Choosing your side

2016-05-27T23:33:58+05:00 Zahaid Rehman

On Thursday, Rana Sanaullah finally said what needed to be said regarding the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) when he stated, “The Council of Islamic Ideology has not sent any recommendations on the Women Protection Act and even if such recommendations are received, the Punjab Assembly may consider the same and amend the act only if appropriate as the house is not legally bound to implement the CII suggestions.” The last part in this statement, about how the house is ‘not legally bound’ to implement any CII suggestions, has finally been said after months of dithering following the ridiculous protests that were taking place in Islamabad. One can only wish that someone from the government would be brave enough to go one step further and call for dismantling the obsolete body outright.

When the fanatics descended on the capital and forced CII back into relevance, no member of government remembered that the CII was only an advisory body. The centre and the provincial government in Punjab both gave in when they let the protesters run amok, and when they spewed hatred for a little extra screen time in March this year, no one from the regime batted an eyelash.

The first thing the people look to in times of conflict or confusion is the state, for it is supposed to guide the country, and yet we were all left to our own devices when the government instead chose to issue a media blackout and remain silent. The news still leaked out. We still got the message of the protesters. But we never got a counter-narrative.

While innocent protesters are beaten into submission, the Sunni Tehreek and Tehreek-i-Labaik-Ya-Rasool (SAW) were allowed to take the capital hostage. The glorification of a murderer, encouraging sectarianism and not allowing for changes in the obviously flawed blasphemy law reflect a very clear set of beliefs, ones that these organisations want the rest of the country to espouse. This was a political move on part of the religious right, to remind the government and the country that – legitimate or no – they can get their demands across through a display of street power. When the demand for a review of the Women Protection Act by the CII came, the government meekly acquiesced, instead of reminding the protesters that it was not legally obliged to do so.

The importance of wresting the power to dictate the ideological direction of the country from the regressive and sectarian protesters was lost on the government then, when it was most important to react. But now all of a sudden, our government has seemingly found its spine, and is now rejecting the ridiculous 163-page abomination the CII refers to as its version of the Women Protection Act.

The PML-N government has constantly failed to realise the cost of staying silent when it needs to speak up and direct the public towards realising the national goals. Rooting terrorism and extremists were both key priorities, supposedly. And while the CII is not openly propagating terrorism (for now), is it not obvious that the regressive mindset prevalent in the body is only a step away from the hordes of gun-toting extremists that threaten our existence?

This is, and always has been a battle of ideologies, of mindsets and narratives. We have the extremist narrative that works in close contact with almost all the religious parties. Let us not forget Munawar Hassan the previous leader of the JI, who, only three years ago, was glorifying the terrorists and likening our martyrs to dogs. The ‘father of the Taliban’ is a notable politician in this country and head of the JUI-S, and others like Maulana Sheerani, are made of similar stuff.

We also have a moderate mindset, one that has been accused of being too liberal. People have died as a result of standing up for the rights of all those that have been marginalised, or murdered for their beliefs. The list of martyrs in this category are endless, and unless the government snaps out of its reverie and looks to protect these people, those who raise their voice against injustice will continue to fall.

And then we have the state, which still has no narrative, no ideological direction. How can the rest of the country follow when there is no one to lead? Military operations have been conducted to near 100 percent efficiency, if the stats are to be believed, loud speakers have been banned, and thousands of terrorists killed, yet the country is no closer to winning this fight. The ‘logical end’ of Zarb-e-Azb and the fight against militancy only comes when the genocide of the Ahmadi community comes to an end, and when members of minority religions do not constantly have to prove their innocence in cases of blasphemy.

Protecting the rights of minorities, ensuring equality between the genders, separating the state from religion and allowing for each individual to form their own moral compass, instead of waiting for the state to dictate it is the real ‘logical end’ of this fight. If the CII still advocates beating women lightly for something as idiotic as speaking loudly, then they have chosen their side, and have no place in the future of Pakistan. A country that is free from religion oppression and respects individual rights regardless of the person’s gender, ethnicity or religious beliefs has no room for a council that does not even understand the scientific value of DNA evidence, or the importance of women forming a crucial and central part of the country’s workforce.

Civil society has been doing its bit for countless years, without government support. It is time that this changes. The government has been advertising the hotline to contact whenever someone is witness to an act of extremism or sectarianism. The number is to be used even when something as simple as hate-speech scribblings are seen on some decrepit wall. Then maybe it is time to start calling this number incessantly to remind our honourable government that they know where Hafiz Saeed lives, among other proponents of hate. Let’s start by bringing the known to task. The unknown comes later.

We have everything. The country’s ideological roots support a tolerant and vibrant society, with women and religious minorities at the forefront. We have the numbers too, or the religious parties would have won long ago. But they can’t. And they won’t.

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