The Roots of Religious Fundamentalism in Pakistan by Ali Mohsin

The Roots of Religious Fundamentalism in Pakistan

By Ali Mohsin

Feb. 17, 2016

IIn an interview with Reuters last month, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, head of the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII), offered to review Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy” laws, saying there are divergent opinions on the issue among the clergy. A few days later, however, Sherani backtracked on his statement, saying that the ICN would not change or amend the laws in order to satisfy its many critics. Sherani’s flip-flop shouldn’t have come as a surprise. He is, after all, a man who supports child marriage, having vehemently opposed a recent bill that would have banned this retrograde social practice.

It is indeed shameful that, although five years have passed since the assassinations of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, both of whom bravely stood up for Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, little or no progress was made toward repealing the draconian laws. Aasia Bibi is still languishing in prison, eagerly awaiting her appeal hearing before the Supreme Court. Multiple death threats led her to be placed in solitary confinement last October. Meanwhile, Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, continues to enjoy his celebrity status among the most reactionary sections of the population.

The fact that no changes have been made to the blasphemy laws is an indictment of the Pakistani ruling class and its political parties, none of which have taken a consistent and principled stand against the laws and discrimination religious.

Taseer’s murder in January 2011 led many to call for the blasphemy law to be repealed or changed. However, the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) quickly bowed to pressure from the religious right, getting Sherry Rehman to withdraw a bill that would have abolished the death penalty for blasphemy, while keeping the laws in place. square. “We all agree that no one wants to change the law (on blasphemy),” former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said at the time.

Unsurprisingly, the capitulation of the then PPP-led government emboldened the Islamists, leading to the assassination of Bhatti two months after Taseer’s death. Years after this tragic episode, Pakistan’s poorest religious minorities continue to bear the brunt of oppressive blasphemy laws.

Last August, Pastor Aftab Gill of the Bible Church of God in Gujrat, Punjab, and three others were charged with blasphemy after using the Urdu word “rasool”, which means apostle, in advertisements for a ceremony Christian. According to Pastor Aftab’s younger brother, Unitan Gill, owner of a successful grocery store and one of those arrested, the advertisements were brought to the attention of the police by rival Muslim grocers in an effort to eliminate him in as a competitor.

In another incident in Kasur district of Punjab last September, Pervaiz Masih, a young Christian, was accused of blasphemy by residents of his village. According to media at the time, Masih had been embroiled in a dispute with local Muslims over a sand supply contract. Muhammad Khalid, an influential resident of the village, and several other Muslim villagers ended up making false accusations of blasphemy against Masih. When the police arrived at Masih’s home to arrest him, he was not at home. Spurred on by a mob of enraged fundamentalists, the police harassed and brutally assaulted Masih’s relatives, including the women. In a generally cruel manner, they seized members of his family and detained them in a police station in Khadiyan, leaving Masih no choice but to surrender to their custody.

The continued persecution of minorities is an issue that arouses great passion in the urban milieu of the country, especially among the better educated and wealthier members of society. These often liberal and well-meaning individuals dream of a secular Pakistan, or at the very least, a nation that respects the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens, including the right to openly practice its religion without fear of persecution.

Despite the good intentions and genuine concern of its adherents, Pakistani liberalism is, for all intents and purposes, politically bankrupt. Even the most thoughtful representatives of the liberal intelligentsia seem to be trapped in a state of paralysis and ideological confusion, their pro-capitalist outlook making it virtually impossible for them to wage the necessary and inevitable struggle against militant Islamism, religious bigotry and any other form of delay. This apparent inability to grapple with complex political and social issues is the result of a failure to undertake a materialistic analysis of objective reality. Such an analysis would take into account the class character of the Pakistani state, as well as the deeply significant, and indeed for many, inconvenient truths about the establishment of Pakistan as the homeland of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.

There is a tendency among historians and analysts to lay most, if not all, of the blame for the current state of affairs on the shoulders of the US-sponsored dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia, of course, promoted the clergy and Islamist political parties as a bulwark against the working class, certainly fearing the possibility that ordinary Pakistanis would tire of his rule and turn sharply to the left. Zia’s “Islamization” campaign has also communalized a country whose stability had been perpetually undermined by sectarian and ethnic strife since its inception.

The devastating social impact of the Zia era is widely recognized. It is necessary to point out, however, that the masses had already been dragged down a dark path long before Zia came onto the scene, in a process that began before the establishment of the Pakistani state.

In the late 1930s, elements within the Muslim elite, motivated by narrow and selfish interests, began to aggressively pursue an agenda involving the creation of a separate state for the Muslim population of India. . The oft-repeated phrase “Jinnah’s Pakistan” should be familiar to even the most casual observer. Those who invoke this tired slogan whenever minorities are targeted must accept the fact that it was the “Quaid” itself that set the dangerous precedent of using communalist rhetoric for political gain. Jinnah, a Westernized and non-practicing Muslim, has cynically shouted ‘Islam in danger’ as part of his campaign to drive a wedge between Muslims and Hindus and gain support for the partition of the Indian subcontinent. between sections of the Islamic clergy. . Based on the false assertion that Muslims and Hindus constituted two separate nations, the partition which gave birth to the “Land of the Pure” was a tragedy of immense proportions, resulting in an orgy of violence and untold suffering for millions of people on both sides. of the artificial border.

Studying the score with an open mind is essential for anyone trying to make sense of the backwardness that prevails in the country. As understanding of this issue deepens, it becomes increasingly clear that the persecution of religious minorities is the inevitable result of an official policy, rooted in the creation of Pakistan through partition, which encourages the identification of Islam with the state, consequently diminishing non-Muslims to second-class status while fanning the flames of religious fundamentalism and strengthening the power of clerics.

Blasphemy laws are just one example of how the Pakistani state discriminates against religious minorities and violates their democratic rights. Non-Muslims are officially excluded from the highest government positions. Furthermore, minorities are to vote separately from the general population in the communal electorates, thereby making it clear that they are to be considered distinct and inferior to Muslims.

The brutal persecution of non-Muslims under blasphemy laws, the state’s widespread discriminatory practices, and the general climate of fear in which religious minorities live highlight Pakistan’s entrenched Muslim supremacism. This deep-rooted social problem cannot be eliminated by law nor completely and permanently solved by military or police repression of extremists.

The Pakistani bourgeoisie, which in addition to its flagrant failure over decades to provide the working class with basic necessities, is fully complicit in the oppression of minorities and the increased influence of religious extremists. The major political parties have all colluded and colluded with the Islamists at one time or another. To this day, ethically challenged and morally repugnant Pakistani politicians continue to exploit sectarian and ethnic divisions within the country whenever it suits their interests. It is for this reason that even the supposedly liberal section of the ruling elite cannot be pressured to act on behalf of religious minorities.

The fate of the non-Muslim population is linked to that of the working class as a whole, within which the religious minorities constitute one of the most oppressed strata. Almost 70 years after the founding of Pakistan, ordinary working people, regardless of religion, still face unresolved issues of poverty, unemployment, economic inequality and inaccessibility to health care and quality education. These shared conditions are the basis on which poor workers and farmers can potentially unite against the bourgeoisie and the oppressive capitalist state through which it rules and exploits the working class. A revolutionary movement of the masses, consciously aiming to replace the existing social order with a truly free and egalitarian society, would finally put an end to religious discrimination and all other manifestations of oppression and exploitation.

The author holds a master’s degree in political science from Long Island University. He is a freelance columnist and activist based in New York. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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