Our culture of intolerance
When quizzed about our culture we Pakistanis can go to any length to prove that we are like any other normal and civilised nation having no dearth of artistic sense and know how to appreciate sports, good music and movies but sadly many people in the Western world fail to buy that. Those who identify Pakistan through the daily dose of media coverage believe us to be an uncouth nation, sans values and compassion. Our country is considered synonymous with terror where killings and human slaughtering are undertaken without any remorse. That almost makes us look like a psychologically abnormal nation. It is easy to blame others for misunderstanding us but we need to dissect our own shortcomings which are responsible for the growing intolerance and fanaticism.
Controlled emotions play a great role in determining the nation’s destiny. We have Japan’s example. They never forgot the 6th of August 1945 but instead they invested their energies in building up their nation. Unfortunately, we Pakistanis are controlled by emotions especially in respect to religion. Not only are our people exceedingly emotional about religion, additionally everyone thinks that he/she is representing the correct version of Islam while the rest are wrong. These two ingredients; thinking one is correct and then exercising extreme emotions, are the core force behind a clash. Since most of the people are semi-literate or illiterate, it becomes easier for those believing in militant Islam to exploit their emotions.
It is apt to note that not just are hardcore militants from the far flung mountains involved in indoctrination but that the mullah of a local mosque is also playing a major role in flaring the emotions of the population. For example in this one instance, the mullah of one of the mosques in residential area would deliver his sermon on the loudspeaker. He never discussed religious matters. All he did was to instigate the youth to lift arms against America and the Western powers that are fighting their Muslims brethren in different regions and he kept repeating after every second sentence that Islam was in great danger. Ironically, I’m talking about a mosque located in the same area in Peshawar where a US counselor was attacked in August 2008. No one from the official circles took notice of the mullah’s rants despite the fact that the use of loudspeaker wasn’t allowed other than for the calls for prayers. No one questioned him for misleading people knowing that the entire province and Peshawar were broiling with a string of suicide bombings at that time and such instigation was the last thing anyone needed.
Anger and frustration, found in abundance in our people, is another reason for the alarming intolerance. Militant groups never hesitate to slay people who are not on the same page with them ideologically, politically and religiously. The long history of sectarian violence is testimony to this brewing anger and frustration. These groups fail to understand that there has always been diversity of religious views and opinions and it is virtually impossible to direct everyone towards the one idea. Instead of freeing themselves of biases they believe in elimination of the conflicting idea. It is a kind of cleansing, which isn’t very different from Hitler’s idea of purifying the Aryan race. The recent killing of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister’s 28-year-old son and the subsequent suicide attack near the minister’s house shows that those warriors can go to any length to suppress opposing voices.
The problem is that the majority of people in Pakistan are living underprivileged lives and are frustrated with the corrupt system. An aimless life with no charm makes the job of the propagandist way easier. Injustice is also a chief cause of all evils in the society. It breeds intolerance and sanctions the use of violent means. If the people had access to basic facilities and especially if they were equipped with the wealth of knowledge we wouldn’t have been in the mess we are in today.
The solution to the growing menace of intolerance is challenging but we would have to begin from somewhere. An efficient network of spies setup by our intelligence agencies can monitor suspicious seminaries and groups. The youth of Pakistan especially from the underprivileged class should be engaged in positive and constructive activities in various fields with good prospects. A fair and swift justice system will restore the faith of people. The preachers of violence will resist change but if we want to be remembered as valuable nation in the annals of history we have to bring the much needed social change before we are annihilated by the enemies within our own ranks.
Written For: The Express Tribune