Burning the Bridges

Type to search


Analysis Featured Politics

Burning the Bridges

The state is focusing too much on handling the TLP and too less to those most critical to long term peace: moderates and youth.

In the wake of the last week’s appalling handling of the protests against Asia Bibi, it is clear that the capitulation to the demands of extremists is the latest in a series of disastrous mishandlings by our governments.

They may call it ‘firefighting’ as the Information Minister calls it, but it’s more of an appeasement or ‘brushing under the carpet’.

The only problem is, fires aren’t put out by brushing under the carpet. We know that too well.

What we don’t yet realize is the ramifications of this in the years to come. And even if we do, the debate is not looking at those who are to play an instrumental role in stopping this once and for all.

The problem with capitulations like the one done by the government last week is that it emboldens those who did not compromise, draws others towards them, while those arguing for a reasonable middle path, stand abandoned or discredited.

Two segments in particular need greater attention: the moderates and the next generation. But the signs are not looking good for either.

First the moderates.

While the majority of the conversation has either been dominated by the religious conservatives vs. the progressive liberal discourse, there has been little attention drawn to those who are seen as the voice of reason, at least relatively, with some credibility on both sides.

The problem with capitulations like the one done by the government last week is that it emboldens those who did not compromise, draws others towards them, while those arguing for a reasonable middle path, stand abandoned or discredited.

Had the middle path been advocated by the Barelvis, scholars like Jamia Naeemia Lahore’s Mufti Raghib Naeemi and Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Chairman Mufti Muneeb ur-Rehman would be the leaders of this movement instead of Afzal Qadri or Khadim Hussain Rizvi. Both have taken equivocal stances against violent extremism, and have been part of a major effort from the religious right to propagate peaceful narratives to counter the spread of terrorism.

However, on the Asia verdict, both Mufti Naeemi and Mufti Muneeb ur-Rehman have come out swinging, with the former declaring the verdict a “black day in the judicial history of Pakistan”, and the latter issuing a video statement supporting the protests, and harshly criticizing PM Imran’s statement as “inflaming a very sensitive situation”.

The warning signs emerged last year when Mufti Raghib Naeemi’s seminary Jamia Naeemia Lahore, largely seen as a bastion of enlightened religious thought, became the site of an ugly incident where Nawaz Sharif had a shoe thrown at him amidst chants of “Labaik Ya Rasoolullah!”

Once again, this is not a major surprise. However, while it would be wrong to assume their response would have been different in the past, one cannot help but wonder if their response could have been influenced by the atmosphere of the fire and fury posturing by the TLP.

The warning signs emerged last year when Mufti Raghib Naeemi’s seminary Jamia Naeemia Lahore, largely seen as a bastion of enlightened religious thought, became the site of an ugly incident where Nawaz Sharif had a shoe thrown at him amidst chants of “Labaik Ya Rasoolullah!”

While the seminary leadership dismissed the incident as a “conspiracy”, it does not change the fact that there is a strong element of frustration within the religious right, which feels that that the moderates have not accomplished enough, and that more arm twisting is needed if they are to become relevant to the political and social landscape.

Enter Khadim Hussain Rizvi.

Thanks to the capitulation of successive governments, the extremists have sent a strong message to our society that ruffian vandalism, vigilantism and outspoken vitriol is the only way to make ourselves heard. The outpour of the sentiment in the wake of Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging may have politically damaged the PML-N, leading to its ouster in Central Punjab, but the larger usurping of this sentiment by the extremists has also damaged the relevance of the moderates.

The result? The reduction in space for those seeking to build bridges than destroy them. A major bulwark protecting our country from the spread of violent extremism will be gone for at least a generation. And we cannot afford that.

And that brings us to the second segment: the next generation.

While the TLP leadership is considerably older, their supporters are young, full of hot blood, and not afraid to make a mess. They’re not afraid to make accusations towards others, whether they make sense or not. And their militarization is making their thought process increasingly binary: either you support TLP, or you are against the finality of the prophethood. Any form of dissent is seen as apology for the blasphemers, which makes them just as bad as the blasphemers themselves.

It may be easy to think that maybe these are one-offs, that child’s play can’t be seen as evidence of radicalization.

On the other hand, is simulating the hanging of a woman appropriate ‘child’s play’?

And disturbing signs are emerging that the participants are getting increasingly younger and increasingly radicalized. Social media clips have emerged of mere kids screaming TLP chants while attending the rallies, while another even more disturbing one shows a group of kids simulating the death sentence of Asia Bibi by symbolically ‘hanging’ of a plastic doll they call ‘Asia’, all while chanting “Labaik ya Rasoolullah!”.

It may be easy to think that maybe these are one-offs, that child’s play can’t be seen as evidence of radicalization.

On the other hand, is simulating the hanging of a woman appropriate ‘child’s play’?

Also, how did the children know that in order to properly hang someone, you don’t just tie the noose around their neck, but also drop them? Clearly, they didn’t stumble on to this information. Someone told them how to do it properly. Who thought that this was appropriate to teach a child?

The problem with radicalization is that there is no real evidence of it occurring, until something terrible finally happens. However, one can use certain warning signs to assess potential vulnerability, and by that standard this disturbing video is nothing short of a huge red flag staring at us in the face!

So how does this affect in long term? Best case scenario, you have a society inculcating a value system to their children based on the divisive polemics of radicals, and instilling a view of the world through a conspiratorial binary lens of us vs. them. The normalization of incitement to hatred and violence is the only logical step.

Worst case scenario, you have lone nuts killing Federal Ministers.

It is one thing to organize an extremist movement, but when ideologies are decentralized, anyone can become radicalized within the comfort of their own home, pick up a gun, and just carry out a barrage of violence without warning. And when you are going out of your way to declare state officials as ‘wajib-ul-qatl’ and urging their servants, their guards, their drivers and their protectors to ‘take them out’, you are playing an active role in inciting the common man to commit  privatized terrorism ala Mumtaz Qadri.

This kind of violence is the most dangerous, because it can’t be predicted or protected against. This is the danger of an atmosphere where violence is seen as a means to an end, and its consequences not emphasized enough.

Our next generation is not just vulnerable to this, but are actively being courted to commit religiously motivated violence on a personalized level. They are learning that you can get away with even murder, provided the target is justifiable enough.

The attempt on Ahsan Iqbal’s life has to be seen in this context. One cannot divorce this incident from the words and actions of TLP and other radical extremist groups. But what TLP does not yet understand, is that its political agenda of inciting extremism against others is not going to limit itself to point scoring. Once you’ve let the genie out of the bottle, you can’t put it back.

Our next generation is not just vulnerable to this, but are actively being courted to commit religiously motivated violence on a personalized level. They are learning that you can get away with even murder, provided the target is justifiable enough. They are learning that even if you commit or incite to commit the most heinous acts, the state will bend over backwards to accommodate your demands.

Both youth and religious moderates are critical to a future without extremism, a bridge to narrow the gap of polarization that is dooming our nation. But they have been missing from our narratives altogether. The focus is entirely on arrests and protests. The focus is entirely on TLP or PTI or CJP or COAS. These institutions and individuals will come and go, as they have before. But the cycle of violence can only be halted by stopping the rot that is decaying the fabric of the young and the reasonable.

Without this, we will spend our next decades just ‘firefighting’. The only problem is, once these bridges are burnt, there’s no guarantee we can ever mend them.

Share Now
  • 17
    Shares

Disclaimer: Naya Daur believes in providing space for views and opinions from all sides. But we may not agree with everything we publish. In case of columns and articles not published in Naya Daur’s name, the information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of nayadaur.tv. We do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *