Does Society Want Peace? by Javed Ghamdi

Does Society Want Peace?
 
Javed Ghamdi
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The Pakistani nation, hostage to some of the worst forms of terrorism, much of it inbred, has been debating on whether or not talks with the Taliban would be productive. Most of the discussions revolve around whether it is justifiable to sit across the table with those who have caused thousands of civilians, among them children, as well as security forces to be killed or crippled. A large group favours dialogue, arguing that serious talks have never really been given a chance whilst the so called war on terror remained a proxy war for the US. Predictions are bandied about, and the best of analysts can do just that- analyse a situation that has become alarmingly unequal.

As a society, the Pakistani nation has rarely pondered, at least not deeply or collectively, whether it wants peace, or continuous strife. This may sound absurd, because have not people been literally clamouring for peace everywhere, have not successive governments made promises of ensuring peace and security and has not peace been the most prominent and popular of all topics of media talk shows, newspaper articles, political discourse and public meeting slogans?

Despite the brandishing of the peace slogan, the Pakistani society at large has become a violent and war mongering mix of individuals. Excluding militants, terrorists and criminals, most of us belong to this group: the common man who believes that it is right to enforce particular laws of the Sharia’h in Pakistan because it is an Islamic state; anyone who is a non Muslim is wajib-ul-qatal, or at least is a second rate citizen; anyone who dares to speak his mind and criticize or merely express a difference of opinion from standard interpretation of Islamic teachings ought to be killed, and mono dimensional religious indoctrination is another term for the way to paradise. This thinking has become so deeply etched in the psyche of a common Muslim in Pakistan that views and opinions that venture to suggest alternates are met immediately with violent reactions. If the first, almost unconscious response is to make an attack, it is small wonder that more serious forms of violence have developed and been condoned. With minds that are closed to any discussion or debate on religious views, particularly those that relate to public laws, society has turned its back on the only path towards a peaceful existence; that of mutual respect, consultation and freedom of expression. These are the building blocks of Islam, as they are of any true and authentic democracy. Islam gave choice to man, and linked it to both freedom and responsibility. Nowhere have Islamic teachings promoted oppression, least of all in its own name.

Religion in today’s Pakistan has taken various forms, almost all of them being either ritualistic, having no resemblance to the Islam that Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) brought, as did all other prophets before him. This was the Islam that came to purify man, gave him guidance from God, and taught him to love his fellow beings, reflect deeply, gain knowledge and do good deeds. The latter were defined as creating a society within which there would be equity, justice, kindness and mercy for all, regardless of creed, gender or status. This was a society where a Muslim would be the best example in terms of relations with others and honesty of dealings. It was not a society where followers of other religions would be hounded, age old statues of religious value to others be destroyed, women banned from education and public life and men forced to wear beards. This was not the Islam where an autobiography by a young courageous girl would be banned from schools or its inauguration cancelled; where a provincial governor would be killed by his guard who would then be garlanded by lawyers; where a 65 year old would be sentenced to death because he was silly enough to declare himself a prophet. It was certainly not the Islam that called for enforcement of particular kind of laws upon a society that was still struggling for the basic necessities of survival.

Distorted interpretations of this great religion have been hammered often by using religious rhetoric by vested interests. So much so that society feels that if it does not believe in these narratives, it will lose its faith. Our so called religious personalities have managed to relieve most of us with the God given gift of thinking about religion for ourselves, and making up our own minds about what is wrong and right. The oppression began by subduing the God given right to think for oneself; it continues with mass murders, and those who were oppressed have become almost indistinguishable from their tormentors.

When a society loses its ability to think and listen, and in turn the courage to speak up without fear of retribution, it begins to decay. We may be the target of militants who kill us physically, but we have already allowed ourselves to die a slow intellectual and spiritual death. Each time we believe in some religious rhetoric, or fail to condemn an act that has not been sanctioned by God for us to take, we become accomplices and militants.

Unless the average Muslim in Pakistan realizes how he has contributed to this unending game of killing those who do not conform to one’s world view, and unless he understands that God will hold him responsible for his belief and practice of Islam, both as an individual and as a member of a society, peace will remain elusive. We cannot bring peace when we ourselves are violent and ready to kill others, verbally, spiritually and intellectually. For that is what we have done to our society. For peace, we must learn to stand up for our right to dissent, on all including religious matters. And demonstrate zero tolerance for those who muzzle it.

 

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