Saturday, August 22, 2009

Communal Crusade against Christians

By Saeed Qureshi

Imagine how well entrenched is the religious bigotry in Pakistan that it has claimed 10 lives of poor and downtrodden Christians. They were burnt alive in their shanty dwellings in Gojra town of Punjab province. A frenzied crowd of Muslims took it upon themselves to act as latter day crusaders to put the Christians to death for an unsubstantiated charge of sacrilege of Quran. Even if the defilement of Quran had been committed what authority these sham upholders of Islam have had to commit the genocide of harmless and innocent citizens of Pakistan.

It makes a mockery of the law of the land. In a country beset with such monstrous problems as poverty, hunger, ignorance, precarious law and order, civic mayhem and poor governance, corruption ad squalid, there is a segment of society that can afford the beastly luxury of besieging and massacring the helpless minority underdogs by torching their houses.

There is nothing wrong with the religion Islam; these are its believers who paint their religion with the color of human blood. Desecration of Quran or the prophet has been a handy tool for the religious mischief mongers and heartless bigots to brutalize and kill the non-Muslims. The law and civil society is aghast at such gross misconception and misapplication of a religion that means peace and that teaches tolerance to the ultimate limit. The sectarianism coupled with communalism has hollowed the very foundations of Pakistan and indeed jeopardized its viability as a state.

One wonders if this is the Pakistan that was conceived and fought for by its founders and freedom fighters. In such a land, they envisaged, not only that the Muslim faithful would be free to practice Islam but the minorities too would be at liberty to observe their faith without let and hindrance, as the equal citizens of Pakistan.

In the face of a nerve shattering chaos, the civil war, the breakdown of civic infrastructure, the corrupt, licentious, ingenious cabal at the helm in Pakistan, the people at large tend to kill for non issues such as the purposely drummed up charges of sacrilege of holy books and holy men. What a mind boggling evasion and digression from the blazing priorities! Such incidents place a pal of gloom and misery over a society that is already on the way to intellectual degeneration and social and moral bankruptcy.

With the latest burning of the defenseless Christians in a remote village of Punjab followed by horrendous slaying of three more individuals in Sheikhupura for the same phony reason, one is at wits’ end, how easy was it to ignite a communal melee in Pakistan and to rob the people of their common sense and civility. The affected families whose dear ones have been killed, would not settle mentally for a long time to come or perhaps never. The monetary compensation given by the Punjab government to the bereaved families cannot wash away the grief of an orphan or the pain of a mother or father.

These gruesome killing in the name of religion by the fanatic members of the majority religion, are a grim reminder of the age of barbarous inquisitions. The inquisitions were tribunals set up in Europe by the orthodox Roman Catholic Church to suppress apostasy. According to an account,” the inquisition started an era of religious persecution that resulted in abuses, false and anonymous denunciations, murder, robbery, torture and slow death of thousands who dared to believe differently from the church. Freedom of religious expression was stifled.”

The Roman Catholic Church has been brutally suppressing the dissenting sects for about a thousand years (500 A.C.-1550 A. C.) Under the orders of the Pope a crusade was mounted against the Albigenses, a 12th century breakaway Christian movement in France. Around 20000 members of this sect, including children women and men were butchered by the Catholic fanatics.

Pakistan is no different from the medieval Europe that was teetering under the iron hand of Roman Catholic Pope. The only difference is that while the Roman Church was a state by itself, in Pakistan the religious fundamentalism comprising various Islamic sects has assumed that role. The occupation of Swat and Dir by Taliban was an attempt to establish a kind of papal state a la Roman Orthodox Church. Earlier they succeeded in establishing their sway on Afghanistan, where in the light of the Taliban’s enforced typical Shariah, the inquisition style persecutions and summary punishments were awarded to the “apostates” and “heretics”.

The religious frenzy and extremism has been patronized in Pakistan by rulers to use them as a bulwark and as an effective counterpoise against the forces of freedom and liberalism. Ziaul Haq was one such dictator who very cunningly used the religious outfits and their powerful influence to browbeat his political opponents. Invariably, other rulers too had fallen prey to the intimidating clout of the religious mafia. They cajoled and appeased them in order to stay in power and to remain immune from the religious rowdyism.

Even an enlightened Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose slogan was a mix of socialism, democracy and Islam, had to succumb to the pressure and power of the religious parties and sects. He surrendered before the whims of the religious gangs to such an extent that instead of making Pakistan a democratic and liberal state, he in turn converted into a kind of theocracy. That was a complete somersault against his declared agenda and slogan. That self serving compromise with the forces of retrogression and primitivism became one of the causes for his downfall.

So the present government in Pakistan should remain on the high alert against this sectarian bloodshed which can proliferate and divert the attention from tribal offensive against religious militants to the internal turmoil. The government should brook no lethargy or complacency in coming down with a heavy hand on these ferocious orthodox militants. Pakistan needs to be cleared of these trouble makers who are being more ruinous as Muslims than the non-Muslims. Sectarianism and communalism has to be suppressed at any cost. Pakistan has got to be a liberal, democratic, modern enlightened state with a civil society. This is the best time to do so.

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