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November 23, 2018

Arresting divisions


November 23, 2018

It helps to realise that religion is underwritten in the purpose of Pakistan. At least, that is how the country was first imagined. The fact that Quaid-e-Azam went from one political permutation into another to carve for his party and the people that he represented in unified India a place of prominence, finally falling on the least desired option of complete independence, only proves the distortions that we carry in our foundations.

There is one speech or statement of the Quaid supporting one train of thought and there is another forwarding what could be called a competing if not an opposing view. So those that fight their religious corner are as much right as those who can put forward another set of statements of his endorsing a secular state. Such is the contradictory nature of politics when you have to square all odds.

Why is it important to make place for a religious leaning in our social milieu? Simply because denying it is denying an underlying reality, and an argument based on contrived assumption is only fallacious. A liberal social environment is meant to be inclusive; denying inclusion is defying the basic premise of a liberal society. The fear that a parallel presence of religion in our social midst will only give cause to more people to be inclined to religion, or its misuse, must need another treatment. A combination of a more informed society, which must come with a better level of education and understanding of the true spirit of religion, as indeed the strict compliance of the law of the land as enshrined in the constitution will give shape to an orderly society.

For the moment it is a free run for anyone, quacks and conmen alike. Some exploit in the name of religion, others simply exploit the poverty – both material and of the mind – of the large percentage of the disadvantaged society. This results from serious governance inadequacies where the resource needed to equip the people with mental wherewithal for wiser choices has instead been usurped by the elites. This part, of returning the dispossessed their due, our liberal friends are unwilling to accept.

The state too failed the trick to resurrect its nominal control over such socio-cultural exploitation by self-appointed heirs to one or the other slogan. The Faizabad dharna was a good reason for the state to re-establish and refine its laws which could ensure some control over misappropriation of religious sentiments. The lessons learned should have included the reinforcement of the principle that commons cannot be denied to other citizens as a right. A right of way is a fundamental right and no route or road may be taken over by an unruly mob. More refined cultures enable such association and expression by channelising it to restricted spaces, within stated norms of society and strictly within the purview of the law. A dedicated space may be the only place of assembly; anything beyond would be a violation. Those demonstrating too are beholden to the conditionality of the arrangement. This is how the rights of association, assembly and expression are best secured by the people and the state as a common value.

Regardless of the authenticity of what the TLP propounded as its underlying reason for demonstration at Faizabad, the framework of agreement between the administration and the demonstrators was neither implemented nor observed. And if there wasn’t one, the state simply failed to enact one. It thus became a gross violation of the law. But a look behind the events tells of even bigger state failures. The TLP was dispatched to Islamabad with the understanding that the provincial government would grant it a free passage within the territorial limits of Punjab as long as the TLP transferred their assembly into Islamabad Capital Territory. They occupied Faizabad and laid siege to the twin cities bringing their function to a halt. The provincial government sought to transfer the burden of applying the law to the centre while retaining its political base with the organisation. The state thus became complicit and failed its mandated function. If the TLP now put people back on the roads and brought the major cities of the country to a standstill they were simply playing by the last understanding.

It is amazing how quickly the army is then invoked as either the accomplice or the resolver-in-chief of the impasse. What is a patently political or socio-religious function assumes the character of a security issue. A failure of politics leads to an administrative failure which soon assumes a law and order hue and then quickly becomes a security matter to be palmed off to the army for resolution. Once the army finds a way out, bypassing blood-shedding – which would be a natural consequence of force application – it gives cause to all types of innuendo.

Faizabad saw a general involved as did the recent three-day dharna and the kite-flying on it went berserk. Since the demonstrators agreed to the army’s urging for a peaceful resolution, it must mean that those agitating had to be in the army’s control. Even if the army was to be blamed for turning a blind eye to some in the past, most would have been armed and of some kinetic use. The TLP remains strictly unarmed and non-militarised. That is when the political engineering argument had to be coined as an insidious next resort to keep the military in the frame.

Liberalism, now an ideological resort of choice for the elites of this nation, will need to revert to its true meaning – away from the socially-liberal kind, depictive more of a lifestyle than a belief. This will entail creating space for all kinds – the religious, the non military-haters, the centrists and those who just wish to move along in peace. The media for the large part is now a liberal mouthpiece, as vociferous as the loudspeaker of the imam. This has created a socio-cultural polarity, yet another divide to those who thrive on building on those than repairing them. And remember the call of the muezzin is louder and longer. Divisive idealism squeezing space out for others will only push them against the wall. They will only rebound harder. Such is the apparent catchiness of the slogan they employ. That is in the nature of passion.

So if there is a lesson that we need to imbibe it is to stop pushing against them. Instead use the indirect route where the youth is refined enough to make decent choices. Till then the extremists are best tended to by law, and a lot of common sense. Lighting fires is the easiest; dousing them is a challenge – sometime insurmountable. So, just as the Quaid had to square all corners to forge a political path so is the challenge for today’s political breed and the establishment. Till we equip our people with the wisdom of choice, the wise among should sheath our swords.

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