In search of ‘greener’ pastures

Originally appeared in Pakistan Today. March 18, 2016.

A while back, writer Aatish Taseer was furious with the idea of Pakistan. Taseer, son of the slain Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, articulates views that are to be taken with a pinch of salt, but with serious intent nevertheless since he is something of an expert on the subject. With the lines of partition stretched straight across his immediate family, and a keen observation on the separate nation states, Taseer feels like there’s perhaps no stopping Pakistanis from their dubious voyage of seeking an ever purer connotation of that very same idea. And while traveling with family in Sindh recently, I encountered the stark truth of Taseer’s reservations. When telling a thirteen-year-old member of my family about how Muslims in Sindh adhere to many, most utterly benign, Hindu practices as a part of the cultural package, I was met with a certain “What type of Muslims are they? Not good ones, for sure!”

I cannot seem to forget the celebratory furore among my colleagues in favour of Mumtaz Qadri, killer of the mentioned governor. Nor am I proud to admit my acquaintance with people who’d often present their two cents, somewhat rather hysterically, on how suicide bombers rather target cinemas and fashion shows in place of markets or mosques. Also to be noted is the fact that these are well-educated people from the middle classes: doctors, engineers and the kind. Social media is teeming with voices asking for dissent, more often than not dwelling on the violent side. We’re often told our country is at war. But with the fighting parties often sharing more than they’d like to profess, it’s a clamorous scenario. Why, both condone violence where they deem it apt, both are prey to the abominable idea that persecution of some segments of the society is somehow more excusable, and both are somehow using the very same idea of Pakistan and twisting it to their personal liking.

Arguments yielding statements like injustice can only be rectified by justice seem euphemism of sorts, but we should know well the indisputable holding of this fact. When your state brazenly tells you that violence on a particular community is less culpable had the shoe been on the other foot, there’s no stopping the vicious cycle. Take Ahmadis, for example, with stickers denouncing them as impure and barring their entry are dotted at a lot more places than we’d like to see; it isn’t about just one group of people. It’s propagating an ideology really, that of self-righteousness, perhaps of playing God too. Justice is an all-or-none phenomenon, it being selective is an anti-thesis to the very idea. And if we feel that we can burn a house and stay clear of the flames, we have enough experience to let that argument be. Violence is all-consuming. You either condone or censure it, there’s no middle ground — something which we as a nation have taken too conveniently to, and the after-effects have been chaotic.

We can indulge in heated acrimony over as to what the idea of Pakistan originally encompassed. “For Muslims or Islam” and the pretty differences that ensue, is a question thrown around with ample abundance. Yet, no one can negate the fact that Pakistan was made for a minority in the combined India. A minority, which, after becoming a majority in its own state, has been so very intent on repeating history; of being the very demon it once waged a war against.

When the Taliban kill innocent children in cold blood in our schools, they do so with an air of faith; it’s their holy war against who they think are impure. When the silent majority of Pakistan donates a variably lesser amount of outrage to the destruction of Hindu temples, then it would reserve for an Islamic place of worship, it does so with a deep-seated feeling of being on the right path. Interestingly, our supreme charity programmes and bombings of universities, though coming from different quarters, both are well-rooted in about the same idea. And there’s no point shouting down the other’s version of religion. Acclaimed scholar Reza Aslan is of the view that a religion doesn’t promote either violence or peace, it’s far too open to interpretation (and misinterpretation); it’s what you make of it being a follower. And with nothing like a papal authority in the Islamic world, there’s no unanimous decision on the ‘right’ kind of Muslim; and neither should there be. And instead of taking the same idea, and altering it to personal whims and fancies, we just need to reject any idea that hints upon violence, self-righteousness and moralistic supremacy.

Pakistan’s troubles are a lot more than one Lal Masjid, the antidote needs a far greater remedy than one Zarb-e-Azb. It’s this counter-idea we so desperately need to inculcate, that of equality without any strings of religion or class attached. The only way to realise the dream of Pakistan, a place found for minorities, is to extend liberty and freedom to the weaker ones, and all that that anyone else is allowed to afford. Not from an escalated, holier-than-thou position, but at the very same level. The battle starts in our homes. We need to tell our younger ones how it’s none of their business to judge others on the basis of what they believe in. What anyone believes is personal, no one else has the right to marginalise them on the basis of this. That is what our country demands of us: in a place where more than ninety percentage of the population believes in one God, it’s high-time we stop playing the children of a greater one!

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