It’s official: We are not a nation. We are a mob.
All those ‘think positive’ types waiting for some kind of a ‘moderate Muslim awakening’ in this country are simply deluding themselves.
No amount of your egos, resources and ‘positiveness’ invested in ‘moderatism’ such as interfaith dialogues, Sufi music, lectures by ‘moderate clerics and Islamic scholars’, and your insistence on how peaceful our faith truly is, all this won’t make an iota of a difference.
You are fighting a battle that you have already lost; simply because all the mindless violence in the name of faith in this country has been tolerated for too long, sometimes even rewarded.
Thus, who should the mad mob which loots, burns, plunders and kills in the name of God and his messenger be afraid of? Not the police, not the courts, not the media, not the government and believe me, not even the Almighty himself!
Why should they? How can they when such mobs and those who fire them up have all been playing God themselves – judging, condemning and executing everyone and everything they deem ‘unIslamic’, heretical, blasphemous and infidel, without fear, remorse, or any chance of ever being reprimanded.
This faith-driven madness is not a recent happening. It’s been accumulating for decades.
And every time it has reared its ugly head in the shape of belligerent mob violence, it has not been dealt with the help of the law but with words and gestures that actually end up justifying it.
In 1954 the former Chief Minister of Punjab, Mumtaz Daultana, after failing to solve the problem of food shortages and unemployment in the province, encouraged rabid hordes belonging to the Jamat-e-Islami (JI) to instigate anti-Ahmadi violence just to divert the people’s anger from his failing ministership.
Though Daultana was ultimately removed from his post, soon after the commotion all those arrested for instigating the violence, damaging public property and attacking members of the Ahmadi community were released unconditionally.
Then in 1974, the popularly elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, capitulated like a man made from jelly when the JI used another round of anti-Ahmadi violence in Punjab as a way to reignite its failing fortunes and ask Bhutto to declare the besieged community as non-Muslim.
Instead of condemning mob violence, Bhutto, the great progressive democrat, did exactly what the mob demanded. As if overnight the Ahmadi community that had played a major role in the creation of Pakistan and was one of the most vigorous contributors to the new country’s economy, was reduced to becoming second-class citizens.
How many Pakistanis questioned Bhutto’s cynical move or JI’s politics of hate? None.
All that the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship (1977-88) had to do was to turn such politics of hate into actual state policy, thus beginning the now consolidated Pakistani tradition of churning out a continuous flow of blood-thirsty sectarian and Islamist outfits.
But more dangerously, these policies eventually generated an ethos that promised material, political and spiritual rewards and benefits for anyone willing to become violent, self-righteous, exhibitionist and hypocritical in matters of faith.
However, once the great tyrant and mastermind of this mindset blew up somewhere over Bhawalpur in August 1988, did the democrats that replaced him reverse the tide?
In 1995, late Benazir Bhutto’s Interior Minister, Naseerullah Babar, was busy sitting with ISI sleuths conceiving the creation of a dreadful and barbaric force that became to be known as the Taliban.
They said they were doing this to ‘end the civil war in Afghanistan and stabilise the region,’ all the while turning a blind eye to all the atrocities being committed by their creations once they took power in Kabul.
It was thus ironic that when Benazir was brutally killed in December 2007, the killers had used the services of Pakistani Islamists who had in turn been inspired by the same Taliban that Benazir Bhutto’s interior ministry had created with the help of Saudi money and ISI expertise.
Meanwhile, the other great democrat of the 1990s, Mian Nawaz Sharif, till even about 1996, was passionately leading emotional processions to Ziaul Haq’s grave site in Islamabad and promising to ‘continue Shaheed Zia’s mission.’
Though he finally faced a few assassination attempts by members of a sectarian organisation in Punjab in the late 1990s, this didn’t stop some of his party members to hold hands with leaders of the same banned organisation in 2009!
The so-called moderates let out a sigh of relief when a military gung-ho, General Pervez Musharraf, toppled Nawaz and positioned himself as a Pakistani Attaturk.
But he would go on to only tweak the Ziaist mindset by adding to it a fresh dose of schizophrenia. Patronising material modernism, he, at the same time, fattened terrorist outfits seen as ‘friendly’ to the Pakistan military’s ‘strategic goals’ in the region, while attacking the less friendly ones so his regime could continue getting and gobbling military and economic aid from the United States in its war on terror.
This schizoid disposition not only furthered the cause and cancer of moral and material hypocrisy already ripe in the society ever since the Zia days, it is exactly the kind of societal, cultural and political schizophrenia that became the grounds on which Pakistan’s newer, freer and louder electronic media actually began building its repertoire on.
It was this media that turned armed thugs who, in 2005, had taken over a mosque and a seminary in Islamabad, into heroes.
Even though the Musharraf dictatorship had taken its sweet time to crack down on the thugs who had been harassing the city for weeks, when the crackdown finally came, TV news reporters and anchormen transformed into becoming angry, foaming mouthpieces of the thugs, enough for the Musharraf regime to not only release most of the arrested men, but to actually provide funds and helicopters to the funeral arrangements of the self-proclaimed soldiers of God.
It is also the same schizoid mindset that has given a sudden raise to the profile of men like Imran Khan. He can sound like an impassioned fusion of Chairman Mao, Z A. Bhutto, Abul Ala Maududi and the myopic mullah of your neighborhood mosque within a span of just a few sentences!
So, whom should a mob setting out to lynch a ‘blasphemer’, or to loot, burn and plunder the city in the fine name of Allah and his last prophet be afraid of? Why should they have any reason to be ashamed of?
Imagine now, after last Friday’s ugly violence when a young member of a mob would have come back home after a day of looting, burning and killing, and he must have switched on his TV.
Do you think he would have done so because he expected to hear blunt condemnation of his actions from the media and the politicians? No.
What he must have seen and heard on the idiot box were TV anchors, talk-show hosts, journalists, religious leaders, ‘experts’ and politicians, all shouting at the top of their voices and simultaneously trying to convince their audience how much more ‘ashiq (lovers) of the prophet’ they were than the next guy.
Our young mob member would have then reclined on his sofa, or chair or whatever, smug in his belief that it was he who was the biggest lover of the prophet. Unlike the talking heads he saw swearing their Ishq for Allah’s last messenger; it was him who went out to express it on the roads. But the only problem was that this raving idiot’s expression in this respect included burning, plundering and even killing.
We as a nation have for long been staring into the abyss. But what many of us believe is a vision of some kind of a Muslim reawakening is in actuality just the abyss staring right back.
As a sad Sufi would observe, in our pursuit to become one with the Almighty, we have instead become one with the abyss.
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.