Farah Zia - Pakistan: How did we become a society that calls Mumtaz Qadri a hero and Malala Yousafzai a villain?

Dealing with a radicalised society: How did we become a society that calls Mumtaz Qadri a hero and Malala Yousafzai a villain? Just how?

The biggest challenge in fighting this war against terrorism and extremism comes from within the society itself. The society is radicalised beyond belief and no action plan is taking this into account. Unfortunately, the response is knee-jerk and the solutions are security-oriented. Execution of terrorists, setting up of military courts and, yet, resorting to extrajudicial killing of hardened sectarian killers may not assert the legitimacy of the state as desired and instead brutalise the society further.

And then there are certain issues on which the state likes to keeps its distance, like in the case of Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of former Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. It lets crowds in their thousands to march in protest against the punishment prescribed by normal courts to Qadri and demand for his release; they were again on Lahore’s Mall Road only this week, some days after the Charsadda university attack.

It is not easy to isolate the society from the workings of the state and its policies. The country has a peculiar history of being a state that was created in the name of Islam. And the lessons of history cannot be discounted, especially when terrorism too has a religious face. The violence wrought in the wake of partition set the tone for a country where twenty per cent of the population comprised of migrants who had become brutalised having seen brutal murders, rape, loss of property and what not.

So despite the progressive moorings of the partition leadership that created Pakistan — no they did not utter the word secular to describe themselves — the state chose to have a religion because it was only legitimate to have one; otherwise why create a new country. It, therefore, set itself on a path of propagating hatred against other religions; the state’s discourse was all about having one version of truth.

Nor was this state clear about the political system, the constitution, the freedoms etc. It kept juggling with this system and that, losing one half of the country in the process. After being able to frame a consensus constitution, it still instituted bad laws and discriminatory clauses in the constitution. With religion as a clear marker of state’s identity, there were experiments with various kinds of military dictatorships and controlled democracy, inadvertently shaping the society in its own mould.

Today, in 2016, we look around and marvel at how we became a people for whom, as Ghazi 
Salahuddin said in a seminar recently, Mumtaz Qadri is a hero and Malala Yousafzai a villain. How did we become a people who swear by any wild conspiracy theory? Just how?

The roots of the current state of radicalisation of Pakistani society are traced in the Islamisation drive started by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and almost culminating with Ziaul Haq (it has only been reinforced in subsequent years and impossible to roll back). There was systematic Islamisation — of education, economics, politics and of course laws.

The other source of extremism here, according to political scientist Mohammad Waseem, was the labour force sent to the Gulf region in the last forty years. The Indo-Iranian and Central Asian cultural influences were replaced by an Arabist shift, he thinks. It was not the Northern Arabist tier which was all about Arab socialism and nationalism. The Southern tier was all about Islamic extremism.

This extremist influence was further enhanced with the first Gulf war when most people in Pakistan were opposed to the invading coalition forces led by the US. Thereafter, the country saw a direct Arab onslaught in the shape of Salafi mosques and madrssas. An anti-Shia proxy war was fought in this country by the Sunni majoritarian factions supported by the state.

Waseem thinks the third source of doctrinaire and extremist Islam came to Pakistan from Afghanistan, especially after the state’s policies of supporting the Mujahideen and later Taliban. In the post 9/11 decade, in Pakistan, the entire commercial and educated middle class showed a passive acquiescence to the Taliban, including the political leadership of PML-N and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

The tools for instilling radicalisation have been the media and the textbooks, and the effects are mainly felt by the youth. The private news media invites clerics day after day to discuss matters of state and society, thus over-representing “the unrepresentative elements of the society”.

While examining history textbooks in 1984, educationists A.H. Nayyar and Pervez Hoodbhoy had noted that “A new concept of education now prevails, the full impact of which will probably be felt by the turn of the century, when the present generation of school children attains maturity”. In an interview, A.H. Nayyar had called today’s youth the “spiritual children of Ziaul Haq”.

Finally, a big challenge for the society is the meta-identity of a globalised Islam which essentially means Islam versus the West. In the words of Mohammad Waseem, the expatriate Pakistani Muslims are all experiencing a deculturation: “they think of themselves as Muslims first and then Pakistanis”. This meta-identity has curbed national identities.

Thus, the state has a tough task at hand. It has to reform itself as well as a radicalised society. The task would perhaps become easier if the representative institutions start taking decisions for the country. Seeing the likes of Zaid Hamid on television again, spewing hatred against these representative institutions, does not make one too hopeful though.

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