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Reducing The Mullah To ‘Pure Evil’

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While it is true that the mullahs and religious sections have been co-opted and are part of the state, one must ask whether it is reasonable to put the whole blame on those so co-opted. After all, religion is a fundamental part of our society and no matter what, religious sentiment cannot be simply wished away, argues Hurmat Ali Shah.

Pakistan is no stranger to sit-ins or “movements” that intend to topple governments. But the recent sit-in by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman has awakened new kinds of anxieties as opposed to previous such protests, which were limited to the prospect of violence, interruption of daily life in the capital and questions of the morality as well legality of ousting a government through agitation.

This is characteristically true of what Imran Khan did but the panic over what Khadim Rizvi did was comparatively mild, as there was that inevitable feeling that it is a controlled chaos in the form of fanatic madness and therefore it will be controlled at will.

Such is not the case with JUI-F and its dharna. The mainstream has, so far, in our short “democratic” memory, seen mullahs and the religious right to be totally instruments of the Establishment. The Mullah as a lackey of the Establishment makes sense to them but a Mullah asserting his agency or role in politics, independent of the Powers That Be, is unfathomable. Or at-least it is so for the urban, educated and middle class elements, and also to a majority of the liberal-leaning cross-class urban segments and intelligentsia. The pretentious panic showed over the “Islamazition” and “Talibanization” of the country in the wake of the Azadi March and then tying everything retrogressive in the political and social sphere to the symbol and persona of a mullah is the scare which defines liberalism in Pakistan at the moment.

The mullah has to be seen, as mentioned, in the uni-dimensional terms of a lackey who sells religion or faith to the state or is the root evil behind all social malaise. But the fact always ignored is that everything retrogressive, legally, from the Objectives Resolution to the Hudood Ordinance to blasphemy legislation, is done by the state of Pakistan which has often been run by Aitchison, Kakul and Oxford graduates.

The corridors of power are manned by people who have taken the rhetoric of the mullah but who serve their own class interests by couching their doctrines in cloak of piety.

Religion has been instrumentalized by the state to do its dirty work and religion has been employed by the state as legitimate enforcer to have a socio-political consensus and to resolve questions around the state’s official ideology.

Now, while it is true that the mullahs and religious sections have been co-opted and are part of the state, but one must ask whether it is reasonable to put the whole blame on those so co-opted. After all, religion is a fundamental part of our society and no matter what, religious sentiment cannot be simply wished away. Religion isn’t a moral or social evil to be wiped out, as some would like us to believe.

It gives a sense of social order, personal meaning & a sense of purpose to many. JUI-F and other mainstream religious political parties have been a conduit for some of that sentiment to the state. They have been part of the socio-political order which represents the political aspirations of the religious sections and formations within society.

Religious clergy, political religious organizations and other such formations don’t appear in a void and they can’t be expected to fizzle out just like that. They are a product of historical-social circumstances and translate the political aspirations of a wide section of society. The articulation of that politics can be very retrogressive indeed – and everyone has the right to criticize it. But the point remains that such political articulation has a concrete basis in the beliefs, feelings and aspirations of a society.

Even if one is proposing secularism as an essential feature of our political life, then this very secularism demands that everyone has a right to articulate, frame and mobilize for a political program – given that it respects the legal-constitutional boundaries and framework. If JUI-F or other mainstream religious political parties have rhetoric, discourse and values which the progressives find repulsive, it points to the divisions within society and not that these mainstream religious political parties have necessarily been the initial source of all that rhetoric and all those values. One can always criticize them, but one must admit the legitimacy of their views, i.e. the grounding in and representation of significant chunks of society, if not more.

Above all, those refusing to engage even in the slightest with the Maulana must realize that the alternative to mainstream religious politics, in the context of the Pakistani state, is not secular-liberal politics but the even more fanatical, disruptive and anti-democratic politics of Khadim Rizvi and Hafiz Saeed.

The political mullah who talks of constitution and laws – and who we are being unfailingly warned of as the current embodiment of all evil – actually was a neutralizing force which kept the fanatical tendencies and sentiments of the likes of Khadim Rizvi in check.

The blind-spot of a certain kind of Pakistani liberalism, which sees fanaticism as a phenomenon independent of the state and merely the result of religious sentiment spearheaded by the political mullah, eventually and inevitably aligns it with the authorities. And so, such a liberalism, in the final analysis, comes out to save the arbitrary exercise of state power.

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