Pakistan’s election hype is both remarkable and ironic. The rather dramatic and bloody (the elections being termed as the bloodiest in the country’s history) run-up to the polls has come as a vivid depiction of the pernicious ideology that has plagued the country’s intellectual resources across the board. Particularly confounding are statements that have been coming out of Mr. Imran Khan. During his campaign run (before suffering his unfortunate fall), he defended his stance against the Ahmadis (a minority Muslim sect deemed heretical by mainstream Muslims and persecuted intensely in Pakistan. The largest single attack on the community came in May 2010 when the Taliban targeted two Ahmadi mosques killing at least 86 worshippers during Friday prayer) being branded as Muslims in an appalling fashion – responding to his political opponent Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s claims that the cricketer turned politician was an agent of the Jews and the Ahmadis, Mr. Khan boasted having read the Quran – which he professed states that a person who does not believe in the finality of the Holy Prophet is not a Muslim. Loud cheers from a jubilant crowd of supporters met this sweeping and meritless analysis of the Holy Book. The remarks certainly did not behoove a man of his educational background and they illuminated Mr. Khan’s deeply flawed and profoundly ironic position. A mere 48 hours later, he was rallying for a “pluralistic” Pakistan, wherein the rights of minorities would be safeguarded and protected. The minorities he alluded to were the Christians, Hindus and the Sikhs – and bravo to him for acknowledging their plight and existence. Yet, it is clear that Mr. Khan has chosen to be willfully blind to the brazen attacks against the Ahmadis and the Shias in this country and their exclusion from the “new pluralistic state” that he envisions undermines and makes a mockery of the very notions of plurality and diversity.
The pluralism Mr. Khan was referring to was then his own party-grown version. A political convenience. The ideals of religious pluralism Mr. Khan subscribes to sum up quite well the hermeneutics conundrum that Islam as a religion confronts globally. The search for a singular Islamic “identity” as an ideological slogan, without giving much thought to what such an identity entails spells anarchy. Who gets to decide which brand of “Islamism” such an identity should promote? The levying of this lopsided “Islamic identity” on the Muslim polity as a whole is representative of an oppressive tax that no Muslim should have to pay. Who has charged us to be God’s faithful arbitrators on Earth? Sadly, lessons from history in this country are sitting on shelves and gathering dust. One such lesson was that enumerated by the Report of the Court of Inquiry (more well known as the Munir Inquiry Report), which was constituted to enquire into the Punjab disturbances of 1953, wherein the court offered the following conclusion having failed to receive a single uniform definition from the parties regarding the question who in their estimation is a “Musalman” (Muslim):
“Keeping in view the several definitions given by the ulama [Muslim scholars of Islamic law], need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulama, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim [a member of the ulama] but kafirs [a term used chiefly by Muslims to describe a non-believer] according to the definition of every one else.” [Italics supplied]
If a singular Islamic identity should expound any universal values, they should be those of human dignity and tolerance. In its current state, this so-called Islamic identity, as it is proclaimed through different shades of mullah-ism, makes a travesty of human dignity and justice. Mr. Khan has thus hopped on to the bandwagon of theological apartheid with great enthusiasm and joined many others in this toothless and profoundly paradoxical hall of fame. Other esteemed members include the lawyers who showered Salman Taseer’s murderer with petals as he appeared in court for his trial and our ever-ready fatwa giving maulvis. The real tragedy is that Mr. Khan had the opportunity to restore confidence in the virtues of human dignity and tolerance in this country through leading by example. Notwithstanding his flaws, he is a face that has won many youthful members of Pakistan’s populace. Yet, ironically, his “Tehreek-e-Insaaf” or “Movement for Justice,” by failing to include the Ahmadis and the Shias within its purview spells the same injustice for these communities that has been meted out to them in history. Pakistan is the only country to render a constitutional definition of who is a Muslim. Mr. Khan has decided to keep that laurel too very close to his heart by stating that he would not revise nor repeal provisions in Pakistan’s Constitution that declare Ahmadis as “Non-Muslims” and prohibit them from referring to their places of worship as “mosques.”
Thus, while Mr. Khan may bring a promise to restore institutional integrity to the fields of education, women’s rights, law enforcement and healthcare, I would like to ask Mr. Khan how he plans to grapple with the challenge of ideology? With an undeniable and inextricable link between extremism and sectarian violence, how will Mr. Khan temper such radicalism having failed to pay even lip service to the issue? Such insidious ideologies are already eating away at the country’s core, and should Mr. Khan choose to turn a blind eye, the fire that is latent in the flint will eventually ignite. The apartheid of ideology is happening now, and with a promise of merely partial justice, ideological apocalypse is inevitable.
The late 19th century American journalist and essayist Henry Louis Mencken once wrote, “Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.” His words are poignantly illustrative of the current Pakistani circus – an immensely troubling one on so many levels – and as Pakistanis vote in a historical election, only time will tell how the new arrivals in the monkey cage will fair. We can all pray that it won’t have more blood on its hands five years from now.