The writer is an Islamabad-based social and political development advisor and freelance columnist.
No reason, explanation or lament on earth can alleviate the pain inflicted on humanity in Sialkot a few days ago.
Much has been said and written to condemn the mass lynching of a Sri Lankan national who was employed by a global chain in a local industry that produces sporting goods for the international market. A frantic crowd chanting religious slogans dragged the hapless man from the roof of the factory and beat him to death, then reduced the corpse to ashes.
Young men charged at the crime scene were seen to justify the insidious act as their religious duty, saying they were sending an “infidel” to hell. Some of them even cited religious injunctions in support of this cold-blooded murder while proclaiming themselves the keepers of the true faith. The irony doesn’t stop there. Those fiery clergymen who generally spare no effort to vilify the West for defaming Islam have remained silent on this human tragedy.
Days before this tragedy, the Prime Minister was quoted in the media advising Pakistani universities to undertake research on the harmful influences of Western culture in Pakistan. One wonders what logic dictates such grotesque statements – which are also very embarrassing – from the highest office in the country. Such unwarranted political statements are viewed by the outside world as xenophobic expressions ruled by religious hypocrisy.
There is also the issue of such statements showing that the state kosher religious sentiments which can stir up mob violence as a political instrument for exerting 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 changes, these strategic assets lose their political utility to world powers – and as a result, they come home to roost.
It is difficult to understand how a member of the government can convince the world of the true 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 recently unleashed a reign of terror under the banner of the TLP, those who lynched Mashal Khan, Priyantha Diyawadanage and many others have used religion as a means to invoke the murderous instinct of mobs.
It is an open secret now that religion has become closely tied to state politics. State policies during the Cold War, Afghan proxy jihad, and now the current use of religion as a political program contributed to our current collective frenzy. The state has pampered extremists for decades in proxy wars waged on our lands for others. Our education system has become a doctrine to promote the vile cause of hatred, xenophobia, violence and now the unique national curriculum is adding salt to this self-inflicted injury.
The Sialkot tragedy has greater implications for Pakistan as a nation at a time when the international community has expressed serious concerns about the safety of minorities and foreign citizens living in Pakistan. We all know there is a seven-decade history of using religion as a violent means to achieve 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 their rivals. In Pakistan the easiest way to settle scores and personal grudges is to mobilize an uneducated mob who can kill your enemy to fulfill your nefarious agendas.
This is how we turned Pakistan into a hell where reason and civility are seen as symbols of infidelity and secularism as blasphemy and pluralism as political heresy. It didn’t happen overnight though. We have systematically instigated the most bestial instincts of the ignorant swarming through a selective interpretation of faith and using it for short-term political and economic gains. We have created a Frankenstein monster that can only be tamed through a long rant of condemnation of the popular lynching and an apologetic explanation of religion.
The mob that lynched an innocent Sri Lankan in Sialkot chanted slogans of Muslim victory over an infidel in the same way a cleric tells stories of the murder of infidels. Just a few weeks ago, a mob under the TLP banner unleashed terror in the Punjab and killed a number of police officers using the same plea to wage a holy war to establish Islamic order in Pakistan. How to 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 the people of the jihad to establish an orthodox Islamic caliphate in Pakistan?
Let’s go deeper into the history of Pakistan since the day the Resolution on Goals was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on March 12, 1949. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan presented it to the Assembly on March 7 1949 – and was approved by 75 members of the assembly when only 21 opposed. The amendments proposed by the minority members in assembly were rejected.
Since then, religion has been used to promote the political interests of the land feudal class and to consolidate the power of the ruling elite in the new 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 at its embryonic stage.
The religious homogenization of politics and the lack of respect for cultural, ethnic and religious diversity also played a role in the disintegration of the country in 1971. History has also shown how those who resisted religious homogenization and preached political pluralism and inclusive democracy in the 1960s were dubbed traitors; even Mrs. Fatima Jinnah was not spared. Many progressive political activists like Hassan Nasir have been jailed and killed for speaking out against dictatorship and state oppression in the name of religion.
In the 1970s, in the wake of the disintegration of Pakistan, we learned no lessons and the political agenda of Islamizing the state continued even under the PPP regime.
In the 1980s, when Pakistan joined the Western camp to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, we became the frontline state to harbor jihadists to fight as a proxy for the capitalist powers. Our education system has collapsed and all places of knowledge production have been turned into factories to produce jihadist literature. When you look at this whole thing of appeasement and politics over the past seven decades, what happened in Sialkot doesn’t sound like a bizarre incident.
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Twitter: @ AmirHussain76