How Islamic Is Pakistan Anyway?

20/10/2015 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Srosh Anwar Photography via Getty Images
Child staring at Badshahi Mosque, Lahore from Lahore Fort at sunset. Both of the buildings are artistic marvels of Mughal Empire.

The answer is, it depends.

It depends on when you run into the average Pakistani male. Pakistan is "I-don't-care" Islamic when he is drooling over Katrina Kaif's "assets" at the movies. Conversely, Pakistan is full-on Islamic when the same gent is at Friday prayers, nodding solemnly in agreement with the imam spewing religious hate speech.

This brings me to the reason for my rant: Pakistan's newfound "liberal conscience." Steered by the many "brave" columnists of the English-language dailies, theirs is a revolution bent on destroying Pakistan's "Islamist" status quo. Since I am a card-carrying coward, I will stick to mundane facts.

"It completely eludes these braves that religion has been a social and political tool for rich humans to manipulate poor humans since time immemorial."

Women get treated as inferiors in Pakistan, blame Islam. The economy has gone down the gutter, blame Islam. The politicians are all crooked and in bed with the Taliban, it must have something to do with the long-dead Gen.Zia-ul-Haq! It completely eludes these braves that religion has been a social and political tool for rich humans to manipulate poor humans since time immemorial. The wider the class divide in any society, the better this tool works.

Somehow, these writers also believe that underneath the Islamic straightjacket is a Pakistani soul made of pure white light. Stupidity, hence, is not innate, but remote controlled from Riyadh. This is a dangerous narrative because it dumps all of society's failings onto an invisible bogey instead of individuals owning up to their actions.

Still, how do you measure the Islamic quotient in Pakistan? Most obviously through electoral results, especially after 9-11 when "Great Satan" America, to quote the ayatollahs, invaded Muslim lands. Historically, Pakistan's Islamist political parties, led by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), have polled poorly, usually finishing with less than 5% of the popular vote.

The only exception was the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) coalition in 2002 that pulled in 11% of that year's tally, which is still well below respectable. I think we can safely surmise that the vast majority of Pakistanis, barring pockets in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan provinces, have no interest in Sharia rule.

There is, of course, more damning evidence of Pakistan's Islamization in the country's penal code. Gen.Zia's Hudood Ordinances and his revision of the British Raj's blasphemy laws are, for sure, draconian to the point of being corrosive. Two diktats herein that get Pakistan the most grief internationally relate to sexual offenses and blaspheming the Prophet Muhammed. The punishment for both crimes can be life imprisonment or death.

"Gen.Zia's Hudood Ordinances and his revision of the British Raj's blasphemy laws are, for sure, draconian to the point of being corrosive."

That said, there are loopholes that make it easy for rapists to get away scot-free and any mob to lynch non-Muslims with impunity. Unsurprisingly, these often serve to settle personal scores in rural Pakistan. The most remarkable thing about both laws is their longevity. Five years of the secular, female Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and seven years of the "enlightened moderate" Gen. Pervez Musharraf were somehow not sufficient to get them scrapped.

How well are they applied, though? Poorly and by a process I call "selective piety." For starters, the red light area boom in Pakistan makes a mockery of the Hudood Ordinances. Prostitution dens do roaring business in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad under the patronage of local police and politicians. Ironically, the most famous of these locales, "Heera Mandi," sits right next door to the iconic Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.

The application of blasphemy laws is similarly nebulous. In theory, they apply to everyone, but not really, even if the offense plays out on TV. Pakistan's former Interior Minister Rehman Malik proved this in 2010 while chairing a cabinet meeting. After repeatedly fumbling through the most basic of Quranic verses, Malik and company burst into laughter and made a joke of something that could land a non-Muslim in jail.

Furthermore, talking up domestic militancy to confirm Pakistan's Islamization is misleading. Any number of active radical groups, be they the Taliban or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), are, or were, strategic tools of the "deep state" created to forward its geopolitical agenda. Sure, some have chewed through the leash and gone rogue, but that was a known risk from day one.

This is not to say that nut-jobs are extinct here. Mumtaz Qadri, the security guard who shot former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011 for questioning the blasphemy laws, is positively certifiable. So are the loons who showered him with rose petals on his way to court and the inevitable death sentence.

Nevertheless, a few thousand radicals are inevitable in a country of over 180 million people, especially one carved out in the name of Islam. Making these far-right ideologues synonymous with Pakistan, however, is the same as considering the Shiv Sena representative of India, or the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as the literal Voice of America. Pakistani society, as a whole, is cosmetically Islamic and nothing more.

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