Friday, January 14, 2011

In Pakistan, extremisme became the norm

The voice of moderate Islam in Pakistan is only a faint sound in the distance, it seems. Governor Salman Taseer is the latest casualty among the hundreds of progressive Pakistan civilians who have been killed by extremists in recent years. Their voices were a threat to the monotonous ideology of extremists, such as Pakistan’s own monster of Frankenstein, the Taleban. Others left their homeland after death threats. If they return, they know the same fate awaits them.

In this oppresive atmosphere of fear, extremists are dominant. Tens of thousands of them - spurred on by extremist religious parties - have pledged support to the killer of Mr Taseer.
All the outspoken liberal politician had done was to show his support for an illiterate Christian woman who was sentenced to death late last year for blasphemy. The number of people who lit candles for Mr Taseer, and who rallied against his murder, was much smaller.

Next target

Sherry Reyman, an MP for the Pakistan People’s Party, the country’s largest political party, is said to be the extremists’ next target. She filed a proposal to change the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, as human rights activists say the current law is now mainly used to fight personal feuds. Insulting the prophet is punishable by death, but that penalty has never been carried out.
Ms Rehman says she’s alone in her struggle. ‘Every religious party in this country is against me and I feel completely on my own. Nobody helps me’, she told RNW in a telephone interview.

Outcry

The former journalist is normally apprehensive when it comes to doing interviews. She wouldn’t answer more than just a couple of questions. She sounded tense when we spoke to her. ‘There is a massive outcry against me going on. The government is silent and they’re inciting violence. The clerics in the mosque are calling me non-Muslim and are inciting violence against me. Some civil society groups have lodged a complaint even at the police station but nothing is happening’.
The authorities just remain silent. The ‘Mullah brigades’, the religious extremists, now have a stronghold on the blasphemy law debate, columnist Babar Sattar wrote in Pakistan’s newspaper The News earlier this week: ‘The political parties like to work with the mullah as his voice and support are easy to buy in the political arena. With this bargain, we have given the corrupt, decadent, ignorant and clueless mullah complete monopoly to control the meaning and role of religion in our state and society’, Mr Sattar wrote.

Holy war

Not that this is a recent phenomenon. It’s been happening since the 1980s, when an enormous amount of money from the US and Saudi Arabia was flowing into Pakistan to fight the communists in neighbouring Afghanistan. The money was used to fight a so-called ‘holy war’.
Later, the mullah brigade became a military force often used by Pakistan’s security services when it was needed, it is alleged. Islam was mainly the glue used to keep different ethnic groups together.

Tolerance

If Pakistanis really support tolerance and freedom, they should fiercely demand those rights, Mr Sattar says. ‘Our mainstream political leaders will not lead us into such a change in society. They will only join us if it becomes popular among the people’.
Ms Rehman is an exception. ‘I will send my mother and my daughter abroad. But I’m not planning on leaving shortly’, she says. ‘I have pretty much put my life on the line. I don’t know what else I can do.’

Day Opening - January 14

Los Angelos by Sonia Romero