Malice in Wonderland

The debacle in Islamabad today was nothing new. Torching the diplomatic enclave? We’re capable of much worse. A businessman who refused to partake in protests in Hyderabad was accused of blasphemy, and the police registered a case against him. I supposed Haji Nasrullah Khan won’t be doing much business in Hyderabad anymore and will have to move elsewhere. As the entire country performs on a virulent stage today, set up by none other than the government itself, one cant help but wonder why we are the most violent nation on Earth and why one video is powerful enough to throw an entire country into a spiraling identity crisis.

Pakistan’s failed attempts to harmonize conflicting notions of identity under a singular state structure have pushed Pakistan to the very brink of critical psychosis. Birthed out of a secular constitution with arms stretched towards Islamic Middle East, after 65 years it still struggles with its identity and roots.

A nation-state draws its raison d’être from a shared identity. This could be defined by geographical boundaries, shared descent, ideology or history. Pakistan’s identity lies within the realm of ideological strictures, but not quite. Where ideology is malleable and open to reform and can adapt to external changes, religion as an ideology does not provide that elasticity. And yet it remains an idea; something that is personal yet shared, open to interpretation but defined according to the majority in any given time and space. Such is the bane of Pakistan’s existence which has now come to haunt us.

Whenever a country’s identity is threatened or jeopardized, it sends its troops to the borders and takes up arms against the offending perpetrator. That Pakistanis would resort to violence over the blasphemous video was nothing shocking, one could be vulgar enough to say it was anticipated. Pakistan draws its identity from the faith of the majority, which is Islam, and is the self proclaimed custodian of the sanctity of the faith, which it won’t let anyone make a mockery of, but itself.

A single malicious Friday sermon is enough to goad a Mumtaz Qadri to murder the governor of Punjab. And yet a single Friday sermon is also enough to send dozens to Mukhtaraan Maai’s aid. Religious clerics hold enormous sway over their congregation. This authority must not go unchecked. Surrendering internal security and law and order to the whims of anyone who sports a beard is highly irresponsible on the part of the state. The government must entrench itself at the grass root by reaching out to the clerics and encouraging them to serve the cause of civilizing their flock instead of telling them to run amok.

Education as a solution to extremism is touted by everyone. Pakistan’s educational curriculum ingrains an inherently conflicting identity on its students. By creating Islam as an identity and political philosophy for the country, they remove the student’s loyalty to the nation state and its assets and place them at the foothills of a higher fealty to the universal ummah. The conflict then manifests itself in instances like these when state owned property and collective goods are torched and looted to win a point for the ummah. Therefore we must revise what we teach our students at an age when they are at their most impressionable.

The ‘free and independent’ media was seen to have been lauding the protestors and giving air space to all those who had a nasty word to say for America, right up to the part when these ‘peaceful’ protestors made full of use of their rights to storm US consulates and embassies in the country and the Capital City. There are media houses that advertise themselves with a ‘Two-nation’ hashtag, claiming it to be the very root of our national identity. We wrote a historical narrative quite far removed from the truth in the 80’s, maybe it’s time to temper that narrative down a bit.

The government must make it mandatory for the army and bureaucracy to serve a nation with the intention of safeguarding civilization and preserving humanity rather than becoming the Lords Protectorate of the state religion. Once our institutions change their ideological leaning and find a coherent identity it only becomes a matter of time for that to replicate on the society.

At the highest echelons the government has a powerful tool to affect the society at large. It must stop trying to placate religious extremists by forming policies acceptable to their brand of religion. Instead, where all sovereignty belongs to Allah, it must be replicated onto the polity, to preserve and safeguard its interests above all. Policies that overlook Pakistan’s multi-ethnic and diverse society must be done away with. Policy reform is a powerful tool that the government can employ successfully if undertaken with tact.

All really isn’t lost. Protests and agitations are a vital civil liberty that everyone should embrace. And yet the difference between hooliganism and peaceful protest must be taught and understood at all levels. Miscreants should be dealt with according to the law, not tolerated or sympathized with. One hopes Pakistan becomes the Wonderland Quaid and millions of refugees hoped it would. A few steps in the right direction are all that are required to turn our country’s fortune and image.

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