The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
No reasons, explanations or lamentations on earth can alleviate the pain inflicted upon humanity in Sialkot a few days back.
Much has been said and written in condemnation of the mob lynching of a Sri Lankan national who was employed by a global chain in a local industry which produces sports goods for the international market. A frenzied mob chanting religious slogans dragged down the ill-fated man from the roof of the factory and beat him to death and then burnt the dead body to ashes.
The charged young men at the crime scene were seen justifying this insidious act as their religious duty, declaring that they were sending an ‘infidel’ to hell. Some of them even quoted religious injunctions in support of this cold-blooded murder while proclaiming themselves as the custodians of true faith. The irony does not stop here. Those firebrand clerics who usually leave no stone unturned to vilify the West for defaming Islam were silent on this human tragedy.
A few days before this tragedy, the prime minister was quoted in the media advising Pakistani universities to undertake research on the adverse influences of Western culture in Pakistan. One wonders what logic dictates such farcical statements – that are also very embarrassing – from the highest office of the land. Such unwarranted political statements are seen by the outside world as xenophobic expressions that are governed by religious hypocrisy.
There is also the matter of such statements showing that the state makes kosher those religious sentiments which can stir mob violence as a political instrument to exercise extrajudicial power. In doing so the state has pampered extremists as strategic assets in the political management of society. However, as the international political environment is changing, these strategic assets are losing their political utility for global powers – and hence they are coming home to roost.
It is difficult to understand how anyone in government can convince the world about the real message of Islam – which is a religion of peace and harmony – when it is used to justify violence and murder in our own country. Those who unleashed a reign of terror under the banner of the TLP recently, those who lynched Mashal Khan, Priyantha Diyawadanage and many others used religion as a means to invoke the killing instinct of mobs.
It is an open secret now that religion has become intertwined with state politics. State policies during the cold war, the Afghan proxy jihad and now the current use of religion as a political agenda have contributed to our current collective frenzy. The state mollycoddled extremists for decades in proxy wars fought on our lands for others. Our education system became a doctrine to promote the ignoble cause of hatred, xenophobia, violence and now the Single National Curriculum adds salt to this self-inflicted injury.
The Sialkot tragedy has larger implications for Pakistan as a nation in an era when the international community has expressed serious apprehensions about the safety of minorities and foreign citizens living in Pakistan. We all know that there is a history of seven decades of using religion as a violent means to attain short-term political ends in this country.
And now mob lynching in particular has become a frequent feature where anyone can use religion to maim rivals. In Pakistan the easiest way to settle scores and personal grudges is to mobilise an uneducated crowd that can kill your enemy to fulfill your nefarious agendas.
This is how we have turned Pakistan into an inferno where reason and civility are deemed as symbols of infidelity and secularism as profanity and pluralism as political heresy. This has not happened overnight though. We have systematically incited the most bestial instincts of the teeming ignorant through selective interpretation of faith and using it for short-term political and economic gains. We created a Frankenstein’s monster who cannot be tamed only by a longer diatribe of condemnation of mob lynching and an apologetic explanation of religion.
The mob that lynched an innocent Sri Lankan in Sialkot chanted slogans of the victory of Muslims over an infidel in the same fashion that a religious cleric narrates stories of killing infidels. Just a few weeks ago a mob under the banner of the TLP unleashed terror in Punjab and killed a number of police personnel using the same plea of waging a holy war to establish the writ of Islam in Pakistan. How can we forget the recent episode of the hoisting of the Taliban flag in Islamabad by the supreme leader of Lal Musjid and his sermons to incite people for jihad to establish an orthodox Islamic caliphate in Pakistan?
Let us go further into the history of Pakistan right from the day when the Objectives Resolution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on March 12, 1949. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan presented it in the assembly on March 7, 1949 – and was approved by 75 members of the assembly while only 21 opposed it. The amendments proposed by minority members in assembly were rejected.
Since then, religion has been used to further the political interests of the landed feudal class and to consolidate the power of the ruling elite in the newly born state of Pakistan. Over the decades we have also seen how religion has been used as a political instrument to suppress secular, progressive and democratic voices in the country. This is how the dream of transforming Pakistan into an inclusive and democratic country was shattered in its embryonic stage.
The religious homogenisation of politics and disrespect for cultural, ethnic and religious diversity also played a part in the disintegration of the country in 1971. History has also shown how those who resisted religious homogenisation and preached political pluralism and inclusive democracy in the 1960s were dubbed as traitors; even Ms Fatima Jinnah was not spared. Many progressive political activists like Hassan Nasir were incarcerated and killed for speaking out against dictatorship and state oppression in the name of religion.
In the 1970s, in the aftermath of the disintegration of Pakistan, we did not learn any lesson and the political agenda of Islamisation of the state continued even under the regime of the PPP.
In the 1980s when Pakistan joined the Western camp to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, we became the frontline state to harbor jihadis to fight as a proxy of capitalist powers. Our education system collapsed, and all venues of knowledge production were turned into factories to churn out jihadi literature. When we look at all this history of appeasement and policies over the last seven decades, what happened in Sialkot does not look like a bizarre incident.
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