I.A. Rehman


Belief should be rescued from the clutches of the self-appointed priests, force banished from common discourse, and the state recovered from its illegitimate occupiers.


Last month’s killing of Jagdish Kumar in a Karachi factory and the execution of a ‘criminal’ by the Taliban in Mohmand Agency, at the other end of the country, dramatically represent the threat legitimization of violence in the name of belief presents to Pakistan’s integrity, its social fabric and its mental health.


Jagdish was killed in a factory, where the only identity workers are supposed to have is that of sellers (at lowest possible rates) of their labor. He was felled in Karachi, the metropolis that defies its non-feudal character by promoting its cult of pre-industrial age violence. And he was lynched in the presence of policemen who have so consistently disgraced their calling that they have forgotten their primary job is to save human life. All his because the state has not had the courage to challenge the view that every Muslim has a license to kill a blasphemer.


In a Muslim society, even if the people do not follow the fundamental tenets of their faith, much as respect for life, truthfulness, and uprightness in public dealing, liberty can often be taken with God but not with the Prophet (PBUH). That is the reason that in the entire Muslim world there have been few cases of blasphemy ever. The disease was almost unknown in Pakistan till Gen. Zia and his cohorts conspired against Pakistan and Islam by making a law that is blasphemous — as it insinuates that the name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) can ever be defiled. This law has grievously undermined Muslim people’s tradition of tolerance for which they were once acclaimed across the globe. Not only the law is flawed its enforcement over the past decades has revealed its extensive abuse. Yet the state has failed to protect victims of indefensible violence. When Naemat Ahmar, a Christian teacher, was killed by a young man, the latter was lionised in the prison and the community outside. When Farooq Sattar, known as a better Muslim than many others in his town, was lynched in Gujranwala, nobody tried to ascertain the charge against him: burning of the pages of the Holy Quran. The state condoned his murder. A man was saved from the gallows because the Lahore High Court found out that the subordinate judge, who had awarded the death penalty, had ignored the medical certificate on record that the accused had been suffering from mental disorder. Why blame illiterate zealots when an honorable judge, apparently sane, is on record as having proclaimed that a Muslim had a duty to kill a blasphemer when saw one.


If a brief digression may be allowed, there is a story worth telling. A famous man killed his wife in a western capital and went to the police. He was promptly dispatched to an asylum for ascertaining his mental health. Unfortunately, many in the west have deemed it proper to abandon that pedestal of sanity. However, that should be the procedure in Pakistan if anybody is really found to have committed blasphemy, or ordinary murder for that matter, for no one who takes the life of a fellow being can be wholly sane.


The encouragement the killers of people accused of blasphemy has wrought quite a havoc. A suspect was handed over to the police. The constable chosen to take him to a police station killed him on the way. Last year the Gujarat police arrested five men on the charge of composing an allegedly objectionable book in a computer shop (the author was abroad). A police constable shot one of the detainee dead in the lock-up!


The state is responsible for all such cases of violence because it has allowed the preachers of intolerance complete freedom, because it has lacked firmness to check fanaticism. And, it does not compensate victims of religious violence, while victims of riots are.


The Mohmand incident, too, should be seen in the context of the trend in the tribal areas, and several settled areas in the NWFP, to enforce Shariah through non-state agents. The state has been guilty of promoting the fiction that an inanimate object can have a religion, and has failed to inform the people how religious laws (and which of the many versions) can be enforced. As a result there is anarchy in a large northern part of the country and nobody can rule out its spillover across the rest of the land. Many say it is only a matter of time.


One of the factors attributed to our failure to curb belief-based violence is the infantile interpretation of Muslim history in the subcontinent. The Muslim dynasties are believed to have established their rule with the help of their arms alone, through their superior capacity for violence. When local commanders lacked the requisite capacity for violence, help could be sought from a Babar or an Abdali. The Muslim empire in the subcontinent fell because the challengers possessed greater capacity to kill. Children are taught that people rise by their belief and their arms. Those who argue that nations become great by their knowledge and skill, by their sciences and their arts, by their laws and tribunals of justice, by their traditions of tolerance and compassion, are ridiculed as a minority of heretics. One of the most serious indictments of the state apparatus in Pakistan is that it has been training generation after generation of blood thirsty blockheads who kill writers of unorthodox tracts and worship ugly replicas of Chagi hills in their boulevards.


As if misinterpretation of belief and vulgarization of history were not enough to destroy the Pakistani people, the cult of authoritarianism has completed our psyche of violence. Killing for political dissent has always been accepted as legitimate. Non-violence is shunned as being sinful and derided as the creed of cowards. Whoever questions authoritarian rule — be it a Bengali or a Pakhtun or a Baloch — will be gunned down, the continual replacement of political argument with the gun has sown the seeds of insane violence into the mindset of the Pakistani people.


Finally, all violence is not committed with the visible use of force. All dissipations of constitutional life in Pakistan, glorified through utterly fake slogans of ‘bloodless revolution’, have been acts of gross and dehumanizing violence. They have installed force as the supreme deity in our pantheon.


The killing of Jagdish or that unnamed Mohmand (newspapers can’t agree on his name) are but symptoms of a fatal sickness that has seized the Pakistan society. No cure is possible until belief is rescued from the clutches of the self-appointed priests, force is banished from common discourse, and the state is recovered from its illegitimate occupiers.

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