by Irfan Husain,
Dawn, 23 January 2016
THE latest terrorist attack at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda is one more bloody event in a seemingly unending campaign against innocent young Pakistanis.
But we have seen so many of these horrifying assaults by crazed militants that they now merge into a single blur of pure evil. However, every once in a while, a particular incident remains stuck in the memory, not necessarily for the numbers slaughtered, but for the sheer horror it provokes.
For me, the murderous attack on Malala Yousafzai was one such event. Here was a 14-year-old schoolgirl shot in the head and almost killed for claiming her right to an education. Pakistan — and the whole world — was stunned by the sheer brutality of the act. It is entirely fitting that she has become an international symbol respected for her eloquence and determination.
Little has been done to change Zia’s disastrous course.
The attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that ended in over 140 victims — most of them children — was another tipping point. The sheer viciousness of the assault caused such outrage that weak and vacillating politicians were finally forced off the fence and supported tough military action against the killers and their ilk. Operation Zarb-i-Azb has massive support among the public, and has caused significant losses among enemy ranks.
While condemning this wave of terror, it would be good to remember that it has not taken place in a vacuum. The state has created the space and the environment for extremism to thrive and put down roots in our fertile soil. Many terrorist groups operating today were created and fostered by our intelligence agencies to further their domestic and external agendas.
More importantly, the state has allowed madressahs to multiply across the country. Many of them teach the virulent version of Islam that is practised in Saudi Arabia and exported by the country’s royal family across the Muslim world. Few impart any knowledge or skills that could be useful in today’s fast-changing world.
Clerics and religious parties have acquired political power far out of proportion to the number of votes they win, or the seats they have in parliament. As a result, they have pushed through retrograde curricula that teach students to hate those who do not follow their faith.
Even though much of this evil raised its head during Zia’s monstrous rule, the dictator’s civilian and military successors have done little to change the disastrous course he put the country on. Lenin once advised his cadres thus: “Probe with a bayonet: if you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, push.” In Pakistan, the clergy has almost always encountered mush.
This brings us to the third tipping point on our path to perdition. When a boy slices off his own hand because of his fear of the consequences of a charge of blasphemy, what does it say about the state of the nation? When 15-year-old Anwar mistakenly put his hand up when the mosque imam, Shabbir Ahmed, asked for those who did not love the Prophet (PBUH) to raise their hands, he was immediately accused of blasphemy.
Knowing the bloody fate of those against whom a similar charge had been made, the teenager rushed home and chopped his hand off with a scythe, and reportedly presented it to the imam on a plate. What is worse than this horrific act is the admiration it has evoked. The boy’s piety is being praised, and his parents are filled with pride.
The imam was arrested but then released when nobody pressed charges. However, when the story made headlines around the world, Shabbir Ahmed was re-arrested. I have little doubt he will soon be released and made a hero, just as Mumtaz Qadri, Salmaan Taseer’s killer has been elevated to sainthood.
So rather than wring our hands and weep crocodile tears every time such horror stories play out, we need to think about the environment that places perpetrators on pedestals. In Qadri’s case, it was lawyers who showered him with rose petals when he appeared in court. These people are supposed to be the most highly educated group in Pakistan, so if they cheer a murderer, what does that say about our society?
In several chilling terrorist attacks, highly educated young men have been arrested and confessed their guilt. So the argument that education would eliminate extremist violence is highly questionable. The truth is that our classrooms, far from being places of learning and questioning, have mostly become centres of spreading hatred and ignorance. And our madressahs and mosques are now often platforms for extremism.
Until we are willing to confront these unpleasant truths, things will only get worse. Many opinion polls have shown the increasingly fundamentalist mindset of young Pakistanis. As teaching standards continue to fall, and TV channels go on churning out programmes based on irrational nonsense, we can expect society to be defined more by religiosity than reason.
The result? More heads and hands will be chopped off.