The Window of Opportunity

Maulana Abdul Aziz - Source: AP/B.K. Bangash

Maulana Abdul Aziz – Source: AP/B.K. Bangash

I have observed that most Pakistani secularists find the idea of talks with the Taliban nauseating. However, a new window of opportunity has dawned for their cause by the turn of events in the past weeks.

The religious conservatives of the country have really put themselves in an awkward position by making practical steps to negotiate with the Taliban.

The Taliban have made their lives even more difficult. They have responded by demanding the imposition of Shariah Law throughout the country and have rejected the constitution. Curiously, these are demands that are not even acceptable to most conservative parties, except for the extreme religious groups.

This makes a common Muslim wonder why would there be such resistance to a system that they have been taught is the solution to every ill in the world. How are the likes of Maulana Abdul Aziz wrong in their insistence that the obvious demand of Shariah imposition should not even be a matter of debate.

What, then, is making the Pakistani political leadership so suspicious about Shariah imposition?

Even though every Muslim is supposed to be an Islamist, the fact remains that an overwhelming majority of them are not.

At least not in Pakistan.

Their lifestyle, their customs, their way of life and their voting patterns, all suggest that they want nothing to do with Shariah Law.

Pakistanis watch movies, love music and love to dance. They may indulge in a lot of social ills, but they would have problems with someone blowing up music shops and telling the women of their family how to cover themselves. They also like to shave and do not mind skipping their prayers.

They also do not seem to be prepared to sacrifice their almost Western lifestyle in cities and traditional ways in rural areas to embrace an 8th century code of life.

To them, Shariah is a word that must be revered and must not be challenged, but it really has no place in their lives.

While the Taliban have reminded the people of Pakistan of what Shariah is, it is the perfect time to convert them against this threatening and authoritarian ideology.

At least it is time to ask some tough questions about Shariah, if we must not get too carried away with our ambition.

And make no mistake about it, it can be done in the most discreet and polite manner.

There is no harm in asking them why they would want to support something they do not practice. There is no harm in asking why they would not embrace Shariah as it is if they are Muslims, and why would they reject secularism then.

Everyone can start with their near and dear ones. I ask my family this question everyday, and no, it would not get you killed if you do it respectfully. Charity begins at home and it can easily be propagated to bigger platforms through leading secular opinion leaders.

They would surely shy away from the taboo subject. Surely, they would find it hard to step out of the reassuring shelter of faith, but a little perseverance could pay well.

This is the first step to win the battle against the Taliban. And the first step to convince people why proactively countering the indoctrination of Islamism is essential to their liberty, peace and way of life.

This is the perfect time to reiterate that secularism will prove to be the best social contract to resolve the multitude of religious problems. This is something politicians on right and left must agree on.

It is the perfect time to offer reason to those who are willing to take it.

But don’t get me wrong. This is not a time to build fences. It is not a time to merely win debates and score ideological points.

It is a time to win hearts and minds. We must overcome our curmudgeonly cynicism to see that perspective.

Even in the darkest of thunderstorms, there is always that silver lining.

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Suicide

Artist: Philippe Bertrand (Source: Wikipedia)

What I cannot really understand is why people think that committing a suicide is a cowardly act, or even worse, something wrong. I really can’t understand it, despite trying. I simply can’t figure out what is so cowardly and wrong about it.

The people around me tell me that it is a cowardly act because supposedly suicidal people shy away from the harsh  realities of life and are not strong to face them. Well, on the contrary, I think that people who shy away from the harsh realities of life are those who are the happiest and call people who commit suicide cowardly and weak. I am pretty sure that these are the kind of people who pile up armies of newborn babies without the second thought.

Yes, I do agree that a person in charge of looking after a child of his or her own would be  irresponsible in committing suicide, but in that case I would really criminalize their act of procreation without responsibility and you could extend it to their act of suicide if you choose to.

Yes, suicide is criminalized. How pathetic is that. But according to some moral standards, such as the ones practiced by most of the post-colonial Pakistani and Indian societies, suicide or attempted suicide is actually considered a punishable crime.

Well, I can agree that suicide is not a healthy act in itself, I can even agree that it is a cowardly act, but how in the world is it a crime? It’s pretty frightening how moralists try to take control of everything. Now you cannot even commit suicide in peace?

I think committing suicide is everyone’s right.

Actually, they need to declare it a basic human right, so moralist and fascist governments and laws do not deprive people of this right. So that no government can lodge an FIR against anyone who survives a self-immolation attempt and sends them to jail instead of offering them therapy.

You can speak ill of them at their funerals if you want, that is your right. But frankly, this sort of moral highhandedness sickens me to the stomach. Also, the feeling of guilt that the families needlessly bear afterwards.

It is not that I want the society to radically change their view about it. I don’t want to judge them on the moral grounds that they thrive on. But I would like to see a suicide given its due respect.

To me, a suicide takes a lot of courage because it is not easy to resist life. Also, it is not easy to consciously end your own life, with a realization of what awaits in the immediate future. You can experience how it feels like by merely imagining for a moment that you are about to kill yourself.

While everyone who suffers from depression have suicidal tendencies every now and then, it is the mental pressures of depression rather than any “cowardice” that drives the suicidal people to such an extreme step.

Of course it is a fair deal that the society offers these people a lot of depression to deal with, or let me be a bit more lenient towards them, that life gives them a lot of depression to deal with as long as they suffer the abuse gladly. So how in the world is that a crime and how in the world is that cowardice? I say they endure all the pressure rather well because I am quite sure that a lot of people who ridicule and criminalize suicide would be horrified by the very mention of that feeling.

Only a few days earlier, there had been a lot of debate about school children and hostel students committing suicides within a span of three or four days. While the incidents shocked the entire nation, I would like to point out that the verdict from some of so-called intellectuals that the suicidal persons had stopped believing in the mercy of God was a completely preposterous diagnosis of the problem.

Like always, religious morality gets in the way of the much needed understanding of suicides. They don’t understand that even the most affluent people may commit suicides under depression and that is why some start making it a political issue. And the same suffocating and bullying morality that ridicules the people who commit suicide ensures that they are driven to find a moment of peace for themselves in this very manner.

Let’s just hope that there is no moral mob on the other side to deprive them of that peace.

But I envy the suicide and am very impressed by their courage.

We are the cowards.

A Brave Beginning At Least…

November 25, 2010 was a historic day in the history of legislation in Pakistan. One of the more sensible MPs finally took the initiative of proposing amendments in the Blasphemy Laws of the country. It was none other than Sherry Rehman who took the brave initiative after contributing a brilliant article to the Express Tribune.

I congratulate Sherry Rehman for breaking the ice and touching this “taboo subject”. She surely deserves a pat on the back and this is what PPP should be doing. The Governor of the Punjab, Salmaan Taseer also deserves applause for his efforts after Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, was  sentenced to death for blasphemy by a local civil magistrate. I am only disappointed that there is silence from other political parties like MQM, ANP and PML-Q, and also PML-N. I even expect some sense from the JUI-F and the JI.

While I completely agree with the opinion in the legal circles that the President is talking about using his right of pardon prematurely, since the case can move on to the higher courts, and with the decision of the LHC of directing the President to abstain from using the right until the hearing of the petition against it, I was really disappointed to learn that some lawyers maintained that the law did not permit the President to pardon the person who had allegedly committed a blasphemy because it did not pertain to the crimes against the State, and pertained to a crime against Allah and His Prophet. If that is our law, we need to change it.

But the real divide is this.  The secular school of thought maintains that the blasphemy laws should be repealed because it is not an offense in the first place, at least not worthy of a death sentence, if any at all. The right wing, in this case, the religious political parties representing Islam, think that the blasphemy law is more like an article of faith and that any amendments are unacceptable. Though mentioning this was totally unnecessary, but anyway.

While both the groups keep on loathing each other and have no patience to listen to and appreciate each other’s viewpoint, we will not be able to move a single inch towards making any progress in this regard. As a matter of principle, I oppose any blasphemy laws, but since it concerns the feelings of such a large majority of population, I would at least go for softening the “punishment” instead of letting the brutal death penalty stand, which is why I think this bill is important.

We should actually be starting a debate about abolishing the death penalty altogether, or minimize its implementation in the courts. We should at least make the judges think twice, or thrice, before inking such a verdict, especially when it is a blasphemy that you can never prove in the court of law unless it is published in some way, apart from the account of witnesses.

You can simply make the religious groups understand why death in general, and in the case of Asia Bibi in particular, should not be enforced by telling them what Prophet Muhammad would have done in this regard. Rauf Klasra wrote a very good piece on that in Urdu, which you could read to get a very good idea about that viewpoint. We must upkeep the basic human rights in any case and supersede any other laws which lead to their violation.

Courtesy: Reuters

While I cannot help but think about the poor and innocent children of Asia Bibi who are anxiously waiting for their mother to return to them, I can never imagine, as far my understanding of Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet is concerned, that the Prophet would have meant any harm to the woman in the first place. It was contrary to his values, since he even pardoned Hind, the wife of Abu Sufian, a Meccan Lord, who had murdered his uncle Hamza in the most brutal manner.

Had Prophet Muhammad been a man who approved of murder, violence and killings, then he would have done otherwise, and there are countless other examples, such as the Amnesty on the Conquest of Mecca. And yes, I think that despite those Islamic laws of stoning to death on adultery, the conditions of the enforcement of which are actually so strict, that it is near impossible that anyone could be condemned to death for that offense, let alone approving of it.

Unfortunately, the religious groups are not able to understand this simple fact due to the overzealous nature of their politics. Supporting death for committing blasphemy is clearly a political matter instead of a religious one, and I have reasons to believe that the leaders and scholars who understand Islam know it themselves. Whether they want to go for the change or not is another matter.

But don’t forget, they are not the only ones to be blamed for this. The supposedly sensible politicians and the elements in the civil, judicial and military bureaucracy have also played their due role in the creation and approval of these laws. They did not consider the possibility that these laws could possibly be misused, as they are misused most of the time.

Not only the “minorities” or the non-Muslims in Pakistan are at risk due to the abuse of the law, but even Muslims themselves are not safe from it. You could accuse anyone of committing a blasphemy that you hold a grudge against and the crowds would rage and come roaring to get that person. The people need to develop some patience, and both the secular and religious groups need to come together to discuss the issue to reach a sensible solution.

I know that even if we get the text book right, vigilante violence is a problem that will remain very much there as far as the accusations of blasphemy are concerned, but it is important to get the textbook right. That is why I advocate a Secular Constitution for Pakistan. However, as far as making the general public realize is concerned, only Humanitarian Education is a solution, which is unfortunately, not a priority at all in the plans of the Government of Pakistan.

The secular circles of the country should be happy that someone at least made a start towards bringing an amendment to the law, something which people were even afraid to talk about earlier. I am anxiously waiting to see how the MPs vote on this, especially the members of the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, you know, the supposed secular political parties in Pakistan.

 

Maybe someday this could possibly lead to the abrogation of these laws.

The Case of Prem Chand Pakistani & The Constitution

After the May 28, 2010 AirBlue airplane crash in Islamabad, the coffin of one of the deceased, Mr. Prem Chand, who happened to be a Hindu, and a member of some Youth Parliament, which some kids have made to pretend they are something important (I think they were at least doing something constructive other than whining), was marked as Kafir .

According to Dr. Awab Alvi‘s blog, which quoted the Express Tribune that the word was first prominently written in black on the coffin and then was outlined with red, to make it more dramatic and to emphasize its importance.

Kafir is a word of Arabic which literally means the “one who covers or hides”, among other things, since Arabic is a much deeper language than we think, but in this context and as is the popular use of this term among Muslims, it means an “infidel”, or the one who does not believe in Allah, or God.

It  surely was insensitive to mark the coffin of this citizen, and a huge fuss has been made by a lot of people in the country about it on popular and social media. But in all honesty, and as a believer in the equal rights to all the citizens of the country, regardless of clan or creed,  I rule out any malign intentions behind this action.

Clearly it would have been done by authorities to separate the coffin for identity or funeral reasons, because Muslims are almost as obsessive as any other religious group  in their ritualistic habits. Even if that is not the case, we have made too much fuss out of nothing. Besides, this term is not meant to be insulting unless someone takes offense for some odd reason. Maybe, some thought that Prem Chand was a Muslim, or should have been one. As far as I know, only Muslims and Ahmedis mind being called Kafirs.

If all those who are furious on this event are so sincere to bringing secular values to Pakistan, why are they not furious over the Constitution that has been passed on a communal basis and only emphasizing the values of one religion? Religious discrimination has become a part of Pakistani culture, and it is only promoted by a constitution which represents one community more than others.

No wonder “coffins should not be marked by such a word”, which is not derogatory by any means, but highlighting these insignificant issues will only help the world laugh at Pakistan, which they are already doing. I know many people around the world, whose sole entertainment is ridiculing Pakistan for one reason or another.

I am against the persecution of the so-called “minorities”, as they call them here in Pakistan, and maybe even in India (apologies to Indian friends if that is not the case, mentioning anyway). But well, every now and then, it costs nothing to use your brain and see what matters you should be trumpeting out in front of the world and which you should not, if you want a strong Pakistan, that is. Given the behavior of a number of journalists in Pakistan, it is not difficult to assume otherwise.

But think about your constitution. The taboo subject.

We tend to impulsively react to such actions, but do not address the deep-rooted prejudices in our society which manifest in one form or another. As a nation we have made it a habit not to address the root of the problem and whine and condemn and protest and forget. Life is too short for that, and guess what: people don’t give a damn. But most Pakistanis do not talk about the constitution, a taboo in the society of course, just like sex.

In the blog that was referred to earlier, reporting this “tragic incident”, I mean the marking and not the death of the poor fellow (not being insensitive), the author had apologized to the friends and family of Prem Chand and the Hindu community of Pakistan for the marking of the coffin. It was a noble notion indeed, but really I find no reason to apologize to them for that. I would rather apologize to them for the discriminating constitution.

As Pakistanis, we should apologize to the Hindus, the Christians, the Sikhs, the Parsis, the Ahmedis and all other so-called minorities and non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan, who deserve as much rights as any of the so-called Muslim majority citizens in the constitution, sans any discrimination.

At least I would do so.

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