A wise man once said, “I am not sure if Pakistan was created in the name of religion but it sure is being destroyed in the name of religion.” The bus attack in Karachi claiming at least 45 innocent Ismaili lives is just one in a series of such heinous religiously-motivated atrocities that Pakistanis continue to face on a regular basis. Whether the victims are the Hazaras of Quetta, Christians of Youhanabad in Lahore, Bohras offering Friday prayers in Karachi, or the children targeted in the Army Public School attack in Peshawar, the root cause is the same. It is the belief that one has a right to judge others based on their faith and if they are determined religiously deviant (as in the case of other sects or religions) or religiously wanting (as in the case of the majority sect), then they are fair game.
One would think that with Pakistan having to pay such a high price for the misuse of religion, the country would come to one conclusion swiftly. That our current path is not leading us to be better Muslims or better people but instead, is creating divisions within society that are resulting in an insecure Pakistan for all. It is thus completely bewildering to find that the fixation on religiosity hasn’t dwindled in the least. Whether one watches the March 23 parade, switches on the television with its myriad of evangelists, enters drawing room discussions, or listens to politicians, the discourse is infused with religiosity, almost as a cover-up to the lack of civic responsibility that permeates society.
Oftentimes I have noticed, for instance, that the bigger the lie a talk-show guest is about to peddle on national television, the more emphatic the use of religion by the guest in his/her discussion, prefacing that prevarication. Students and young professionals on social media describe themselves as “Proud to be Muslim” in their Twitter profiles and yet will not think twice about using abusive language on a public forum. The list goes on.
So one would think that at some point the populace would see through what’s going on. Or at least that those in a leadership position would take some bold stands but no such luck. It was horrifying to watch, for example, the PTI’s Fayyaz Chohan declare on a television show that as Pervez Rashid of the PML-N belonged to a particular sect, he was therefore an infidel and thus was a liar. In case Mr Chohan hasn’t noticed, you don’t need to be an infidel to lie. Many Muslims do it routinely. It would have been fair game for Mr Chohan to go after Mr Rashid for his attacks on the PTI or Imran Khan, but to point fingers at his faith as the problem is not only against the dictates of the recent National Action Plan promulgated to fight extremism but also precisely the type of behaviour that results in creating the divisive mindsets that have triggered tragic fatalities in Pakistan.
Here’s the really sad part. Not only did Mr Chohan spew his venom on television uninterrupted, but he was not reprimanded for this serious offence either by the state or by his party leadership, which promises incidentally to build the foundations of a “Naya Pakistan”. Adding injury to insult, nobody from Mr Rashid’s own party, the PML-N, chose to stand with him or make any statement regarding the fact that one can belong to any religion and still be an honourable Pakistani. No way. For these are the type of things that shouldn’t be touched with a 12-foot pole if one is to ensure popularity in Pakistan today.
Not too long ago, when Imran Khan was still on the container, in the midst of his dharna, always eager to point out the success of Pakistani expats, he proudly mentioned Professor Atif Mian as one of the acclaimed economists in the world today. Stressing that the PTI wasn’t the type of party that believed in nepotism but instead wanted to make appointments on merit, Mr Khan hinted that he would look into appointing the likes of internationally-recognised Professor Mian to an important post. Shortly thereafter, while still on the container, he was interviewed by a gentleman for Message TV, who demanded how come Mr Khan is considering an Ahmadi for an important post in Pakistan. I couldn’t help but think that had I been asked this, I would have immediately countered with, “Didn’t Jinnah, the very founder of our nation, appoint Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi, to the important post of foreign minister? And doesn’t merit transcend race, religion, ethnicity and gender?”
Imran Khan, however, backtracked. First, he said he had no idea that Professor Mian was an Ahmadi, hinting that had he known this he wouldn’t have suggested what he did in the first place. Then he proceeded to give a long lecture on how clear he was about who is a Muslim and who isn’t.
The point is dear readers — and I know that this is not going to make me popular in Pakistan, but the truth must be told — no country, from the US to China, has progressed by making religion a central facet of statecraft. Countries that have embroiled themselves in such matters have ended up creating more divisions and cannot uphold merit, as merit doesn’t discriminate. The Pakistani populace should be free to be as religious as it likes in their personal lives but when religion starts to interfere in the matters of the state, there is little to gain and much to lose.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2015.