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Saturday, October 20, 2018
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Is Pakistan really serious about curbing hate sermons?
For decades now, Pakistan has been claiming to work towards curbing vitriol and hatred spewed against minorities, including those belonging to Islamic sects like Shia and Ahmadis, but without any success. Not that the madrasas and mullahs could not be stopped from openly spreading hatred against other communities, and the world in general but successive governments, including those run by the Generals, have shown a remarkable reluctance in doing so.
The reason for this failure is clear and simple—they have all been hand in glove in spreading hatred against non-Sunni communities both within and outside. The civilian leadership has had a cosy relationship with most of these rabidly extremist elements who never wielded any significant political clout but they had the power to mislead ordinary people in the name of religion. The political parties therefore found them useful in whipping up religious passion, create fear and hatred to camouflage their failures of governance and garner political support during elections. In fact, many of the madrasas and mullahs, known for rabid sermons, have been openly patronised by political parties.
Not only has religious extremist leaders like Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar supported and protected by the political dispensation but they have been also endowed with generous fundingover the years. So emboldened has these mullahs and their houses of hatred have become in the recent years that many of them are seriously nursing the dream of running the country. Hafiz Saeed is one among them; he has floated his own political party with a lofty agenda and with no shortage of money, and blessings of political and military masters, he hopes to have his men in the next National Assembly.
The Generals have been not behind in such `generosities`. The more rabid the mullah is, the more close he is to the army. Such mullahs are a key instrument for the Generals whose sole aim is to keep Pakistan under their boots and the people enslaved by devious means. The Generals have found long ago, learning a lesson or two from their British masters, that the only way to keep a country and its people subjugated is to sow the seeds of division and hatred. So the Generals not only pitted Muslims against non-Muslims but also a found a way to ensure that even the Muslims hate each other. As a result, in Pakistan Shias and Ahmadis are perhaps more hated by their Sunni brethren than the Christians and Hindus.
The Generals had used the extremist madrasas and their mullah leadership to create militias of extremists who were used to suppress domestic dissent and create hatred against neighbouring countries like India and Afghanistan. Without these mullahs and their rabid talk, the army’s most important project of sustaining hatred against India, and destroying any chance of peace in the neighbourhood could not have taken place. There is no sign of such a policy being abandoned by the Generals.
Given the above reality, it is obvious to raise a question mark over the recent declarations by the government to rein in religious hatred, especially the kind propagated by mullahs and madrasas of extremist ideology. The Islamabad administration, for instance, wants to monitor all the Friday sermons to ensure that the mullahs do not cross the red line. On the face of it, such a decision is a clear desperate measure on the part of the government to check the worsening image of Pakistan among the international community. Plus, there is the upcoming Financial Action Task Force (FATF) review of measures promised by Pakistan.
But the problem is even if it is assumed that there is a fresh will to tackle this monster of a problem, it is not an easy task for the simple reason that the monster is now out of the room and uncontrollable. There are 980 mosques and imambargahs in Islamabad, of only 89 have some kind of control by the local administration. The situation is similar or worse in other parts of the country. It is not that it is a difficult policy to implement. Other Islamic countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have had some success in keeping such a check. Saudi Arabia in fact sacked more than two dozen clerics for their extremist sermons.
There is an even bigger stumbling block—online hatred. Almost all the extremist organisations in Pakistan (as elsewhere) have modest to robust presence on the internet, including the social media. Lashkar-e-Tayyeba for instance is spread all over the social media, with frequent updates, mostly filled with hatred and call for violence. The gravity of the problem could be gauged from some basic facts. The 8.5 million Facebook users in Pakistan are free to upload, forward or comment on messages sent out by extremist and terrorist organisations which run several social media sites with impunity. Hatred speeches against Ahmadis and Shias, calls for jihad and making Pakistan an Islamic caliphate resonate on these sites. The most popular Facebook page is My Ideology is Islam & My Identity is Pakistan (MIMIP) with 581,990 likes and a whopping 491,154 talking about the page. The page averages about one share every two minutes, up to 10 hours a day. What are the most shared statements—Hafiz Saeed’s speeches, anti-Ahmadi hate speech, anti-India hate speeches and calls for jihad.
Even websites like these can be checked and stopped, but there should be if there is will and intent on the part of the leadership. But like in the case of terrorism, the military and civilian leadership is yet to accept the simple fact that terrorism in all form is detrimental to the country and its people. So even if the FATF sword is hanging over the head, Pakistan will remain divided over how to tackle the most threatening menace it faces today.... More
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