Our reactive extremism and Islamabad’s defensive ‘enlightened moderation’

May 29, 2006

EDITORIAL Wednesday October 20, 2004
Source : DAILY TIMES Pakistan

According to news reports, a Christian family was forced in August this year to leave its house in Wah Cantt in Punjab for fear of violence after an 11-year-old girl of the family accidentally threw a copy of the Holy Quran in the trash-can. The family of Tasneem Dean, a boiler engineer, left the Asifabad locality of Wah Cantt after an ‘agreement’ between the local Saint Thomas Catholic Church and the khateeb of Central Lala Rukh Mosque, Maulana Muhammad Ishaq. This was done in collaboration with local administration and police officials for the safety of the family because the local people had threatened to burn down their house.

The sticking point in this incident was that the law-enforcement authority, the local Muslim clergy and the Church were all agreed that no deliberate offence had been caused by the child. No case for desecration of the Holy Quran was registered against the family of Mr Dean and, if the police had had their way, an apology would have been sufficient. But the local population of mostly unlettered people was aroused by a woman who had gone to the waste disposal and started shouting. It developed that Mr Dean, the Christian, had an interest in inter-religious studies and had inherited the Holy Quran from his Christian father. Once the local mosque authority and the church recognised that, they were satisfied that there was no case under the Penal Code. Why did Mr Dean then move out of Wah?

We should go into this matter because Mr Dean could be hounded also in the next town to which he has moved. When asked why he had agreed to leave his home in Wah Cantt, he pointed to the Pushtun and Afghan migrants living in the locality who had been alerted by mischief mongers to the job of hounding him. The original population did not react after they were informed of the details of the case, but the newly arrived groups of Pathans and Afghans came around and threatened to burn down his house and possibly kill his family. The enraged groups convinced the local administration, the local khateeb and the local Catholic church that Mr Dean and his family had to leave. To give authenticity to the ‘agreement’ reached with the fleeing Christian family, the local Punjab MPA also affixed his signature to it.

If the administration in Wah thinks it has resolved a grave issue to the satisfaction of all parties, it is gravely mistaken. Once again the authorities have succumbed to the pressure of the unenlightened and the immoderate, once again the law has been flouted and once again innocent citizens have been made to suffer on account of their faith. The obligation to protect citizens against religious extremism has been dodged once again and the slogan of ‘enlightened moderation’ adopted by General Pervez Musharraf and the PML government has once again been betrayed. If this single case is considered insufficient evidence to prove the uselessness of General Musharraf’s slogan, let us take a look at the life sentence handed down on Tuesday by an additional sessions judge in Lahore to another person charged with ‘desecrating’ the Holy Quran. The evidence was allegedly flimsy but the lower court judge was so overpowered by the extremism of the local opinion that he sent the man in for the maximum punishment.

There was much reactive extremism in Pakistan’s past when our governments were not telling the world that they were determined to inculcate ‘enlightened moderation’ among the people. In 1997, the twin villages of Shantinagar-Tibba Colony, 12 kilometres east of Khanewal, Multan Division, were looted and burnt by 20,000 Muslim citizens and 500 policemen. The police first evacuated the Christian population of 15,000, then helped the raiders use battle-field explosives to blow up their houses and property. When no one from the president of Pakistan to the Inspector General of Punjab Police reacted to the biggest act of destruction in 50 years, the Christian youth took out processions in Rawalpindi and Karachi and were fired upon by the police in the latter city. The youth in Lahore was asked by their elders to refrain from protesting.

Shantinagar was destroyed by the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the organs of the Pakistani State in tandem because there was hardly any difference in outlook between the two allies. But today, President Musharraf’s government pretends to stand apart from the fanatics and the extremists. Yet every other day, people go on a rampage after ‘discovering’ a leaf or two of the Holy Quran on the road. They stop the traffic, burn tyres and destroy public property to express their ‘grief’ because that has been allowed to become a ritual. State functionaries and politicians are keen to identify themselves with the vandals rather than hold them accountable under law. What is the difference between past governments and the ‘enlightened’ and ‘moderate’ government of General Pervez Musharraf today? Shouldn’t Islamabad worry about its rhetoric and do something to spread the message against extremism more effectively?

One very effective way of reaching out to the people, instead of exposing them to slogans they don’t understand, is to discuss the subject frankly. If you simply say pur-etedaal roshan khayali, the extremist will shoot back the remark that Islam is already that, so ‘say something new’. Obviously the thing to do on the state-owned media at least is to go into the details of the religious extremism that has brought Pakistan dangerously close to what the Afghanistan of Taliban was before the world thought it necessary to destroy the government of Mullah Umar. It is time to discuss the flaws of the blasphemy law and the law pertaining to the desecration of the Holy Quran without caring to ‘balance the debate’ between the extremists and the ‘apologists’ for moderation. In the realm of human rights, you don’t do what the people want, you educate the people to respect the law and, if necessary, you use the organs of the state to do that effectively and unapologetically. Is anyone in Islamabad listening?

Source

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9 Responses to “Our reactive extremism and Islamabad’s defensive ‘enlightened moderation’”

  1. Sunnilink Says:

    Accidentally threw the Quran in the trash? I don’t believe that. While the reaction to kill the family and burn down their house was uncalled for, I don’t think people throw books in the trash accidentally let alone a Holy book.

  2. molvi Says:

    You’re not gonna get an argument from me regarding that.

    However, the concerning thing here is the mystifying amount of sectarian extremism that exists in Pakistan. Can we point to the lack of a mainstream Islamic culture as one of the causes? I always am surprised by the amount of empty nationalism that exists in that country.

  3. Anonymous Says:

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  4. Sulayman F Says:

    That’s disturbing, but thanks for sharing it. Insha Allah if we are made aware of it, we may be able to do something about it.

    What does “pur-etedaal roshan khayali” mean?

  5. aliG Says:

    pur etedaal roshan khyali basically means,

    common sensicle enlightened moderation

    aliG

  6. Nehdia Says:

    I agree with the sentiment of what you’re saying here, but the problem is that people — most people, not even just religious extremists — don’t deify a living God as much as they deify their own perceptions and beliefs about that God. It’s a subtle difference but most of them are totally unaware of it. So when someone questions their beliefs, they feel personally attacked and misconstrue it as an attack on God. And because they don’t believe in a living God, but rather in their own mental belief system, they feel the need to intervene and be violent and make up for the apparent absence of God in the world. Human beings are so insecure that they think that God needs them, when in fact it’s the other way around.

    So how to have a frank dialogue with a religious extremist, who has deified his or her beliefs and practices (not God) and constructed an identity out of them for himself/herself? Honestly, I have no idea. It seems so difficult.

  7. Nehdia Says:

    Sorry, didn’t realize this was such an old post! 😛

  8. ALI Says:

    11-year-old girl of the family accidentally threw a copy of the Holy Quran in the trash-can ???????????????

    what you mean by accidentally ? 11 year old girl not a child she know’s every thing…


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