For the writ of reason
Posted on December 11th, 2021

By Ghazi Salahuddin Courtesy The News International 

We have witnessed the impassioned response of the ulema to the Sialkot tragedy, reinforcing the sacred values of peace and tolerance. There was an impressive gathering of some of the most prominent religious leaders and scholars on Tuesday when they visited the Sri Lankan High Commission in Islamabad. A joint declaration emphasised that there was no place for extremism and violence in Islam.

All news channels telecast live these proceedings that continued for a considerable time. It appeared to be a well-thought out plan to activate ulema of different religious persuasions to amplify the government’s resolve to take stern action against those who had participated in the mob violence and the lynching of Priyantha Kumara. Prime Minister Imran Khan proclaimed: I will not allow such incidents to happen as long as I am alive”.

Very well, but why has the government not sought the opinion and involvement of social scientists, historians, psychiatrists, writers, poets, criminologists and the academia as such to try to understand why this kind of violent extremism has flourished in Pakistan? And how can we contend with it in a comprehensive strategy of social renewal?

Obviously, our rulers have not been listening to the voice of reason and they are unwilling to comprehend the dynamics of how societies change and grow. Their appreciation of ideas that shape and govern human behaviour is frightfully deficient. That is how Pakistani society has descended into the lower depths of violent extremism and intolerance. The issue of blasphemy is only one dimension – though a dominant one in terms of how it excites the passions of the multitude – of our moral and intellectual deprivations.

There is little doubt that we are so terribly shaken by the Sialkot atrocity mainly because the victim was a foreigner and the incident had serious implications for our image in the world and it may impact our economic relations with other countries. Look at how vociferously the prime minister is leading the campaign to ensure that there is no recurrence of such killings in the name of Islam.

On Tuesday, a condolence reference was held for the Sri Lankan national at the Prime Minister’s Office in which Imran Khan made some candid remarks about the existing state of affairs. Our social values, he said, had deteriorated to an extent that if someone was accused of blasphemy, everyone seemed reluctant to investigate what had actually transpired. Everyone is afraid of it. In fact lawyers do not come forward and judges also refuse to hear the cases”, he was quoted as saying.

This was partly a preamble for honoring a colleague of Priyantha Kumara who displayed the courage of confronting the mob at the risk of his own life. At the reference, Adnan Malik was given a certificate of appreciation and he will be awarded with a Tamgha-e-Shujaat. However, it is true that lawyers and judges are generally afraid of taking up the case of an individual accused of blasphemy in the prevailing environment of fear and terror.

Ah, but there have been exceptions and it breaks one’s heart to realise that some heroic undertakings in defence of victims of violent religious extremism are generally not recognised. On the contrary, defenders of human rights are considered as adversaries by the ruling establishment and several are even persecuted for proactively supporting the cause of the oppressed sections of our society.

So, will someone please tell Imran Khan who Rashid Rehman was and what happened to him in May 2014. Here is a very sad as well as an inspiring story in the struggle for truth and justice in this land where forces of bigotry and obscurantism have reigned. In the process, the prime minister would also be introduced to Junaid Hafeez, who is in his eighth year of solitary confinement after being convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death two years ago, waiting for his appeal against the conviction to be decided.

Briefly, Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer in Multan’s Bahauddin Zakariya University was accused of blasphemy for something he had posted on Facebook. Rashid Rehman, a lawyer who was also a prominent human rights activist, came forward to defend him, believing that it was a trumped up case.

During one hearing held in Multan Central Jail in May 2014, three persons threatened Rashid and said that he would not be alive for the next hearing. Within a few days, Rashid was shot dead while he was working in his office, leaving the civil society to mourn the loss of one more defender of human rights. The times of similar mourning have not been infrequent, with the state invariably looking the other way.

What will change now, given the outrage that the lynching of a Sri Lankan national in Sialkot has provoked? Sadly, the evidence we have does not inspire much hope for a meaningful transformation in the policies of the rulers or in the social environment. The present and the previous rulers were manifestly not able to enforce their writ when faced with an onslaught of religious militancy.

The latest example of this seems to be the most noxious. It happened last month, instructively on Imran Khan’s watch. A secret deal with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan allowed a religious outfit that had been proscribed to return to the political mainstream and secure the release of its militants who, apart from other violations of law and order, were guilty of killing eight policemen.

It would surely not be easy for the rulers to change the course of events. This would amount to forsaking the ideas they have nurtured for so long. These ideas have survived a number of soul-destroying tragedies – and December will remind us of some of them. But once the rulers find the courage to expose these ideas to the glare of reason and sanity, new realities are likely to emerge on their mind’s horizon. This is the time when a beginning in that direction can be made.

But can a leader who considers Osama a martyr and who celebrates the Taliban victory in Afghanistan make this beginning?

The writer is a senior journalist.

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