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Wednesday December 08, 2021

Speakers at workshop decry policies aimed at damaging pluralistic society

June 07, 2021

For a socially cohesive and religiously tolerant society to take shape in Pakistan, the young generation must learn the skills to think critically and structure their thoughts on the basis of logic and reasoning.

Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed, former head of the Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Karachi, said this as he addressed a workshop on interfaith harmony in Karachi organised by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based research and advocacy think tank.

He added that scientific thinking had revolutionised societies and taken human progress to unprecedented heights. Journalist Wusatullah Khan said that just because the fundamental rights and freedoms were mentioned in the constitution did not mean that the state would readily offer them in a plate. In the absence of accountability and vigilance by the citizens, states tended to encroach upon people’s rights and freedoms, he remarked.

Khan also discussed restrictions on the freedom of speech, saying that curbs on free expression began at home where young people were often prevented from talking on many issues in the name of social values or traditions.

Security analyst and PIPS founder Muhammad Amir Rana said that often people’s thinking patterns and perceptions were influenced by their religious, ethnic or sectarian biases. He stated that social biases towards others impeded the process of social integration. Stereotyping religious or ethnic communities interfered with rational thinking and influenced

social behaviours, he added.

Rana urged the youth to observe and identify their biases towards different people and communities, and learn to base their thinking on facts and evidence.

Scholar Mujtaba Rathore said laws that discriminated against citizens on grounds of religious beliefs were in conflict with the fundamental rights ensured by the constitution. He was of the view that the Pakistani legal system was not without its failings as there were many laws that needed to be rectified on the parameters of basic human rights. He maintained that parliament was the fountainhead of all the laws and as such it must take the lead at some point and start debating the policies and laws that caused religious discord in the country.

Other speakers said it was not the business of the state to regulate the religious beliefs of the citizens. They added that in Pakistan, attempts were made in the past to manufacture a religiously homogenous nation out of a huge diversity of faiths and instead of getting success, such policies created social discord and polarised society even further.

The speakers opined that it was not the state’s job to incentivise a particular faith and marginalise the rest. Religious bigotry and bias at the state level gave rise to the implicit belief that the religious minorities were peripheral with limited rights despite the fact that the constitution protected the rights of all the citizens regardless of their religious affiliations, they added.

The two-day educational and training workshop aimed at sensitising university students about interfaith relations and harmony. It was part of a nationwide drive to promote peace and harmony in society by engaging the youth.