The Noorani attack proves Pakistan will continue being religiously intolerant

Published: November 14, 2016
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Women mourn the death of a relative outside of a mortuary in Karachi on November 12, 2016, following a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine. PHOTO: AFP

A few days ago, a friend of mine (who is a renowned activist) jokingly made a comment on Facebook that no suicide bomber would ever consider detonating in Lasbela, Balochistan because it’s unbelievably hot there; no bomber is mad enough to kill himself in such scorching heat.

Alas, he was proven wrong.

On Saturday, a young suicide bomber targeted a Sufi shrine near Lasbela, killing around 60 people and injuring more than a 100. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, and right now, I wish – as insensitive as that joke was – that my friend had been right. His words keep replaying in my head.

Just before this tragic incident, an American friend and I had been trying to re-activate a petition among Pakistani activists. The petition came about in response to news reports last year, which stated that the Minister of State for Federal Education was proposing to make the teaching of Islam mandatory in all Pakistani public schools.

We feel that this would only perpetuate the intolerance that plagues the country and results in religious extremism and vigilante brutality. A single religion should not be emphasised in public schools because it can evoke feelings of superiority over others who hold different beliefs, and, conversely, feelings of inferiority among those of other faiths. Pakistan must seriously take into account how the minds of the young are shaped by what they see, hear, and are taught if they want to change the fabric of a society where suspicion and violence now seem to lurk around every corner.

The petition merely asks the Federal Government to make the teaching of comparative religion in schools compulsory as opposed to one religion, along with a well-designed course and interdisciplinary emphasis on tolerance. The petition went out to hundreds and reached thousands through social media shares – including my activist friend, who agreed with it but is yet to sign it. He may have been busy, but it wasn’t just him; there are many people out there that claim to be activists but have not signed the petition. To date, there are only 82 signatures.

In Pakistan, radicalisation and religious extremism are decades old. They have been nurtured through various means. School curriculums, textbooks, distorted history – a study conducted by the Pakistan-based NGO Peace and Education (PEF) found that,

“Pakistan’s public school textbooks negatively portray the country’s religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis, as ‘untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming.’”

Even various political parties still promote the element of hate while dividing people by religions and religious sects.

Compared to other provinces, Balochistan has been far removed from religious extremism. There the Hindu, Shia and Zikri (a group of Baloch people who believe that Mahdi will come back as a Prophet before end of the world) used to live in harmony without prejudice and hatred. Even the Sunni-Baloch and the Zikri-Baloch, despite different religious beliefs, would often intermarry. One can commonly find among the Baloch that one brother is a Zikri, and the other is Sunni.

Religion has never been a cause of worry among the Baloch, and Balochistan has always objected to being unwillingly pulled (because of its rich mineral resources) into a federation known to the world as Pakistan and now declared an Islamic Republic. There are still those who yearn for independence from Pakistan so that Balochistan can have its own secular government and benefit from the richness of its own resources instead of having them siphoned off by the eastern provinces of Pakistan.

After studying and spending more than four years in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, I have been in touch with a considerable circle of Pakistani activists, including many from other provinces. They are all aware of the menace of radicalisation and religious extremism, and are against religious intolerance. But what I found problematic about their approach was that they leaned towards protesting rather than seeking a solution.

For example (in a hypothetical scenario) news breaks out that two Ahmadis have been  killed. You will soon find a group of activists protesting in front of the Islamabad Press Club. But, after 48 hours, everyone will forget what happened. Does the story end there? No, it keeps repeating itself with each new killing or injustice reported.

The unfortunate follow-up to the Balochistan incidents, though, is that most of the time they fail to incite the activists to gather in front of the Islamabad Press Club. It is not that they don’t protest; they just reserve their protesting for Facebook or Twitter, which rarely can be witnessed. Media activists also seem to neglect the carnage in Balochistan, unrest that is frequent and yet rendered irrelevant. For instance, at the Police Training Academy in Quetta, 62 young recruits were killed but the media was mostly focused on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party leader, Imran Khan’s drama.

Religious extremism has collectively caused the deaths of a few hundred people in Balochistan in the last four months, and left hundreds more injured. It is high time that activists from all over Pakistan change their mode of activism from protesting to solution-seeking. What about starting a bona fide movement or petition to amend the clause of the Pakistani Constitution that declares Ahmadis non-Muslims?  Why not initiate a movement in Punjab or Sindh to stop the media blackout of Balochistan?

And to all who happen to read this all the way to the end – activist or otherwise – here is the link to the petition which asks that comparative religion and tolerance be taught in Pakistan’s public schools. I have signed it. I urge you to sign it.

It only takes a minute.

https://community.avaaz.org/petitions/we-the-people-of-pakistan-2

Shah Meer

Shah Meer

The author is a freelance writer and fellow of the Swedish Institute in Stockholm and the Institute for Foreign and Cultural Relations in Stuttgart. He graduated from the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad (Pakistan) in International Relations. His research focus is on Asia-Pacific politics, Balochistan issues, extremism, and human rights. He is from Pasni, District Gwadar. He tweets at @ShahmeerAlbalos (twitter.com/ShahmeerAlbalos)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • PatelPara

    What a stupid title & stupid article. ISIS/TTP claiming responsibilities and you are blaming Pakistan for it? Why don’t you blame countries who fund ISIS & TTP? idiotic Pakistani media.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Pakistan can reverse if its GHQ lets the civilians rule but it would never happen. It was decided in the 80s that Pakistan would become a Sunni state taking its religious guidance from the Mullahs of Saudi Arabia.

    Taking a U-turn now is extremely difficult both for the Army and the civilians. It would take generations even if the GHQ stopped its support of the good terrorists.

    What would be interesting would be the Chinese. We will see if they can cope up with the sectarian rife that has broken the backbone of this country.Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    Its not just Pakistan but all the Islamic nations….except a few like Dubai

    While Muslims want everything in nations…Recommend

  • Feroz

    For years if not for decades orthodox conservative religious extremists have been attacking Sufi traditions and shrines in Pakistan, using there multiple proxies for deniability. Sufi traditions are revered across South Asia with people of all castes, ethnicity, religions flocking to them for spiritual fulfillment. Only in Pakistan are these shrines being attacked. Trying to pin the blame for these attacks elsewhere is nothing but a game of denial and obfuscation. Curb the menace now before extremists take more lives and reduce the country to rubble.Recommend

  • SohanPal SinghPundir

    Well done Shah Meer for putting this so boldly. I fully agree with you. Lying is the hallmark of Pakistani system, its educational system, political system etc. I am from India and I am not signing the petition but my view is that mere signing a petition will not change anything in Pakistan now. It is too big a problem to be rectified, perhaps too late to be more precise. Two nation theory turned out to be wrong. Jinnah was wrong to divide the nation based on religion. In India our Muslim brothers are safer than in Pakistan, and now Pakistan is a threat to not only its own people but the whole world. Now the only solution is to go back to square one. I think people need to start thinking in this direction now. Not sure if you agree with me…Recommend

  • Jamil M Chaudri

    Mr Shah Meer and his cohorts (whom he refers as to as “activists”) seem to be the uneducated while possessing University Degrees.
    .
    Mr Meer seems to equate imparting of ISLAMIC education to inculcation into a cabal of assassins (his words: religious extremism and vigilante brutality). In Urdu there is a saying “Neem Hakim khatare-e Jan, neem Mullah khatare-e Iman” (translation: half-baked preacher is a danger to God-consciousness just the same as a half-baked doctor would be danger to Life).
    .
    Mr Meer is blind-sided to the fact that the acts of these suicide bombers owe nothing to Islamic teaching – on the contrary, these acts are the direct result of not making ALL citizens of the Islamic Republic aware of the ideology of the state. Teaching of Islam throughout the lands of the Republic will put Pakia on the path of Self-respect, Industry, and Social Progress.
    .
    Mr Meer ignores the raison d’être for the creation of Islamic RepublicS: to bring about the development of Muslim people, in our own genius, in harmony with our weltanschauung.
    .
    Mr Meer, it would behoove you to take the lead in creating a movement to create political alliance and eventually a union between the Islamic RepublicS of Iran, Pakia and Afghania, instead of raving against the very thing that unites OUR people in these countries (the boundaries of which were created by colonial conquests). These three countries are ONE PEOPLE under God.Recommend

  • Jamil M Chaudri

    Pakistan HAS NEVER been a Sunni or Shia State. It is an Islamic Republic. Starting from the first Head of State (Quaid-i-Azam) the most influential heads of the Islamic Republic have been members of the Shia community. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan (IRP) does not differentiate on the basis of different strands of Islam. Mullahs of Saudi Arabia play no role.
    Persian was the state language of lands of the IRP for more than a thousand years. Even the Sikh state (which ruled Punjab) used Persian as the state language. Pakistanis are a Persianised people. Urdu is a subset (dialect) of Persian – the same as Duri, which is present day state language of Afghania.Recommend

  • only truth is nature

    Writer is correct.You believe in those ideas which are failing everywhere.Recommend

  • Jamil M Chaudri

    There is an old saying: those whom the gods wish to destroy, they make mad first.
    First of all, I want to clarify that the ideas expressed by me are not solely mine: they belong to a rising movement, spread over the whole world. In fact the expression of these ideas is polymorphic in nature. People who are comfortable with their Islamic background, and traditions, do express the thoughts somewhat in the way I expressed them.
    Lastly, the ideas you regard as failing everywhere, are in fact being asserted everywhere. We are challenging the so called World Order imposed on 1.6 billion Muslim people by the Western predatory regimes.
    Your pen-name (hore choopo) reminds me: the western powers SUCK THE LIFE out of those they subordinate to themselves. But for people of my mold who PRECEDED me (e.g. Jinnah, Bhutto, etc), there would be no be-jesus left in you.Recommend

  • Jamil M Chaudri

    If this petition were inspired by Islamic teaching I would have signed it. For it is Islam that teaches respect for ALL human life, as well as respect for religious beliefs of others.
    Jinnah’s core vision of the IRP was that: “Pakistan was not going to be a theocratic state — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission”. Non-Muslim minorities, he said, would “enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan”.
    On Aug 14, 1947 (the FIRST DAY of Pakistan) on the inauguration of the Constitutional Assembly of Pakistan, Jinnah said:
    “The tolerance and goodwill that great Emperor Akbar showed to all the non-Muslims is not of recent origin. It dates back thirteen centuries, when our prophet (peace be upon him) not only by words but by deeds treated the Jews and Christians, after he had conquered them, with utmost tolerance and regard and respect for their faith and beliefs. The whole history of Muslims wherever they ruled, is replete with those humane and great principles which should be followed and practiced”.
    .
    This should be the basis of appealing to Pakis to forego their animal-like behaviour, which they learnt under non-Muslim colonialism.Recommend