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The psychology of destruction

Church, state leaders must be more vocal in denouncing terror

  • Silent Thinker, Lahore
  • Pakistan
  • August 20, 2012
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I was in a baker's shop the other day when a notice caught my attention.

“Any attempt to amend the blasphemy law is to invite the wrath of Allah”, read a sticker pasted on a display case for candies. The baker stood by as I took photos, expressing a keen interest in the website www.endofprophethood.com which was mentioned in the notice.

The site offers hate material on the Ahmadis, deemed by orthodox Muslims to be a heretical Islamic sect, as well as literature on the blasphemy law, audio sermons and notes on slights against Islam.

The day was August 17, the anniversary of the death of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq who enacted these laws during his decade of Islamization. More than two decades after his mysterious demise in a plane crash, his influence on Pakistan society remains as strong as ever.

Just last week, an 11-year-old Christian girl was arrested for blasphemy, a school was blown up in the north, eight people died in three separate bomb blasts, 26 died in targeted killings in Karachi, 25 Shias (another Islamic denomination) were shot dead and the Taliban attacked a military air base.

The Taliban Jihad continues as they take Zia’s concept way beyond its earlier horizons, waging war on education, on minorities and on the Pakistan army, for being an ally of western forces engaged in neighboring Afghanistan.

I feel the ghosts of Zia and bin Laden every time I see the sign that says Osama Street, named after the late al-Qaeda leader, near my lodgings. A large section of society still gives its moral support to such Muslim figures. The baker in Lahore, the mob demanding death for blasphemers, the Taliban militants; they share an ideology which has saturated the nation’s psyche.

Make no mistake, these people wield power. For example, the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill was drafted two years ago but still lies pending with the Senate Standing Committee, because government sympathizers of militant and religious factions are not willing to approve it.

Thanks to their powers of obstruction, our incompetent government, which is now near completion of its five-year term, has failed to pass any law which might refine our nation and create better human beings.

In his Eid-ul-Fitr message, President Asif Ali Zardari called for a rejection of extremist trends and negative propaganda by promoting the Islamic teachings of tolerance and affinity.

Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was more explicit. “The determination to enforce one’s opinion upon others is open extremism,” he said. “Using a gun to subdue everybody with faulty and incomplete opinions is terrorism. Islam does not approve of this,” he said in a recent speech.

Such public awareness messages are crucial for our survival. Our crumbling society desperately needs guidance. It’s something our political leadership should have tackled long ago.

But a similar responsibility lies with the Catholic Church, which continues its policy of "wait and watch,” even while human rights groups condemn the exodus of religious minority communities from the country. It has been over a year now since the Pakistan Catholic Bishop’s Conference issued any press release or called a news conference. The silence is causing alarm.

“Things are falling apart but there has been no official statement from the Catholic Church; it is a serious concern,” said Father Aftab James Paul, director of Faisalabad's Diocesan Commission for Interfaith Dialogue and Ecumenism.

In my view, silence on the part of religious or political leaders has already caused enough damage to the society which looks to them in times of need. They have to be vocal about the role of Pakistan in the global war on terror, so that our kids can see a better future. Our former military dictator Zia created a war, which we must end. We must all join the fight to save Pakistan.

Silent Thinker is the pseudonym of a Catholic commentator based in Lahore
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