I Opyne

Selective Indignation

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The novel “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” gave birth to the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde”. The novel features a character named Dr. Henry Jekyll, who has two distinct personalities; one good and the other evil. The phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” usually refers to having extreme swings in moral character according to changing situations. The recent behavior of Pakistan’s Barelvi clergy exemplifies similar swings in moral character that are reminiscent of the mood swings of Dr. Henry Jekyll.

The Barelvi version of Islam is often branded by its rivals as heretical; going to shrines and excessive glorification of the Prophet is criticized by others such as Deobandis to be against the tenets of Islam. The differences are so pronounced that the Taliban specifically attack Barelvi mosques, shrines as well as clergy. The assassination of Mufti Sarfaraz Ahmad Naeemi for speaking out against suicide bombing, and the bombing of Daata Darbar and the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi among many other shrines, are all examples of these atrocities.  In all of these attacks two points are notable. First is the desecration of these holy places that results in the desecration of the Holy Quran and the name of the Prophet. The second is the ownership of these attacks, which are claimed unabashedly by the Taliban, thus also owning the blasphemy committed during these attacks.

The reaction of Pakistan’s Barelvi clergy to these horrendous outrages has been a most civilized one. Back in 2009, Sunni Ittehad Council launched the “Save Pakistan Movement”, which aimed to raise awareness on Talibanization through peaceful means. There were no calls for storming the nearest Deobandi madrassa or the offices of pro Taliban political parties. There was no mustering of suicide bombers or initiation of terrorist training camps. It was a civilized outrage that was expressed under the submission that only the State has a monopoly on violence. It was this response and the attitude that came with it that made us Pakistanis announce our separation from the fanatic ideology espoused by the Taliban.

But then came Mumtaz Qadri and his decision to murder Governor Salman Taseer. The shock of the death of Mr. Taseer was magnified manifold with the shock of the Barelvi response to this attack. Gone was the Dr. Henry Jekyll who faced the Taliban, and out came Edward Hyde; there were celebration for the death of the Governor, the killer was praised as a Hero, and to top everything off the bereaving daughter of Salman Taseer was told to learn a lesson from the fate of her father. One would wish with all his heart that this outrage was shown by a fringe minority, but with the attestation of Tanzeem Ahl-e-Sunnat and Sunni Tehreek, there is no denying that this response is owned by the Barelvi clergy at large.

So is this response to a mere suggestion for changes in the blasphemy law consistent with the response to the desecration of shrines and mosques? The late Salman Taseer was bending over his back in trying to reiterate that he did not mean any disrespect to the Holy Prophet. On the contrary, the Taliban had no qualms in taking responsibility for the desecration of mosques as well as shrines.  So why is it that in the case of the Taliban, our Barelvi clergy was very eager to press the Government and the Military to do their job, and rightly so. But in the case of the Liberals, as represented by Salman Taseer, the same Barelvi clergy had no qualms about appreciating a complete violation of the law and are threatening to do more of the same in the future.

The difference could easily be explained by the consequences of side stepping the Government in each of these cases; in the case of the Taliban, physical reaction to their attacks could result in targeted suicide attacks, where as in the case of Salman Taseer, the reaction would come in terms of op-eds in English dailies. It seems that our Barelvi clergy decided to play tough on the softer option; if uncontrolled outrage was an essential consequence of blasphemies then the Taliban would also have been at the receiving end of such Barelvi outrages, which is clearly not the case.

The death of Salman Taseer was because of a mindset, a mindset that seems to be prevalent among Pakistanis. This mindset needs to be challenged through reason, for which both sides need to be provided an equal opportunity for expression of their views. For the conservatives in this country, there is no fear of a physical reprisal from the minority liberals, but on the other hand the liberals are threatened every day through the use of the pulpit as well as through political platforms.

These open threats exist because of the inability of the Government to exert its authority. If the liberal voices are stopped through forced bullying, then it would be a major loss to the discourse around this issue, a discourse that is essential in defining the future of the Pakistani identity.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 18th of January 2011

Written by Imran Khan

January 18, 2011 at 4:44 am

One Response

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  1. Great article Imran.
    I wonder if its also because for a regular Barelvi cleric Salman Taseer represents the government, the hated “haves” and the bombers of villages and the taliban, though ideologically different and extremely violent, represent the “have nots” like them. Its debatable if all clerics can be neatly divided into haves and have nots however there is a clear presence of this sentiment… just look at the comments to articles in newspapers.

    Syeda Quratulain Masood

    January 20, 2011 at 10:02 am


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