A call for liberal democracy and economic democracy. That would best avenge Governor Taseer’s blood whose murderers are fearlessly roaming the streets. That would help stem the rising tide of fanaticism.
The moving wheel of history sometimes turns up a situation where, if ordinary human beings act with conviction, they are transformed into heroes. For Governor Taseer when the call of history came, he stood by a poor Christian woman who was wrongly sentenced to death. He spoke against the blasphemy law with resolve. He died for the cause of justice and has embraced the eternity. He is perhaps the only true hero of Pakistan. He lives on!
Predictably, the great verbal jugglery by many politicians to own and yet disown him for the fear of mullahs has been at its best since his murder. A routine courtesy to attend the funeral of a human being, let alone moral courage was, unfortunately, a rare sight in Pakistan. There are others who have the audacity to blame the victim, the Governor, for being “loud”; as if democratic discussions on an unjust law, and for a just cause have to be whispered in the back alleys only.
As a contrast, the fanatics have a religious certitude. Their educated lawyers announced the support for Mumtaz Qadri – The assassin. He was showered with rose petals, public filled the streets in his support and many mullahs envied that the Governor’s blood should have been on their hands.
“Illiberal democracy”, to borrow a term from Fareed Zakaria, disenfranchises the masses and governing is considered an entitlement for the elites. On the contrary, liberal democracy is meant to protect the basic sense of dignity and freedoms from the coercive power of the state and from domineering and bullying by the power players in a society. It is a system, not perfect, but closely matching the human nature for it offers the due latitude without allowing anyone to trample over the others. Pakistan has tumultuous history of vacillating democracy alternating with military coups that virtually added to the growing sense of unease.
The ruling-elites in Pakistan belong to about 150 years old feudal and a small industrial class. They thrive in an oligarchic nexus with the military. The ruling cabal has been preventing the tradition of open dialogue to ripen and ideas of freedom to flourish. It leaves little room for the marginalized poor and the minorities. Repression breeds more repression.
Religious extremism in Pakistan and its lethal tentacles have sprawled from the pulpit to the street. It has predictably crept into the military, bureaucracy and politics. That said the civil society is on the retreat and religious fanaticism is on the move.
Not to mention that many moderates and liberal intellectuals in Pakistan are actually religious romantics. They choose to read and interpret religion very selectively. The true liberal voices are muted. There has been hardly any voice in Pakistan to interpret the religion as a personal faith and make allowance for the State to operate in a secular domain: A doctrine for the separation of religion and state.
Secession of the East wing of Pakistan, now Bangladesh, was due to a number of material reasons. This history alludes to the fact that Islamic ideology alone that was supposed to be the unifying factor for the areas geographically apart, has already failed as the binding glue in Pakistan. In general, it is also an indictment of religion and ideology to singularly provide sufficient binding glue for distinct ethnicities, cultures, languages and economic interests to stay together as a nation. Ideology can have great social leverage but making a nation is not that simple. Populace in a geographic territory really needs a broad and unified vision where groups willingly realize that their interests will be better served and secured by being a part of the whole, called a nation. When every group in a geographic territory stands guard for brethren and opponent alike, we call it a nation. Did this sense ever take roots in Pakistan?
At this crossroad, Pakistan has a huge struggle ahead to cast off the obstreperous historic delusion called Islamic unity. It is for sake of embracing a different level of national maturity.
What does it mean?
Every nation is made up of many moving parts bound by a dynamic relationship. For social harmony, they orchestrate almost in Jazz like formation. This relationship is never a permanent binding. It has to be tuned, watered and watched vigilantly for it is prone to insidious decay. Even the strongest of national bonds fall apart in the face of stresses.
There are three dimensions of stresses in Pakistan that increased with every passing day: Economic stress on the material axis, religious extremism and democratic failure on the cultural axis and demographic stress on the social axis.
Numerous studies point to the fact that a mythical-religious mindset is the default response of the individual and the society when material stresses generate tensions. Rise of religious fanaticism in Pakistan is the symptom of a disintegrating society. It is not the root-cause of social disintegration as some would like to suggest. However, it is also true that religious fanaticism becomes a menace in its own right once the fanatics swell in number over time. It is like the proverbial monster that thrives on its own flesh.
Specifically, Islamic ideology has not changed much in the past 1400 years. However, religious fervor has wallowed at different places from time to time. We like to understand it in simple terms but it is different from our usual experience of turning the water-tap on and off at will. Religious fervor once boiled over does not cool down easy.
95% of enrollment of kids in religious seminaries in Pakistan is from poor families where almost 60% of population is below the poverty line. Education is a basic right for the children. Virtually, it is the future backbone of any society. It has long been neglected in Pakistan. If nothing else, rich and poor divide should become apparent by collapse of the basic education system in Pakistan and the types of schools the children attend, if they are lucky enough not to have already been consumed in an inhuman child labor.
Injustice done to the children of the last generation is the bitter fruit of today - A generation lost in search of identity in a pluralistic world. It has little idea of the modern world beyond. This generation in Pakistan has ripened the mindset of hyper-religiosity as the only identity in the age of globalization. It is a paradox in the world that is exploring ways for diffusion of identity into a collective human identity.
There is no easy way to gloss over economic injustice perpetrated by the ruling elites against its own people over time. The rise of religious extremism in Pakistan should hardly surprise anyone. It is a historical imperative.
While there are lots of areas that deserve attention, the time calls for the intellectuals from every walk of life to rise to the occasion. While economic and social realities are a generational matter, it is still possible to forward a liberal democratic vision as an alternative to the religious vision and call for social justice above the political fray. In this conundrum Reinhold Niebuhr sums it up the best:
“Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."
The call of history has arrived. At this juncture of history, it is a call for liberal democracy and economic democracy. That would best avenge Governor Taseer’s blood whose murderers are fearlessly roaming the streets. That would help stem the rising tide of fanaticism. That would set free the poor Christian woman Aasia Bibi and that would visibly work for the countless oppressed and the downtrodden.
(The author Dr. Tahir M. Qazi is a US based neurophysiologist and neuromuscular diseases specialist. His areas of interest are society, religions, social justice and global revolutions)