Wages of hypocrisy - Babar Sattar - Saturday, March 05, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=34404&Cat=9

Poetry can never be translated aptly. But Faiz was probably suggesting that life is transitory and its passing is of no consequence. However, the courage with which one approaches life and meets its end is what matters and bestows immortality on an individual. By refusing to be intimidated by threats of persecution and sacrificing his life for the sake of principles, Shahbaz Bhatti has earned an immortal legacy. But courage and conviction alone are not life threatening traits. What claimed Shahbaz Bhatti’s life was his exhibition of courage and conviction in a country that has deliberately nurtured religious obscurantism, militancy, intolerance and vigilantism, and within a society that has made its peace with hypocrisy and timidity.

How many more Bhuttos, Taseers and Bhattis do we need to mourn before realising that our national security doctrine and politicisation of religion are depriving citizens of their right to life and liberty? We continue to blame Ziaul Haq for using religion to garner political legitimacy, contriving a national security doctrine that relied on the jihadi project employing ideologically brainwashed Pakistani youth as killing machines, and nurturing a malignant form of social hypocrisy built around exhibition of religiosity and piety in public life. But while Ziaul Haq has been dead for over two decades, the jihadi project lives on as an integral part of our national security doctrine, no political force is willing to depoliticise religion and exclude it from matters of state, and duplicity in public life knows no bounds. Are crimes of omission any less pernicious than those of commission?

We know how this story started. Pakistan’s security establishment decided to recruit impressionable youth fed on an ideology of intolerance and hatred and trained as militants to pursue the country’s strategic interests, with the encouragement and support of our foreign allies. Together they sponsored the elaborate infrastructure needed to recruit and train jihadis and facilitate the movement of men, materials and money that would keep the project running. The fundamental design flaw in the jihadi project was that it recruited Pakistani citizens and included no decommissioning mechanism. The security establishment also didn’t contemplate that the ‘assets’ it was producing weren’t mission specific. Motivated by religious obscurantism and trained in the art of violence, their worldview could not be reoriented. It was only a matter of time before many of them would turn inward and try to cleanse their own society of infidels.

We cannot rewrite history. But why does our security establishment refuse to learn lessons from the past? The reasons can be two-fold: one, the mistaken belief that it is possible to separate good jihadis from bad ones, control the former and eliminate the latter; and two, prevalence of the view that losing some 30,000 citizens to terrorism within Pakistan over almost a decade is an acceptable cost in pursuit of Pakistan’s national security interests (as defined by the security establishment).

It is hard to fathom which one of these reasons is scarier. The inability to distinguish between good and bad jihadis is also a design issue and not a product of 9/11 or the strategic environment Pakistan is mired in today.

The only difference between good and bad jihadis is that the mission assigned to the former is endorsed by the state. All it would then take a good jihadi to transform into a nasty one is a disagreement with his handlers or handlers of handlers. More importantly, there is no way to cure jihadis of the intolerant and violent ideology they have been made to grow up on.

Back from a kosher mission in Kashmir or Afghanistan, a jihadi is not itching to head to vocational school, hone an alternative skill-set and settle into ordinary life. There are enough ideologies of hate spawning around. You leave a good jihadi idle and the next thing you know he has found a match with a bad outfit. Until our security establishment concludes that extremist outfits are causing unacceptable damage to the state and the society and abandons the jihadi project for good, the state will remain equivocal in confronting terrorism.

And without the state taking a firm position backed by action, citizens alone cannot confront proliferation of violence in the name of religion and vigilante justice. A bout between extremist outfits that were organised, trained, equipped and financed by the state and rational citizenry vying for life, individual liberties, rule of law and due process doesn’t take place on a level playing field. We witnessed this most recently during the Swat operation.

Until the state intervenes decisively, terrorists continue to win. And it is in shaking the state out of complacency that the role of political leadership becomes most crucial. Unfortunately, at a time when the fight for the soul of this nation is underway, we are being led by pygmies who either lack comprehension of the magnitude of our problem of religious intolerance and bigotry or the courage to fight it.

The most effective tool that a civilian government possesses is the bully pulpit and its power lies in its ability to use this pulpit to shape public opinion. Unfortunately, our political leaders have used the stage to appease the bigoted brigades and further cede the scarce public space available for rational debate. Notwithstanding the frozen mind-set of our security establishment, is it possible for banned extremist organisations to flourish across Punjab and hold rallies across Lahore without the permission or acquiescence of the PML-N government?

Do the Sharifs not understand that the cancer of intolerance has spread to a stage where the only available options are amputating a part today or watching it consume the whole body tomorrow? Are they also stung by the morbid belief that the lashkars being raised all around their hometown can be harnessed?

The hypocrisy and timidity (together with the desire to hold on to power at any cost) exhibited by the PPP and its liberal ally, the ANP, arouse nothing but contempt. When things heated up in Swat the coalition government was found appeasing the barbaric Swati Taliban with the Nifaz-e-Shariah law.

When Salmaan Taseer was assassinated for standing up against abuse of our broken blasphemy law, his friends and colleagues within the PPP beat a hasty retreat into whatever hole they could find. In surrendering to the bigotry of the right-wing religious parties – that have contributed nothing constructive to this country and instead made carriers out of politicising religion and justifying obscurantism – the PPP leadership abandoned the voices of sanity such as Sherry Rehman and Shahbaz Bhatti. Did the prime minister feel no shame in falsely announcing that a private member bill proposing amendments to fix the blasphemy law had been withdrawn?

Do other political leaders who privately agree with the need to amend the blasphemy law and introduce sensible amendments aimed at curtailing its use for persecution not realise that it is their silence that has made targets out of embodiments of courage and integrity such as Sherry Rehman? Bigotry, prejudice and intolerance know no bounds.

Just as it is impossible to harness and control jihadis, appeasing their more articulate cousins within religious parties only whets their appetites further. Militancy, extremism, and bigotry and their manifestation in the form of terror will not go away so long as the state continues to stand by and function as an apologist to the extremist mindset. If we wish to move past this reign of terror, our political and military leadership will have to join hands to ensure that the state takes on the infrastructure of extremism, and that it challenges and prosecutes those inciting hatred in the name of religion.

Email: sattar@post.harvard.edu

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