Blasphemy fatwas are back in business. A cleric from Gujrat pronounced one against Imran Khan and our brave tabdeeli warrior who doesn’t tire of quoting Iqbal and Quranic verses, was quick to come up with an apology as demanded. The cleric had threatened the PTI chief that a failure to do so would make him a blasphemer and hence free-game for the ‘aashiq-e-rasool’ assassins. End of story? I don’t think so.

A few days earlier, the same cleric, who goes by the name and title of Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi abused Shaan Taseer and his dead father from the pulpit of a mosque. He hurled death threats at the son for expressing his reservations about the much-abused blasphemy law and the mazar that is being patronised around the grave of the ‘aashiq-e-rasool’ who murdered his father for alleged blasphemy. It’s as if the Supreme Court never wrote that famous judgment.

Wasn’t the policeman assassin, who was on duty to guard the Governor when he murdered him, hanged for his crime after the Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence? So now, what does one make of the comfort with which a cleric could hurl death threats at individuals for what he considers blasphemous utterings, and get away with it? Has the landmark Supreme Court judgment landed in the bin? Is the National Action Plan as good as dead?

Why has the government failed to act against a cleric who is clearly inciting people to murder? Who he is and where he lives is no secret. What he said is on record. It’s not as if he said he would take Imran Khan to court. Clearly, he is on a mission to glorify the now-hanged policeman-assassin Mumtaz Qadri and motivate others to follow his foot-steps. Why doesn’t the government act against those who are building him up as a hero and patronising the mazar around his grave?

Instead, a case was registered in Lahore against Shaan Taseer for wishing merry Christmas to Aasia Bibi and Nabeel Masih who are accused of blasphemy. In another fatwa, a cleric from Lahore had declared the slain governor’s son as a blasphemer for doing that. It was reported that the Punjab Police, under the National Action Plan, booked him for hate speech on the application of a worker of the sectarian Sunni Tehreek.

So, while the clerics are free to openly incite people to murder and issue self-styled blasphemy fatwas when they wish, the police decided to register an FIR against ‘an unidentified man in the video they found in a USB outside the police station’. Interestingly, Shaan Taseer identifies himself in the first sentence of the video. Surely, the way the PML-N government is going about implementing the National Action Plan says a lot about its priorities.

It doesn’t come as a surprise though. Along with every other mainstream political party, the elitist cults, coteries and cliques fighting for power in the parliamentary circus we call democracy, the PML-N would like to outsource our religion to the clergy; the religious elements promoting sectarianism in our midst. Our political leaders would like us to believe that they are serious about fighting terrorism and extremism but they are clearly not interested in doing any such thing.

We have made serious headway in our fight against terrorism and extremism in the last three years, thanks mainly to the clear-headed and courageous leadership of General Raheel. Terrorists were sent running, complete with their guns and suicide vests. Their hideouts were smashed and their accomplices arrested. No-go areas under their control were liberated. The infrastructure of militancy was remarkably downgraded under his command, and the reign of terror that used to hang over Pakistan like a dark cloud was lifted.

Positive developments in other non-military spheres would not have been possible with terrorist-guns still pointed at the head of an entire society. Terrorists were not only killed in combat, they were captured, convicted and hanged. Their ideological edifice was destroyed by the Supreme Court judgment that confirmed the death sentence for Mumtaz Qadri. Many young voices found some breathing space to broaden the scope of discussion on Islam. Not so our political leaders.

For the sake of political gains, our oh-so-democratic leaders are always happy to co-opt the traditional self-proclaimed custodians of faith, the clerics in our midst wearing turbans of different colours and mouthing ignorance and sectarian venom. They would rather not challenge the hate-filled industry of ignorance they peddle in the name of Islam. They would not reclaim our great religion from the clutches of a sponsored clergy even when the time is so very ripe for doing that. They’d still like to hand to the maulvis and maulanas a monopoly over matters of faith in a platter.

One expected Imran Khan to resist the clerical diktat. He says Iqbal inspires him, and our national poet was very clear about what he thought of religious elements and their fatwas. On occasions, Imran Khan has also challenged the monopoly of clerics over Islam and felt free to give a more enlightened perspective on religious belief. But then, we saw him offer prayers behind the likes of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Tahir-ul Qadri. And now he has tendered this apology on clerical demand.

The sad part is that Imran Khan did not explain his words which were considered blasphemous. He did not explain the plain point that he was trying to make or how his words had been twisted to sound blasphemous. He did not question the authority of the cleric from Gujrat to declare him a blasphemer, a kafir and wajibul qatal. He just gave the man the apology he had demanded.

Most people agree that military success on the counter-terrorism front is not enough to win the war against extremism. It is not sufficient on its own. Unless the supreme civilians, whether in government or opposition, put their act together, we cannot win this war. Unfortunately, the supreme civilians seem to be sleeping as extremism claws its way back to terrorise an entire society.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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