The challenge of fundamentalism in Pakistan and around the world

Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy from Pakistan is a professor of physics but he often lectures in various parts of the world on the state of Islam. In a hall in Mississauga, he recently presented his ideas on the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan.

According to the internationally renowned scholar and commentator, the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan stems from years of colonial rule and a desire to be seen as distinct from predominantly Hindu India.

He traced the history of Muslim nationalism and religious fundamentalism to the very first Muslim conquest of India in 710, when a 17-year-old named Mohammad Bin Qasim landed on Indian shores. More than a millennium later, this peculiarity would divide the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan.

For more recent trends towards fundamentalism, Hoodbhoy points to Pakistan’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, especially after the two countries collaborated to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan.

He also noted that Pakistan was the first country to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate political and religious force. He lamented that the rise of a very belligerent and obscurantist religious right in Pakistan has led to an increase in harassment for perceived blasphemy, citing the example of student Mishal Khan, who was beaten to death by a mob of students. fundamentalists for allegedly insulting Islam. .

The teacher’s ideas are validated by events and facts, but they only tell half the story. Pakistan is also fundamentalist because of its draconian sharia laws and weak leadership that bowed to the religious lobby when it comes to blasphemy laws and the treatment of religious minorities. Its political culture reinforces fundamentalism and discourages any dissent from orthodox ideas.

In addition, fundamentalism is clearly on the rise not only in Pakistan but almost everywhere in the Islamic world. It is too widespread for local identity politics to be the only explanation; the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism lie in historical precedents and a literal interpretation of Islamic precepts.

Syria and Egypt clearly do not face any rival Hindu ideology, but they too are plagued by extremist Islamic groups. Perhaps the closest parallel to Pakistani fundamentalism is the rise of Palestinian identity after the establishment of the State of Israel.

As a solution to these problems, Hoodbhoy proposed humanism. In other words, he suggested that fundamentalism be replaced by humanism as an alternative – a daunting task in a country where liberals are hostages to a medieval mindset whose principles are steadily disseminated. and aggressively across television, newspapers and now social media. Fear prevents all but the bravest from speaking against the grain.

Humanism is a solution that this small group of dissidents may also have thought of. However, this can only happen after years of inculcating universal human values, introducing not only mass literacy but also a new mindset based on liberal education that instills a notion of inclusiveness. . The solution is hardly one that comes overnight.

So far, all the efforts of Pakistan’s intimidated and reckless civil society have been thwarted by the weight of its loud and oppressive ultra-right religious lobby.

Hoodbhoy is astute enough to understand the problems crippling countries like Pakistan, and to suggest a solution that may one day work, but is of little use now. He could have suggested practical solutions to deal with fundamentalism in the present.

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