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Opinion

March 17, 2016

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The religious right strikes back

After offering their Fajr prayers, they boarded the bus destined for Peshawar without knowing this might be their last journey; dozens were injured and killed by the bomb planted by their fellow misguided Muslims.

Mullahs of all hues will hypocritically blame ‘enemies of Islam’ and will never launch a movement against religious terrorism but will surely take to the streets to protect violent extremism or to protest a law providing protection to women from violence. Is violence a part of their creed and is it compatible with any kind of system of governance – Islamic or secular?

Thirty-two religious parties have given an ultimatum to the Sharifs’ government to withdraw the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act by March 27, the day of the chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri, otherwise they would decide on April 2 to launch the second edition of the Nizam-e-Mustafa movement that they had once launched against the popular government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977; this brought their Islamic General Ziaul Haq into power.

Are they creating more mischief, this time against the product of their movement? Offended by the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri after the Supreme Court found that Salmaan Taseer didn’t commit blasphemy and upheld the sacred-convict’s double conviction, an otherwise divided religious right seems to be striving to find excuses to fight for its hegemony over the constitution and the legislative, judicial and executive arms of the state.

A seven-point charter was also approved. This charter condemned Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging and demanded strict enforcement of the blasphemy law; sought an end to the ‘harassment’ of seminaries and religious leaders/banned religious parties and withdrawal of the law to protect women from physical abuse; asked for lifting of certain restrictions on the media coverage of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Tableeghi Jamaat’s pedagogy in educational institutions; demanded an end to usury; called for giving legislative authority to the ulemas’ steering committee (or the Council of Islamic Ideology) to redraft the woman protection law and all other laws at the federal level that provide for human, woman and minority rights.

Their main thrust is on a conspiracy (theory) that wants “to make Pakistan a secular and liberal state”, while they (the religious right) want to enforce Shariah. They want to retrieve the lost space – at the hands of even a partial implementation of the National Action Plan, and an unsparing Operation Zarb-e-Azb – the state had expeditiously conceded to religious extremists since the Afghan jihad. After some serious setbacks at the electoral, militant and judicial levels and failure at meditation with the Taliban, the high clergy is in rage – including those who are a part of coalitions with non-religious but conservative parties such as the PML-N and the PTI.

In an astonishing turnaround, after opposing the creation of Pakistan, a marginalised religious right gradually asserted its ideological supremacy over a post-Jinnah conservative Muslim League which succumbed to this pressure and adopted the Objectives Resolution. They were able to exploit the Khatam-e-Nabuwat issue against the ‘infidel Ahmadis’ to extend their sectarian appeal which was neutralised due to a conflict between Deobandis and Barelvis over the status of our Great Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).

We now painfully witness sectarian attacks on the mourners of our Prophet’s (pbuh) grandson and his associates’ martyrdom during the month of Muharram and on the celebrations of our Prophet (pbuh) on 12 Rabi-ul-Awal by the very clerics who shared the platform at Mansoora with known terrorists or their facilitators.

But despite their bloody sectarian and many factional differences, the mullahs are united against not only democracy but also enforcement of human rights, general equality, non-discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, ethnicity and gender enshrined in our social contract of 1973 constitution, which their much taller religious leaders had also signed. It was a delicate compromise that provided for co-existence between the liberals and the rightists.

Though the liberals kept the compromise, the religious right continued to subvert democracy, values of tolerance and allegiance to peaceful means by promoting terrorism, joining with military dictators and defending Gen Zia’s arbitrary amendments. Being a victim of their own ideological and political confusion, and under pressure from their radicalised followers, even the leaders of major parliamentary religious parties find it convenient to pick up any extremist and violent cause that betrays their commitment to the constitution and rule of law.

A case in point is that of the blasphemy law, which provides for a peaceful judicial course against an alleged blasphemer. Yet the clergy vociferously support violent means to kill even an innocent person over and above the blasphemy law the clerics so forcefully defend – even its misuse in many instances.

The nation has been witnessing this protracted mayhem and madness for decades in the name of religion. We have never witnessed even a token protest against religious terrorism by the various grand alliances of religious right, except in the case of sectarian violence when only one sect mourns victims and condemns the terrorism of others.

When the National Action Plan, and a constitutional amendment to try the perpetrators of ‘religiously motivated terrorism’, was being discussed in the All Parties Conference, the religious right took a serious exception to the 21st Amendment since terrorism is a product of religious extremism. Allama Iqbal had rightly dubbed theocracy as: “Din-e-Mullah, fi Sabil Allah Fisad”.

During the decades of officially-backed jihad in Afghanistan and later in Jammu and Kashmir, we witnessed a mushroom growth of seminaries, training camps, dozens of jihadi outfits, mass recruitment of jihadis on the payroll of the CIA and our agencies, and conversion of the republic into a jihad-exporting nation.

Pakistan was converted from a liberal democratic state into a jihadi state which, after decades, was coerced by the erstwhile benefactor US to reverse its course. The mullah-military alliance was broken under Gen Raheel Sharif. Now both religious extremism and terrorism can be put to rest. It’s time to call their bluff. But who will do that?

The writer is a political analyst.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA

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