Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Religious Hatred In Pakistan

Concerns are mounting for religious minorities still residing in Pakistan. The resurgence of the Taliban and their takeover in some areas has made an already bad situation worse for Pakistan's religious minorities.

Pakistan, though less religiously diverse than neighbouring India has serious problems with religious tolerance 77% of its population is Sunni Muslim and 20% is Shiite. Some of the worst suicide bombings in the world are in Pakistan, perpetrated because of theological differences within Islam between Shiite and Sunni. In the legal framework of Islam, the highest class is that of believers. "People of the book" such as Jews and Christians enjoy a second class citizenship with limited protections and special taxes. Idolators, who are members of polytheistic faiths have no protection at all. The worst category to be in is that of a heretic from Islam. The ancestors of Bahais were in many cases Muslim. It is for this reason that modern Bahais are persecuted. Shiites and Sunnis consider each other to be in theological error. In the heat of emotion, there are those who are willing to kill theological opponents. The internet is full of Muslim religious sites pointing the finger at other Islamic variants.

Far worse is the plight of Hindus, Christians and Sikhs who endure harassment, murder and rape in areas where the police turn a blind eye to violence against them. The inroads made by the Taliban and other religious extremists have only made this problem worse.

It is no longer possible to think of this as an issue affecting only minorities. Someone living in a Taliban controlled area must conform to outer manifestations of piety that conflict with their real feelings. When the Taliban were routed from Kabul in Afghanistan, video sellers immediately c substituted sermon videos with Bollywood movies that were banned under Taliban rule. Such movies are very modest by western standards with strict regulations barring nudity and depictions of sexual behavior. In Iraq, falafel vendors were in some neighbourhoods under fundamentalist rule ordered to stop selling falafel because it did not exist in the time of Mohammed.

There is a malignant quality to religious intolerance. When a multitude of faiths each have a claim to being the sole path to truth, there has to be a way to differ without bloodshed. A G-d that remains silent when falsehood is spoken in His name is modeling a quality of patience that is to be emulated by those who profess devotion to Him.

The fight against religious intolerance must be joined and even led by those who are most impassioned in their beliefs. Even those who wish they could convert the world to their ways should recognise an enlightened self interest.

I was once talking with someone who had converted to a splinter religion. He was a true believer. He sold newspapers in his spare time and volunteered in the office of his group. He and I were talking about our respective conversions. We considered each other to be errant and lost souls in possession of the real truth. The subject came up of deprogramming, which involves kidnapping a cult member and attempting to "deprogram" them from their religious beliefs. We were both uneasy with the concept although we agreed that there certainly nutty cults in the world. We ended up conceding a common fear that either one of us could be labeled a "cult member" , kidnapped and "deprogrammed" if a legal dispensation is given to such activity.

Most people do not believe that all faiths or ideologies are equal. They believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong. It is profoundly wasteful to "convert by the sword". Argument and example are far more persuasive. Though sparked from without, true change must come from within.

I feel a tremendous sense of solidarity with the religious minorities in Pakistan. It saddens and angers me to read of suicide bombings of mosques, attacks on churches and Hindu temples in Pakistan. There are many poor Pakistanis who send their children to Islamic religious schools because they are heavily subsidised by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab countries with an extremist and intolerant agenda. After the Islamic insurgency in that country is suppressed, it is essential for those whose religion includes tolerance to put their money where their mouth is and to pay for schools that do not produce cannon fodder for holy war. There are too many villages in Pakistan where extremist madrassas are the only show in town. Pakistan's parents need real choice in educating their children. Arming Pakistanis with weapons is only a part of a strategy for bringing peace to that country. Arming the children of Pakistan with knowledge to function as peaceful and productive citizens must be a part of any long term solution to its problems. In that deeply religious country, a theology of tolerance is needed if Pakistan is to move to a peaceful and prosperous future.
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1 comment:

Pat said...

Thanks for the interesting article. Being able to reference it made this piece more informative.

Best of all possible regards,
Pat Hartman
News Editor, The Blog of Kevin Dolgin