Saturday, 8 January 2011

Faith in the System?

I am sure you are all aware of the assassination of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab province. As you might imagine, this is a rather more serious post than my last. Whilst obviously tragic for Mr Taseer and for his friends and family, the repercussions of this murder resonate around the world. Or perhaps, more specifically, the repercussions of the Pakistani reaction to it.

When I first heard of the assassination and the reasoning behind it (his view that the blaspemy laws were too harsh), like most I was stunned. My thoughts then went to the reaction. Would Pakistan take this opportunity to declare itself a modern country, a democratic country, a moderate country? Would the Government, the people and the leaders of its majority religion, Islam, condemn this extremist fanaticism? Would they decree that this is not what Islam is about - cold-blooded murder justified by a radical reading of the koran, by an extremist stance on the Islamic faith?

Thus far, the answer has come back a resounding 'no'. Hundreds of Pakistan's religious leaders have publicly applauded the murder, suggesting Taseer brought it on himself and deserved to be killed. Both clerics and politicians alike have given their support to the murderer. There have been warnings that no-one is to grieve for Taseer or they will suffer a similar fate. As the murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, was driven to court supporters threw rose petals at the vehicle carrying him. These death threats, this unashamed support of illegality, seems to be meekly accepted by the Government and the people. Very few speak out, and they are drowned by the voice of fanaticism.

These people are our allies in the region. They also have nuclear weapons. Brilliant.

Recall, if you will, the case of Nadia Eweida, the member of BA cabin crew suspended for wearing a crucifix. Now imagine that the BA executive who made that decision was gunned down in London by a devout Christian. First off, could you imagine it happening? No, of course not, for the strains of Christianity in the UK have long moderated themselves from within since their crusading, witch-burning and generally rather colourful past. Secondly, could you imagine anything but disgust and condemnation for the murderer and his act? Again, of course not. You would get the same reaction in every properly civilised country around the world.

Were Afghanistan an island, the war would most likely have been won a long time ago. Instead, we are fighting a war where we have no safe zone but the enemy do. The Afghani/Pakistani border is more porous than a kitchen sieve, and the bordering Pakistani regions, lawless badlands controlled by religious extremists supply safe haven and support for pro-Taliban fighters. This is where our upstanding British nationals go to train to kill their own. For all the Pakistani Government's assurances it is stamping out extremism, tackling support for the Taliban, what hope is there when this rabid extremism is condoned at the heart of its own politics?

We might say we can ill afford another enemy in the region, but what use are allies like these? Ultimately Britain has no option here; this dilemma is for Pakistan and Islam to tackle. Issues of religious dogma are rarely solved from the outside. As with Islamic extremism in this country, the moderating voice must come from within. Islam must show that this abhorrent violence is not the way of the majority, for they are all too silent at the moment. They must be strong for currently it is clear that Salman Taseer was right in complaining of his Government that it was "not willing to tackle fanaticism head on", and worryingly it is a charge easily levelled at moderate Islam the world over.

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