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.