Let Not the Fire Kiss Your Door

My weekly column BAAGHI, that appeared in Daily Times on Sunday April 3, 2011

Maulana Fazlur Rehman addressing a massive rally (Picture by Frontlineonnet.com)

One is speechless to see how ethnic and religious radicalisation has been allowed in Pakistan to become a permanent and incurable pathology. There seems to be a general sanction from the state and society for radical militant elements who appear to enjoy impunity as well as political space. Countering radicalisation entails the state’s will and public opinion shaped by responsible media as essential factors. The state cannot curb it when the majority of people take the militants as either justified or religiously/ethically principled against an immoral, irreligious state. This could only happen in a country where religion is allowed to mingle with the business of state with no checks whatsoever.

The immunity and approval of militant radical groups in Pakistan is further garnered with the social space ceded to them by not only the state but also by the entire range of mass media. While the judiciary keeps on acquitting the terrorists on flimsy grounds, a section of media continues to support the militants by either justifying their acts or creating confusion among the public about them. The war against terrorism, for example, is still challenged by many in Pakistan as someone else’s war despite the fact that the terrorists have killed more Pakistanis than any other people.

Recently, Veena Malik, a talent from the Pakistani film industry, invited the wrath of a charged public and media elements for her participation in a widely viewed reality show on an Indian TV channel. One could not ignore an instance when on a popular TV channel Malik was fiercely attacked by a mufti (cleric) for wearing a short dress and getting close to a namehram (unrelated by blood or marriage) in the reality show. Malik gave befitting and apt answers and bravely faced the assault with arguments. The anchorperson, normally expected to objectively generate debate among opposing viewpoints, sided shamelessly with the cleric. By doing so he strengthened the impression of Malik’s ‘wrongdoings’ in semi- or completely uneducated juvenile minds that have no objective in life, and indirectly prompted them to act violently against her following the general pattern of response in a religiously inclined society. As expected, Malik later got life threats, which obviously went unnoticed by the state authorities. Who has time for a woman who slaps back right in the face of a hypocrisy-infested society?

The attacks on Maulana Fazlur Rehman are nothing but an extension of the same viewpoint that took the lives of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. While addressing thousands of madrassa-infected youngsters supporting the killers of Salmaan Taseer, an otherwise shrewd Maulana probably forgot that the fire he has been fanning would reach his house soon. The day came much earlier than I had expected. Slight difference in viewpoint and you can kill the opponent — that is the mindset which brought us the black days of January 4 and March 2, the days we saw two brilliant men of this country showered in their own blood.

Maulana would probably still take time to understand how he let himself instigate radicalism and militancy in thousands of young minds by justifying these assassinations in mass rallies. But it might not be difficult for him to foresee what these misguided minds could do if made to believe by someone else that Maulana has been thoroughly un-Islamic by confiding in Indians, supporting western democracy and parliament (read Hindu and Jewish conspiratorial design). What then? A just-born Qadri would be ‘negotiating’ with Maulana in his own way!

It is not only the general immunity of militants from law that infuriates a law-abiding citizen, but also public backing for the criminals along with granting them the status of heroes by the media. A nauseating display of support from the legal fraternity and media for the killer of Salmaan Taseer was a manifestation of the deep-rooted tumour we have been nurturing for so long. It is the tumour of religiosity and no respect for the other point of view that has infected our collective thinking and behaviour patterns. In a country where an elected prime minister is hanged for a concocted case of murder, terrorists go scot-free for ‘lack of evidence’ as has been the case of not only Hafiz Saeed but umpteen mass murderers including those who attacked GHQ and Parade Lane Mosque. In a country where politicians are jailed for decades under unproven cases, our free judiciary acquits Maulvi Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid who waged jihad on the state of Pakistan, claiming precious lives of civilians and the jawans of our armed forces.

It does not require an elaborate media report to ascertain what constitutes acts of terrorism. Using force against the state and responding to the armed forces with bullets and grenades is treason, not innocence. The Lal Masjid drama was played for seven days in front of the media, covering every moment including the last breaths of the criminal Ghazi Abdul Rasheed who was later termed a ‘martyr’ by the same media.

The question to all the screaming TV anchors is, who was a martyr? The criminal who led hundreds of students in using arms against the security forces or the brave commando from the Pakistan Army who was killed during the operation? The question to the ‘free’ judiciary is, what evidence would be considered in worthy courtrooms if not personal confessions? Like the killer Qadri, Maulvi Aziz was also on record confessing his crimes on camera. While the former is getting undue support from even the jail authorities, the latter is roaming free in the same capital city with all the more power to poison even more young minds with his myopic interpretations of religion.

The insensitivity and callousness of state, media and people was shamefully manifested when over one hundred innocent Ahmedis were gunned down in two worship places of Lahore followed by a complete silence at all levels. The appalling and disgraceful incident was followed by scores of hate banners that appeared overnight at prominent places in Lahore. It must be put on record that Punjab’s chief minister was unable to take any action for the removal of these banners. While protesting this state of affairs, one is often reminded of Ahmedis being labelled kaafirs (non-believers) and anyone supporting them would also become kaafir, thus liable to death. Probably that is why the rights activists could not gather more than a dozen people on the roads to protest against the brutal killings of Ahmedi citizens of Pakistan.

Whether it is an attack on Veena Malik or on Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the assassination of Taseer or of Bhatti, Lal Masjid’s Maulvi Aziz or Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’s Hafiz Saeed, Soofi Mohammad of Swat or the Mehsuds of South Waziristan, the Haqqanis in North Waziristan or those sitting in spy the agencies, self-righteous investigation cell heads of mainstream media who term Pakistan’s defeat in a cricket match as God’s punishment for our moral decadence, or an ambitious film-maker of Pakistan who wants to make a film on killer Qadri — the common thread is forced religiosity, confusion in people’s mind to identify the enemy, and media bigotry that largely goes to the support of militants and rogue elements.

When open threats to the lives of those challenging religion-based violence are given latitude by the state, the perpetrators of violence are frequently acquitted by the courts, people are misguided by a self-serving media, when those challenging the state’s writ are given high esteem instead of subjecting them to legal process, when political parties are doling out election tickets to the militants, when a poor woman from a suppressed class and religious community is put in jail for a crime far from being established and everyone who supports her is either killed or silenced by violent means, when a minister responsible for internal security of the country vows to kill a blasphemer (without due process of law), there is something grossly wrong. Letting it go like this is only a convenient path to speedy destruction. There is no honour in killing, there is no religion in violence, and there is no morality in chasing selfish self-interest. It is high time that the Maulanas of the political parties and of the media understand it or be ready for the fire to kiss their own doorsteps sooner than they realize.