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Pakistan’s Dilemma: Between Liberal And Conservative Religious Attitudes

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Say what strange Motive, Goddess! cou’d compel
A well-bred Lord t’assault a gentle Belle?
This Lock, the Muse shall consecrate to Fame,
And mid’st the Stars inscribe Belinda’s Name!

(Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock)

The musings of faith have reverberated again and a temple vanquished. The person standing atop the rubble of what was to be a temple conjures up but a palimpsest image of some ‘conqueror’ of the past. The only difference is, it seems, that his battlefield is psychological and his pleasure vicariously sadistic. He, that great-he, does not seem any different from one of the characters of Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock written in mock-heroic tradition. Now he is well-bred Lord or Belinda or both; let it be left to the imagination of the readers.

This current case of forced-halting of the construction of temple in the federal capital needs to be viewed and analysed from two angles. What is the state of affairs on ground and what flak has it received on social media? Largely, physical space is held by such forces as the emotional rabble-rousers rallying around confused religious conservatism. Meanwhile, the virtual space of social media is rife with the opinion of those who preach reform and liberal ideals. Social media is also an indicator of international mood and preferences: it serves as barometer of what is expected from us as part of the comity of nations.

Strangely or interestingly, the state is torn between the two – giving way to the former most of the times, as in this case yet again. It seems now that the state is becoming more and more ineffectual betwixt pressures generated from opposite poles; it just hangs, and hangs in limbo. The case of reform seems to be doomed given the difficult nature of the choices. The country may not pursue secular reforms as it is highly likely to unleash a violent reaction. And it cannot either afford to embrace what the other side has to offer: it may face ostracization intellectually and internationally both.

For the state it is a situation which finds the best parallel in the horrors of the trench warfare of World War I. On both sides the advance was halted for years amidst the grapeshot of machine guns. The situation hung in limbo as our state does now. It is becoming ineffectual and clueless, whereas the quarrel for legitimacy on both sides is on the rise.

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This temple incident is not the first in the list. Earlier in 2018, Atif Rehman Mian had to face the brunt as the government cowed down to pressure from religious conservatives. Quite recently, the novel Mr. Chips was replaced from the intermediate English syllabus in Punjab, whose whole credit has been bagged by a one-of-his-own-kind motivational speaker in one of his videos. He believes that reading of Mr. Chips by sophomores is tantamount to idealizing a person who is hate-worthy otherwise. A proud moment for him!

As much as we do not need extremists, we do not need battalions of salon-turned-suave and storm-in-the-teacup type motivational speakers, too, who are often found among the ranks of our reformers. Should Youtube and Instagram trumpeters be allowed to policy-blackmail the state? A simpleton may understand that learning of a language happens in continuity and also not in vacuum. The literature produced in a particular language is the best way to grasp the ethos of that language. The lens of a reformer is different from the lens of a motivational speaker. It seems we are going through an anthology of mock-heroic tradition.

We have out-lived the luxury of time and the push is becoming the shove. Blame the West, claim the past; eulogize the self, despise those that disagree: come what may, the knell of time is sounding. It is time for decision, inaction will only complicate the ignominy which is knocking at the doors. Systems rather than heroes should be preferred; of the former we have none, of the latter we have many. But prior to that we have to decide which way to go and that is a really difficult choice given the paradoxical nature of the whirlwind that has caught us up.

In my humble view, we need a class of able theorizers who could present some course of action for these new times. The last century’s model of nation-states may not suit us in these times and in times to come. It certainly needs some altering and re-adjustment.

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As mentioned earlier, outright secular reform is not possible in Pakistan since the populace has never rejected religion per se. That is why any paradigm of reform should, at least, take into account the socially-operational sense of religion. On the other hand, we cannot let confused dimwits enforce their brand of change. This state needs to come out seriously and put the country on the course of intellectual reforms petering out into a vision which is both practicable and translatable into action.

Let us not waste the human resource – or the only course open is immense destruction. New times demand what Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”

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Naya Daur