At a time when winds of change have been sweeping across many Islamic countries with calls for greater freedom and democracy, winds of hatred continue to sweep across Pakistan.
Pakistan, which has become over the years a breeding ground of Islamic beliefs of the most irrational and extreme kind, is helpless in the face of these winds of hatred. These winds have distorted Islam beyond recognition and provided a breeding ground for Islamic extremism and jihadi terrorism of various hues. More murders and more crimes of various kinds are committed in Pakistan in the name of and for the sake of Islam than in any other Islamic country of the world.
Unless and until the breeding grounds of hatred from where these winds rise are eliminated, extremism and terrorism will continue to find nourishment in the soil of Pakistan. No amount of change in the other Islamic countries through which the winds of change have been sweeping would provide relief to the rest of the world from the scourge of Islamic extremism and jihadi terrorism. It is a plague over which the state of Pakistan has no control.
This plague claimed one more fatal victim on March 2, 2011, when Shabaz Bhatti, a Christian belonging to President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), who was holding the Minorities Affairs portfolio, was shot dead by a group of unidentified assassins as he was being driven to work in Islamabad. Reports from Islamabad indicate that he was travelling in his official car without being escorted by a security team despite the fact that he was one of the most threatened members of the Council of Ministers because of his criticism of the blasphemy law which provides for a mandatory death penalty to anyone insulting the Holy Prophet. The law has come in for strong criticism from liberal elements in the rest of the world because the rules of evidence governing trials under it are so flimsy that anyone can accuse anyone of insulting the Holy Prophet and get that person convicted without satisfactory corroborative evidence.
Previously, only insulting the Holy Prophet was considered an act of blasphemy, now, even criticising the law is treated an act of blasphemy by extremist elements which do not hesitate to kill anyone criticising the law. This was the second high-profile assassination this year of persons criticising the law. In January, Salman Taseer, a liberal Muslim, who was the Governor of Punjab, was assassinated by one of his own security guards because he dared to criticise the law and visited in jail a Christian who had been convicted under the law. Death threats have reportedly been held out against Mrs Sherry Rehman, a Member of Parliament belonging to the PPP, for allegedly suggesting a re-look at the law.
How can one save Pakistan from the clutches of Islam of the most extreme kind when the assassin of Taseer was not condemned as a murderer, but was hailed as a saviour of Islam by some sections of the population, including lawyers? Organisations such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has claimed responsibility for the assassination of the Christian Minister, and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the extremist Sunni organisation, look upon it as a God-ordained duty to eliminate anyone who is seen by them as insulting Islam even for criticising the obnoxious features of it in Pakistan.
One cannot hope for any salvation for Pakistan from these winds of hatred unless there is a mass uprising to break the stranglehold of these elements over the society and the state. Pakistan is a state governed by fear---not the fear of despots, but the fear of the irrational clergy and even more irrational extremist organisations. Unless the people are able to rid themselves of this fear and come out in the streets against these organisations, the winds of hatred will continue to blow across the country.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is a country where liberalism is merely a talking point in the drawing rooms of the elite and not a rallying cry for protests in the streets against the irrational and extremist elements. It is a gloomy situation from which no exit is in sight.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
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