Sunday, September 22, 2019
By Muhammad Amir Rana
For one, patriotism cannot be reduced to religion alone without declaring non-Muslims in Pakistan as non-citizens.
The problem is that Pakistan’s state institutions do not consider the tendencies of non-violent extremism as a potent threat. The way Hindu temples were vandalised and private properties destroyed recently in Sindh’s Ghotki district is yet another reminder that the challenge of religiously inspired violent extremism is bigger than we thought. Moving beyond a shallow condemnation, the government will certainly have to act to increase the cost of committing such violence, that too on spurious grounds. Apart from the specific measure related to the Ghotki incident, two things must be done to protect all religious minorities in Pakistan from violence. First, the groups and individuals using faith to gain political and religious influence should be strictly dealt with under the law. Secondly, the state should demonstrate zero tolerance towards hate narratives being disseminated online and in other ways by extremist religious groups, individuals and their supporters. A clear, unequivocal message should be sent that the state alone is the custodian of the constitutional rights of all citizens, irrespective of their faith. The fear expressed by the majoritarian mindset that religious minorities could harm the sovereignty of Pakistan is simply baseless. For one, patriotism cannot be reduced to religion alone without declaring non-Muslims in Pakistan as non-citizens.
A general argument can be made that Pakistan’s power elites have been patronising religious, ethnic, cultural and racial disagreements to further their regime, instead of looking at the diversity of religious, cultural and societal opinion in Pakistan as a sign of inclusiveness and plurality. That has significantly damaged the country’s social fabric, mainly its humanistic values such as empathy and compassion, which safeguard individuals and societies from hate and aggression.
Irrespective of its geographical location and its religious or secular tendencies, if a society possesses a sense of majoritarian supremacy or is hyper nationalistic or harbours a collective sense of hatred and aggression, then it lacks empathy and compassion. The absence of these two attributes could push society towards chaos and anarchy.
The phenomenon of religious intolerance has its own dynamics but in recent years it has increased through its connectivity with larger extremist discourses fanned in cyberspaces. Social media platforms have increased the exposure and vulnerability of the youth to divisive and extremist ideologies. This exposure is making people sensitive about their identities. Such an identity crisis is beneficial to the radical groups. An individual needs emotional healing and anxiety caused by such exposure and tries to connect with the nearest group of like-minded people.
The small groups look towards bigger and better organised groups not only for ideological and political inspiration but also to learn organisational skills. Mian Mithu, a radical cleric from Ghotki, could be an example. He may act independently but is said to have been inspired by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik and encouraged by banned militant groups like Al Rehmat Trust, Jamaatud Dawa and charities associated with hard-line madressahs in Karachi.
These groups succeeded in building pressure on non-Muslim communities but the cleric has better cultural, religious and ethnic credentials to influence local communities. With his influence, he is regarded as capable of triggering vandalism. The problem is that Pakistan’s state institutions do not consider the tendencies of non-violent extremism as a potent threat.
There is a need to adopt a framework or narrative in Pakistan, that treats all citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity, creed and geography, with equality. Introducing courses on citizenship in education curricula, extracted from the Constitution, are greatly needed. To be precise, non-Muslims in Pakistan should be owned as an integral part of the country. Bracketing non-Muslims with India or Western countries is to contradict history: They are indigenous to the soil and their valuable contribution to this region is a chapter of Pakistan’s history.
LALIT K JHA
Members of these groups will hold a demonstration in front of Houston’s NRG stadium, where Modi & Trump will take part in the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event Sunday.
Prof. Khalid Hameed’s devotion to teaching often led him to arrive early for work, and the day he was killed was no different. Professor Hameed, a senior English lecturer at Government Sadiq Egerton College in the Pakistani city of Bahawalpur, parked at about 8 a.m. on March 20, signed the staff room register, unlocked his office and walked in. His killer came up from behind, hitting him in the head with a heavy padlock and stabbing him several times. Professor Hameed, 59, who was six months from retirement, died immediately.
One of his students, Khateeb Hussain, was detained by the police. In a video of his interrogation, Mr. Hussain said he killed Professor Hameed — a devout Muslim, according to his family — because he had insulted Islam. Six months later, no charges have been brought against Mr. Hussain, or against a preacher from Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a hard-line Islamic group, who the police say incited him to kill.
The murder has devastated Professor Hameed’s family and chilled his colleagues at Sadiq Egerton College. They see it as a horrifying new chapter in a campaign against liberal education, which small but influential extremist groups in Pakistan consider unacceptable. Many of the teachers are now wary of speaking freely to their students.
“Actually, this teacher was a symbol of all liberal education,” said Irshad Ahmad Tabasum, an associate professor in Professor Hameed’s department.
Professor Tabasum and some of his colleagues stressed that Professor Hameed was no provocative liberal firebrand, just a dedicated, well-liked teacher. They said the college had not previously had trouble with religious extremists, and they were at a loss to explain what could have motivated the killer.
A day before Professor Hameed’s death, anonymous pamphlets were distributed that called for banning a campus gathering that he was coordinating. The pamphlets claimed, wrongly, that men and women there would be allowed to dance together. But investigators said Mr. Hussain was not behind the pamphlets, and teachers at the college doubt there is a connection.In the video of his interrogation, Mr. Hussain — who had been pursuing a degree in English literature — said Professor Hameed “used to bark against Islam and utter derogatory remarks every day.” But he did not cite any specific comment that angered him.Like English literature classes around the world, Professor Hameed’s roamed across broad themes in philosophy, history, religion and politics, his colleagues say. They resent speculation about what he might have said that enraged Mr. Hussain, seeing it as an attempt to find justification, or at least sense, in his murder.But they also say that the shock of the killing has made them wonder about their own teaching — and that they have started to skirt potentially contentious subjects.
“For the last 25 years, I have never felt the pressure as I am feeling now,” Professor Tabasum said. He said he had long taught “Oedipus Rex” in his classes on Greek tragedy but was now worried about doing so.
“Because every single word can create a problem for you,” he said. “This is what has been inculcated in me after this incident. Before that, whatever I felt, I expressed that.”
Teachers have found themselves reluctant to let classroom discussions get too philosophical, said Mahmood Ahmed Shaheen, an assistant professor at Sadiq Egerton. “Obviously it is a fact, when such incidents happen, they affect our sensibilities, they affect our perception,” he said. “We feel a bit insecure when you are studying and discussing something in class, and particularly if it is related to religion.”
Such fears have spread well beyond Bahawalpur, a conservative city 380 miles southeast of Islamabad, the capital.
“I think that it would be wrong and foolish to think that such terrible incidents could only happen elsewhere,” said Shaista Sonnu Sirajuddin, a former professor of English literature at the University of Punjab in Lahore. “I dread and fear the time that we, too, can become victims.” Vigilantism by religious extremists has been a problem on Pakistani campuses since the 1980s military dictatorship of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, who emboldened them with his Islamization of the country's laws, said Tahira Abdullah, a human rights activist.
“It’s just getting worse and worse, and it’s more visible now,” she said, adding that “if you invite a progressive speaker, that speaker will get shouted down, drowned out or run off campus, or not even allowed to speak.”
Two years ago, a 25-year-old student at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, in northwestern Pakistan, was dragged from his dormitory room and killed by a mob after rumors spread that he had posted blasphemous writing online. The student, Mashal Khan, had described himself as a humanist and covered his room at with posters of his political heroes and slogans celebrating free speech.
Professor Sirajuddin said most pressure felt by professors did not include overt threats of violence. But in Pakistan, an accusation of blasphemy can lead to mob violence or even an actual death sentence, and that is intimidating enough.
Professor Sirajuddin, who still teaches, said she had come to accept that if one day a student accused her, she would be on her own. “There will be very few people, there will probably be no one, who will have the courage to stand up and say she did not blaspheme,” she said.
Professor Hameed’s wife and four children say he was deeply religious, and that he made repeated pilgrimages to Mecca during a five-year stint working in Saudi Arabia. He often took a special interest in poor students, figuring that a degree could transform their lives and those of their families, according to colleagues and graduates of Sadiq Egerton.Mr. Hussain, who was reported to be either 20 or 21 years old, is still in custody, but formal charges have not been filed. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan preacher who was detained on suspicion of inciting the killing, Zafar Gillani, has also not been charged and is now free on bail.
Shafiq Qureshi, the public prosecutor in the case, said the investigation report was complete and that formal charges could be filed this month. He said he hoped a court hearing would soon follow.
The case is being closely watched by students, teachers and other Pakistanis, said Diwan Asif Shahzad, an assistant English professor at Sadiq Egerton. He believes that bringing murder charges would send a strong message in defense of liberal education, but as the weeks have passed, he and other teachers have grown increasingly worried.
“We are all the way scared as to what will be the final decision,” Professor Shahzad said.