A suicide bomber belonging to extremist group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, associated with the Pakistani Taliban, attacked a large park in Lahore where people were celebrating Easter Sunday. His powerful bomb caused the deaths of at least 70 people, mostly women and children, and injured more than 350 people. The bomber seemed to have targeted the Christians but the people taking part in the celebration were of all faiths, including Christians and Muslims. Most of the victims were Muslims. This bomber blowing himself up in a crowed public place was following the commands of his extremist mentors. In fact, such brainwashed suicide bombers are also victims of their own right-wing organisations that send them to commit such acts.
Yet, the events of Easter Sunday in Lahore did not come as a surprise to the people who know about the politicisation of Islam in Pakistan that produced Islamist militants, willing to attack religious minorities as part of their religious mission.
It is important to keep in mind that such religious fanatics did not emerge in a political vacuum. They are a natural growth of the exploitation of Islam that Pakistan’s political elites had assiduously cultivated right after the death of Mr. Jinnah in 1948. A milestone in the regressive political scenario was reached in 1956 when the new country was baptised as the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’. Thus Islam and Pakistani State had become one; this union was the beginning of the theocratic state where religious establishment and Islamist parties were free to propagate their versions of Islamic State and its political direction.
From now on, religious parties and clerics became even more vocal champions of an Islamist state in which only the Islamic law, the Sharia, was to prevail, thus excluding any man-made laws based upon modern western legal principles and codes. The full introduction of the Sharia was to be the firm foundation upon which a paradise on earth was to be built, where peace and justice would prevail.
As many ignorant clerics and their supporters had scant knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, they visualised the model of the Islamic state strictly according to the Sharia as they wished. Apparently, many people have heard that under the Sharia laws, a thief’s hands are chopped off and a woman accused of adultery is stoned to death. As a result, millions of indoctrinated people are jubilant about the bright prospects of a truly Islamic order and its quick dispensation of justice. The women charged with adultery or some other sexual transgression would be readily sent to the next world; thieves with chopped off hands would prove a warning to any prospective offenders of the consequences of stealing. Such things would kindle the light of righteousness on the heavenly structure set up in Pakistan. No more worries. Worries would become a thing of the unholy past.
What the Pakistani Islamists and extremists have set their sights on are not confined to the borders of their country. Theirs is a universal call for all the ‘true believers’, everywhere. They have a sacred task ahead of them. They should move forward and do what their Islamist leaders tell them to do. In fact, most Pakistani Muslims, who are otherwise quite gentle and kind people in their dealings in their daily lives, support the idea of a such a truly Islamic state that is on the model of the caliphate of the seventh-century Arabia. The call for sharia laws has become the rallying cry and the heartbeat of these people.
How has religious orthodoxy and extremism affected the people of Pakistan can be illustrated from the case of Mumtaz Qadri. By all accounts, he was an ordinary man, certainly an indoctrinated poor soul, who was in the squad of the personal bodyguards of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab. He killed Mr Taseer in the most gruesome manner by shooting him with 28 bullets at close range. He committed this ghastly crime because Mr Taseer had opposed the notorious blasphemy laws and tried to speak on behalf of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who was languishing in prison after her trial and conviction under the blasphemy laws on concocted charges.
On Qadri’s arrest and subsequent trial, large crowds held public demonstrations in the country in his favour. He was the ‘hero of Islam’. The role of thousands of lawyers in this sad story was equally alarming. They were over-zealous and were in the forefront of such demonstrations. These ‘educated’ people like uneducated or poorly educated people also saw and see the blasphemy laws vital to protect the name and honour of Almighty God, the Holy Prophet and the Qur’an. Therefore, when we discuss widespread indoctrination, a person with common sense or ordinary intelligence will soon realise the havoc caused by uncritical thinking and morbid indoctrination.
When Qadri was eventually executed for his premeditated murder, hundreds of thousands Pakistanis in many cities in Pakistan demonstrated in his favour, naming him the ‘hero of Islam’ and a ‘martyr’. Moreover, he received the same passionate support from the Pakistani communities living in Europe and elsewhere. Many ordinary people of European origin were simply amazed at what these people were saying and doing in free democratic countries.
In addition, the objective of Islamic parties and their indoctrinating clerics was to fight against what they regarded as western values, such as democratic forms of government, gender equality, freedom of expression and belief. Under this system, religious minorities have only a secondary status in Islamic Pakistan. A change of religion from Islam to any other faith is out of question. Those abandoning Islam run great risks; they become apostates and their punishment is death. However, there is a lot of goodwill towards any non-Muslim who converts to Islam. By such an act, a convert to Islam becomes the member of Islamic community and can have unlimited divine favours here and hereafter.
To sum up, the phenomenon of Islamist terror, whose recent example was in Lahore, is not some incidental aberration but rather a result of a politically and religiously motivated world-view that has an ideological background. It is safe to say that most Pakistanis favour an Islamic order and the introduction of the sharia laws in their country because that will lead to a prosperous present and a virtuous future. However, they do not necessarily support the terrorist methods and bomb blasts of the extremists. They would love to see a peaceful transformation to the Islamic order without the terror of the Taliban and other militant groups they have seen for many years. The support for such an outlook is not limited to ordinary, uneducated and indoctrinated people either. Many well-educated people also stand with the upholders of Islamist ideology and the champions of the sharia laws. The call to turn to ‘real Islam’ echoes the feelings of a country of 200 million people. Where things are heading in Pakistan gives no room for complacency.