Pakistan’s Weak Case Against Islamophobia
Islamist extremism and Islamophobia are two sides of the same coin. Both are the products of the glorification of irrationalism, marginalization, the denial of rights and civil liberties, and a crisis of identity resolved through violence and bigotry.
PM Khan frequently tweets and delivers statements against Islamophobia. People in Pakistan give these statements some mixed responses. People mock him as a hypocrite pointing out that it is ironic that a PM of a country – where religious and sectarian minorities are constantly attacked by radical Islamist outfits – is lamenting Islamophobia in the West.
Indeed, there is always much irony in Muslim states that overtly criticise Islamophobia while doing very little or almost nothing to address the problems of minority faiths or sects in their respective countries. Thus, a prominent Muslim (or for that matter, any Muslim) should be very careful in his or her criticism of Islamophobia. If their laments are to be taken seriously, then they should be well informed about the situation going on in their own country. Consequently, the wording of their criticism of Islamophobia should thus be a more measured exercise.
So what really is Islamophobia? This question needs to be answered in a more thorough manner, especially by the Muslims themselves if they are to criticise it with some logic and without contradiction. Islamophobia is an ‘intense dislike or fear of Islam.’ In an article in the October 2015 Tanya Basu writes that the term was derived by the French word, ‘Islamophobie.’ It was first devised by the French author in 1910 to criticise the behaviour of French colonial administrators against Muslims.
PM Khan usually goes slightly off the rails in his outrage against Islamophobia. He does not balance his critique by failing to confess that Pakistan too has a problem of religiously motivated violence and that it is trying to address that problem. But when he was in opposition, PTI had actually opposed any serious action against religious militancy.
Back in 2016 When Imran Khan was a guest on an international channel, the host asked him about the rights of citizens. He said, “All human beings will have equal rights in our government. Anyone who is a Pakistani will have equal rights apart from the religion”
So now only a nincompoop will have any doubt that his stance has not changed after coming into power. By now the complex reality of being in power should have gradually transformed his views. So one expects him to be a bit more aware when commenting on the violence unleashed by white supremacists or Hindutva nationalists against Muslims.
Islamophobia is largely a construct of populist right-wing parties. There are 23 million Muslims in Europe. This means they are just five percent of Europe’s total population. Thus, Islamophobia has become a tool for populist politicians to describe Muslims as the ‘other’ and the ones to blame for the economic or cultural decline of a Western country. But to address that, we need to first set things right at our home: by countering extremism.
Defining the term extremism is a tough ask in Pakistan. The situation here is very adverse. Extremism takes its form directly and indirectly in many issues. Extremism in the name of Islam has greatly affected the economic stability and functionality of Pakistan.
Extremism could be prevented and countered through viable educational infrastructure in the country.
The Pakistan’s case is very adverse. In our country, educational institutions and academia have become a key factor in extremism and terrorism. Although everyone jumps band wagon to talk about the madrassas in this connection of education and extremism. The main issue is failure of successive governments and regimes to provide adequate education infrastructure and curricula.
Pakistani universities did occasionally serve as rallying grounds and launching pads for liberal and leftist political movements but, by and large, they have failed to play their manifest functions. Universities and colleges have suffered from deep parochial divisions.
Since the creation of Pakistan, various political parties and the establishment supported groups among teachers and students have not only undercut the capacity of institutes of higher learning to play their part for which they were established, but rather politicisation of educational institutions turned them into seats of extremism.
But this is not what Quaid wanted Pakistan to be if you read his speech of 11th Aug 1947. He said “ ….We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed or another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State..”
The main problem started with the objectives resolution passed on 25th March 1949 by Liaqat Ali Khan. If the Resolution had been moved in the lifetime of Quaid-i-Azam and had been authorized by him, much of the confusion that appeared and still is in the air would have been avoided. But Liaquat Ali Khan knew that the Quaid-i-Azam would not agree to any such Resolution as it was directly opposed to the views he had publicly expressed more than once. After the Quaid-i-Azam’s death, Liaquat Ali Khan moved that Resolution which was unanimously passed by the Muslim members, the Hindu members boycotted the session.
After the resolution the problems began in 1953 and so the seeds were sowed where the Islamist Extremism took its shape. The next result after two decades is that the parties who opposed the creation of Pakistan were, by a strange quirk of history, placed in a position where they could destroy the Quaid-i-Azam’s conception of Pakistan under Zia ul Haq.
Our custodians are so chauvinistic that they don’t let anyone question anything.
A case was reported on December 12, an assistant commissioner, Zeenat Hussain, was forced to apologize for her comments on the equal rights of the religious minorities after she said to a group of students that the rights of the Ahmadiyya community, as citizens, should be respected. Later, a group of protesters, mainly from Jamat-e-Islami, marched toward the assistant commissioner’s office and asked her to explain her position on the Ahmadiyya community. Hussain not only apologized, but she was also forced to call Ahmadis “kafir” (infidel).
There are uncountable cases like these with Christians and Shias, recently reported by the media. Pakistan Christian Post reported that in May 2019, a 35-year-old Christian rickshaw driver, Sagheer Masih, was mugged and forced to drink poison. He later died. In another incident, a mob attacked a local church in Sheikhupura, Punjab, during prayer services.
So Prime Minister Imran Khan emerged as a populist leader who claimed to be better than other politicians. But when it comes to religious freedom, although there were some positive developments mentioned above, the figures indicate that the state of minorities hasn’t changed much. The promises Khan made about a just state in which minorities will be protected have been ignored by him and his party. Therefore, his detractors believe that the PM’s pleas against hate speech, racial and religious bigotry, and especially, Islamophobia in Western societies ring hollow. His views and preaching about Islamophobia will not gain any traction.
The handsome PM Khan has been dialing up his rhetoric against Islamophobia. But the PM’s rhetoric in this regard can only be effective if it is balanced by initiatives which would show Pakistan as doing more to curb extremism in its own backyard.
A new challenge emerging for PM Khan is the deadline given by the TLP leader and his obsequious adherents are ready to halt the country at his call. Keeping in mind the FATF fiasco, difficult times are ahead for him as chaos is waiting. But then again, in Pakistan, it’s never about chaos or no chaos, it’s always about what’s manageable and unmanageable.