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The “corrupting” influence of gods.

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If the aftermath of the cartoon crisis is any indication, Pastor Terry Jones’s decision to cancel “Burn a Koran day”, might have inadvertently saved dozens of lives and millions of dollars worth of property across the Muslim world. But these reactions, whether justified or not, also demand that Muslims themselves show a high level of sensitivity to other religions. This actually seems to be the case if one is to believe the elected parliamentarians from Pakistan, who, in their anti blasphemy resolutions, often make the claim that in Pakistan all religions are treated with reverence.

In February this year, the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution that unanimously condemned the blasphemous Danish cartoons. Such was the anger that one member even suggested that the cartoonists be publically beheaded. Others called for severing diplomatic ties with the Governments of Norway and Denmark. The UN was asked to step in and give “exemplary” punishments to those who would disrespect “any” religion.

But then, surprisingly, members from the same religiously sensitive parliament formed a committee to assess the “impact” of cartoons of a religious nature on the minds of children. Given the ruckus in February, and the call for respecting all religions, one would assume that even questioning the impact of a religion on the minds of children would be considered blasphemous by this house of the holies. But the difference this time was that the religion under scrutiny was not Islam but Hinduism. In any case, if the idea of scrutinizing a religion was unbecoming of our honored parliamentarians, the conclusions of the deliberations came across as a complete surprise. As summed up by MPA Farah Deeba, the committee proposed a ban on the cartoons because they had a bad impact on the minds of the young children.

But, our respected MPA probably forgot that she was not talking about pornographic or violent animations. She was talking about cartoons that are based on beliefs that are held sacred by around a billion people, 2.5 million of whom call them selves Pakistani. She also must have forgotten her earlier demand for UN administered punishments, because in essence she was doing something similar to the cartoonists, i.e. disrespecting the religious beliefs of millions.

The motion for the ban was defeated in the Punjab assembly and criticized heavily on various forums, but amazingly, most of the criticism had an Islamic bent to it. According to many, Islam is not that “weak” that an animated version of Hanuman might convince the young to opt out of it, others didn’t want it banned, because much “worse” forms of entertainment such as Indian soaps and Indian movies are still accessible.

But the main issue is not about the strength or weakness of Islam, it is about the disrespect that was doled out to a religion i.e. Hinduism. The prerequisite for asking Non Muslims to be respectful towards Islam, would be that Muslims themselves take this approach to other religions. If all religions are assumed to be respect worthy, then they simply can not be declared a “corrupting influence”, be it Islam or Hinduism.

To say that such respect is not needed because non Muslims themselves don’t respect their religion to the same level as Muslim respect Islam, is a moot point. If non-Muslims don’t respect their own religion, then why expect them to give extra ordinary respect to Islam? But if the plea is based on mutual respect, then one shouldn’t ignore the “mutual” part of the offer.

In contrast, consider the case of Dr. Naif Al Mutawa, the creator of a cartoon series by the name of “99”. In this series, the main superheroes have powers that are based on the 99 names of Allah, furthermore, the background story laments the fall of “Muslim” Spain to the Crusaders.  So how was a cartoon that is based in Islamic history, and openly seeks to promote a better understanding of Islamic culture, received by the infidels? Well, besides getting recognition from leading magazines and TV channels, Dr. Mutawa got the endorsement of the US President Barrak Obama, who termed it as the “most innovative response” to the gulf between Muslims and Non-Muslims. No worries about the “corruption” of young minds due to Islamic culture, but instead, the cartoon was seen as a cure for the corruption that does exist because of the gap between the two sides. With a history of four wars in 63 years, and the very real threat of a nuclear holocaust, isn’t it high time that our parliamentarians showed similar wisdom about bridging divides between Muslims and Hindus, rather than creating new ones?

The sad part is that the insensitivity of this whole incident is nothing compared to what has already been doled out to Hinduism in Pakistan. In 2006, a Hindu temple was encroached upon in Karachi, insult of all insults, the forcibly occupied space was used by butchers, to sell beef. The closest equivalence that one can come up in Islamic terms would be if a forcibly occupied mosque is used to sell pork.  Can one imagine the outrage and the horror if that happened? That outrage and that horror then demands that similar respect be paid to other religions. If not, then all the huffing and puffing is no better than the tantrums of two faced bigots. To be ignored at best.

A slightly edited version appeared in the daily DAWN on the 27th of December, under the title “A Janus-faced Approach”.

Written by Imran Khan

December 27, 2010 at 5:40 am

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