Friday, February 18, 2011

Misplaced fury and odd expectations

In our traditional national egocentricity we wonder if Pakistan could catch the virus of the Egyptian revolution. Perhaps it is the enormity of our problems that has crushed our reason for clearly this is wishful thinking.

The essential ingredient in any revolution is deep anger. But the only anger that galvanizes Pakistanis, or so it seems, is any murmuring against the Blasphemy Law. Rabid mullahs spewing venom and distorted representations of the Quran and Hadith convince youth to rampage and kill. All to protect the name of that most magnificent of all men, Muhammad (PBUH) who would have been horrified to witness madness and mayhem in his name.

It is highly unfortunate that only the least promising student or the orphaned become mullahs. But Islam is premised on individual responsibility and there is no shunting of personal issues to the confession booth or consulting mullahs for the basics that a Muslim must know. The Quran summarily prohibits murder and likens the killing of one to killing the whole of mankind (Quran 5:32). Pakistan’s mullahs classify anyone that dare criticize the Blasphemy Law as a blasphemer themselves. The tarring of Islam at the hands of these fanatics is a travesty on two counts. First on the basis of “there is no compulsion in religion” (Quran 2:256) and similar verses, and second on the fact that no one was killed for alleged blasphemy in the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad or the four caliphs. These death fatwas are actually the true blasphemy.

The heinous murder of Governor Salman Taseer will forever be another chapter in our treasure-trove of national injustices. For it was not the work of one crazed youth but an event orchestrated by a group of semi-literate extremists.

The latest in this series of mullah-inspired disconnectedness is the manhandling of police by protestors at a police station in Punjab where the protestors wished to file a case against Pope Benedict for criticizing the Blasphemy Law. They wish to stifle speech but Islam promotes freedom of speech for a woman questioned Hazrat Umar, the second caliph of Islam, about why he got two sheets and others got one. And she got a respectful reply, not an “off with her head” verdict.

In their blinkered state the mullahs have forgotten that Muhammad (PBUH) was a very gentle human being, who forgave repeatedly despite grievous insult and injury inflicted upon him. And we are exhorted to model our lives after his. And the refrain in the Quran on many issues is that it is always better to forgive than exact revenge.

Protecting their power and fearful of the Taseer fate the government has capitulated completely. Sherry Rehman has been persuaded to withdraw her bill to amend the Blasphemy Law. One wonders whether the fatwa hounding her will be withdrawn as well.

Pakistan’s problems are myriad; poverty, starvation, illiteracy, high unemployment, disease, flood ravages, target killings, honor killings, terrorism and an ever-increasing divide between rich and poor. Islam is not a religion alone but a way of life. Why then have the custodians of our faith taken the Blasphemy Law as the only issue that confronts Pakistan? Does it go back to the fact that the most promising become doctors, lawyers, architects and accountants and the failing, poor or orphaned become mullahs?

And if the situation were not dire with the custodians of our faith, the custodians of justice seem out to trump them. That lawyers would shower rose-petals on a brutal murderer and offer to defend him pro-bono is a part of our national conversation that we should be deeply ashamed of.

The Egyptian revolution is galvanized under a single flag and a sole cause. Egyptians were unified in wanting to make every sacrifice to topple Mubarak. But in Pakistan our causes are many and our divisions even more. The culture of corruption has permeated the fabric of Pakistani society wherein it is now second-nature.

Mohammad Malick’s aamri jamhooriat (dictatorial democracy) and jamhoori aamriyat (democratic dictatorship) are phenomenal representations of what has become of Pakistan. Prime Minister Gilani was asked about the Egyptian revolution and its possibility in Pakistan and he summarily dismissed it saying that we had a “functioning democracy” and therefore the chance of a revolution here was nil.

One can only agree with the second part of his assessment. His reasoning is faulty; we actually have a democratic dictatorship soaked in corruption. And the ranks of our society are sick with venom and bigotry, intrigue and revenge and our national motto remains “each man for himself”. We are held hostage by a squeaky minority of rabid mullahs who will have our heads should they desire and a majority that nods assent in order that it may live. History, and I daresay the Day of Judgment, will indict us for copping out and handing our destiny to the bigoted on a platter.

When popular unrest is rudderless and leaderless it is called anarchy. Pakistan now embodies it.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. Email: ###