We are sorry, Charanjeet Singh

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By: Dr Naazir Mahmood

With the murder – which is still being investigated – of Sardar Charanjeet Singh in Peshawar, we may have added another brutal act to our national inventory of intolerance and bigotry. We also saw, just weeks ago, an attack on an Ahmadi place of worship. The attack drew international condemnation.

Charanjeet Singh was a social worker who was loved not only within his own community but also by others. In Ramazan, he arranged Iftari for Muslims and showed that humanity is greater than any religion.

While newspapers mostly publish political condemnations of such acts, it is social media that lays bare the real faces of those among us who start justifying and rationalising such attacks. After Charanjeet’s murder, when social media activists started expressing sorrow and collective shame, there were suddenly many ‘patriots’ on social media who started showing clips from Myanmar, India, and Israel. The argument was: ‘see what others are doing to Muslims’, and ‘minorities are overall safe in Pakistan in comparison with many other countries’.

This tendency to immediately offer justifications for our brutalities is gaining momentum. This trend is particularly more noticeable among the younger lot, which has been poisoned by our textbooks. It is not only seminaries and religious and sectarian outfits that are spreading hatred, our schools, both public and private, have also become a hotbed for nurturing nationalistic or even chauvinistic mindsets. Sadly, in Pakistan nationalist and denominational thinking go hand in hand. We have spent the past 70 years propagating a false sense of pride in our land, nation, religion, and sect.

The rot, as they say, starts from the head. From the beginning, the heads at the helm of affairs opted for a hostile and self-righteous outlook. Starting from the so-called Objectives Resolution into the 1950s, when religion was used to target those who did not follow the majority creed, hatred against others has been increasing. In the early 1950s, it was the Khwaja Nazimuddin government that was destabilised and then dismissed on the pretext of its inability to control religious fervour. In reality, it was the liberal and secular voice that was being silenced.

General Ayub Khan is often credited for being ‘a benevolent and enlightened dictator’. This term was borrowed from European of the eighteenth century, when Frederick the Great of Prussia and Katharine the Great of Russia were absolute rulers but were not religious minded. In the 20th century, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was touted as an enlightened dictator who was a despot with a secular orientation. In 21st-century Pakistan, General Musharraf also toyed with this idea and for some time pretended to be like Ataturk.

But Pakistan is an unfortunate country in the sense that none of its rulers – democrats and dictators alike – could qualify to be truly enlightened. General Ayub Khan opposed mullahs and openly talked against attempts to make Pakistan a theocratic state, but his education policy betrayed his hidden fear of the mullahs. One of the stalwarts of the rightest scholars favoured by the general was Dr I H Qureshi. Ayub Khan appointed Qureshi vice-chancellor of the University of Karachi in 1961, despite the latter’s outright leanings to the religious right. Even Gen Yahya Khan did not dispense with his service as the VC.

Qureshi served for over a decade till 1971, and has the distinction of being the longest serving VC of the university. He played an important role in transforming history education in Pakistan towards a more nationalistic and religionist narrative. Since then our textbooks have tended to be more and more one-sided with self-righteous overtones. Ayub Khan’s 1965 adventure with India also spawned a plethora of nationalist and rightist sentiments.

Looking from where we stand today, it is easy to connect the dots. The war turned the Indo-Pak conflict into a jihad against infidels, with patriotic songs that incited people into an almost religious fervor. Songwriters were specifically asked to churn out paeans for the soldiers of Islam, who were not Pakistani soldiers but crusaders fighting for the glory of Islam.

This linking of nationalism with religion had a deadly impact on society. Suddenly, patriotism started being equated with religiosity, indirectly implying that if you are a non-Muslim Pakistani you can’t love Pakistan, no matter how you try to prove it. Moreover, General Ayub Khan’s rigging in the presidential elections was camouflaged under the ‘Hindu conspiracy’ in East Pakistan. Fatima Jinnah had won with flying colours in East Pakistan, and General Ayub Khan and his coteries were blaming it on Hindus living in East Pakistan who supported Fatima Jinnah.

That was one of the reasons General Ayub Khan felt no hesitation is declaring Fatima Jinnah an anti-Pakistan agent. By the late 1960s, this ‘Hindu conspiracy’ brouhaha was so strong that the religious right used it as a major rallying cry. When General Yahya took over, despite his love for wine and women, his underhand support for rightist parties in no secret. The ‘Pakistan Ideology’ reportedly coined by General Sher Ali – one of the right-hand men of Yahya – equated Pakistan with Islam.

The democratic aspirations of the people of East Pakistan were crushed under the load of the same one-nation and one-religion narrative. As a school-going child in 1971, this writer distinctly remembers banners and posters displaying a monstrous figure of a Hindu priest trying to devour Pakistan. What frightened me the most was the blood dripping from his mouth and the ponytail on his crown. As a six-year-old child, I developed an intense hatred against non-Muslims, especially against Hindus who – as I was told in school – were harming my country.

I was saved by my father who informed me that there were many Muslims living in India and many non-Muslims in Pakistan who were not harming anyone. I wonder how many parents were able to explain the same to their children; those children are now parents. This vicious cycle of hatred is transmitted from generation to generation, fed on a perpetual loathing for other denominations, religions and sects. I was a teenager during the 1970s, the decade that paved the way – under both Z A Bhutto and General Zia – to a more intolerant society.

So, Charanjeet Singh, I offer you a collective apology for the hatred that we as a nation have cultivated among our people. If other Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs did anything wrong in the name of religion in the past, no one should be a victim of that. Burma, India, and Israel cannot give me an excuse to kill anyone.

Courtesy www.thenews.com.pk

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