islami.
The Kurram Agency is no stranger to sectarian tensions, and particularly vicious outbreaks of violence erupted in 1982, 1996 and 2007. An uneasy truce between Sunnis and the Shias was eventually signed in Murree in 2008, but the accord existed only in name. The Pakistani army launched an operation in July 2011 and this resulted in the reopening of the arterial Thall-Parachinar road in October. After the latest suicide bomb attack, the road, which is the only link between the region and the rest of the country, has again been closed indefinitely. The consequences are all too clear.
Al-Qaeda and all factions of the Taliban, including those from southern Punjab, are fanatically anti-Shia. Their rabid hatred of the community is shared by the

banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Sipah-e-Sahaba, which now operates under the name of Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat. Both, along with the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the reincarnation of the proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba, are also the main elements of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council.
The DPC, dominated as it is by banned extremist outfits, has been allowed to stage rallies in the major cities of Pakistan. The only justification that Interior Minister Rehman Malik could offer was that he was helpless because the approval of an amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act has been pending at the Senate for the last two years. He then vowed that he would immediately suspend the SHO of the police station concerned if a banned organisation were ever to hold a rally in the federal capital. Following this ludicrous pledge, the DPC held a demonstration in Islamabad on Monday.
Failure by the members of the Senate to ensure the passage of so vital a piece of legislation, one that has serious consequences for the security of the country, is unpardonable. This contrasts sharply with their prompt approval of the 20th Constitutional Amendment Bill. The disquieting quid pro quo was the release by the government of Rs366.1 million in development funds for disbursement among 60 senators, even though 20 of them will be retiring in a few days.
The plight of non-Muslims was no less severe. With the birth of Pakistan in 1947, and particularly after Jinnah’s stirring presidential address to the Constituent Assembly on Aug 11 of that year, there was hope that the country would become the centre of religious tolerance and progress. But with the adoption of the Objectives Resolution six months after Jinnah’s death, Islam became the state religion and non-Muslims who, out of their love for Pakistan refused to migrate to India at the time of Partition, became second-class citizens.
It is said that “pain, unlike pleasure, wears no mask” and the anguish of non-Muslims on being relegated to the backwaters of Pakistani society was expressed in the impassioned plea of Sri Harish Chandar Chattopadhyaya, a Hindu representative in the Constituent Assembly: “I do not consider myself as member of the minority community. I consider myself as one of the seven crore (70 million) of Pakistanis. Let me retain that privilege...What shall I tell my people whom I have so long been advising to stick to the land of their birth?”
Non-Muslims have been the victims of discrimination and intolerance and for them tears have become a part of every day’s experiences. A recent study undertaken by the Pew Research Centre Forum on Religion and Public Life ranked Pakistan as the third most intolerant country in the world in terms of social acceptance of those belonging to other religious persuasions.
Two days after the killing of the three Hindu doctors in Shikarpur on Nov 7, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom released a detailed report on educational and religious discrimination in Pakistan. One of the findings was that the textbooks on social studies, Islamiat and Urdu, used by public schools and madressahs alike, promote prejudices against religious minorities.
The International Centre for Religion and Diplomacy and the Islamabad-based think tank Sustainable Development Policy Institute, jointly reviewed more than a 100 textbooks that are used in all the four provinces of the country for students of classes one to 10. The outcome of this exercise revealed that there were deliberate omissions and, at times even outright distortions of history. There is barely a mention of non-Muslims who have won the country laurels in the diverse areas of national endeavour.
The team also interviewed 277 students and teachers from 37 secular schools and 226 from 19 madressahs (religious seminaries) and this yielded unexpected results. A startling 80 percent of teachers in public schools considered non-Muslims “enemies of Islam,” whereas all the teachers at the seminaries conceded that the minorities were citizens of Pakistan. They also had a far better understanding of other religions and affirmed tolerance towards such beliefs.
But this was probably insincere, because the textbooks used in madressahs portray non-Muslims either as kafirs (infidels) and, even worse, as murtad (apostates) who deserve to be put to death. The attack on the Shantinagar-Tibbi Christian Colony in 1997 by a 20,000-strong mob, the unprecedented suicide of Bishop John Joseph in Sahiwal on May 6, 1998, the outrage against the Christian community in Gojra in July 2009 are only a few of the incidents that bring shame to the country.
Such bigotry is far removed from the actual teachings of Islam which were encapsulated in a letter written in 628 by the Holy Prophet to the Christian community. The original is preserved by the Greek Orthodox monks living in a monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt. It reads:
“This is a message from Mohamed ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far; we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and, by Allah! compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries... No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to Muslims’ houses... No one is to force them to travel or oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them... Their churches are to be respected...”
These are imperishable words that can herald the rebirth of tolerance as envisaged by the founding fathers of Pakistan. But the attention of the nation is riveted on issues such as the Mansoor Ijaz memo, the contempt of court proceedings against the prime minister and the Balochistan hearings in the US Congress. Change is in the air and only uncertainty prevails.
The writer is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly. Email: [email protected]




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