Overestimating the right

By: Rasul Baksh Rais

Reading the comments in newspapers on the murder of Salmaan Taseer, I feel completely lost. Newspaper columnists and commentators have lost no time in declaring the rise of the religious right. Unfortunately, such comments in the vacuum of social research reflect only the personal reading of the events of the commentators. Both, for social discourses as well as public policy formulation, self-manufactured social facts can be disastrous.

For long, there has been a tendency in the media to project the image of the religious right as larger than what it is. One section of media commentators is ideologically and politically connected to the religious right, and as a part of its mission, it exaggerates its numbers and strength. The so-called liberalist commentators, not even knowing the basic philosophical ideas of liberalism, do a lot of fear-mongering both out of ignorance and for personal profit.

How do they profit from fear? Western donors have their own mission of creating a moderate Muslim society — without any clarity on what it means and how it can be done. But the running premise is that something has gone wrong with Pakistan’s society. Over time, we have manufactured some social facts that presentPakistan to be in dire need of an overhaul of all its vital systems from social attitudes to culture, values and ruling ideas. This creates an opportunity for our moderate activists to access the resources of western countries to reform Pakistan. Good luck to them.

True, militancy and intolerance has been on the rise in Pakistan. But it has also been constant and even grown in many other countries. No country in the world can claim to have conquered all forces of darkness and evil.

My submission is that to counter what is evil, we do not need to overstate the forces associated with it. The fringe elements of society don’t represent the whole of it. Also, the grounds of intolerance are not only religious. There is plenty of evidence of gruesome ethnic violence in Karachi and Balochistan.

Religious right groups and factions have grown clamorous and use religious occasions to publicise their point of view. For decades now, they have taken to the street for one cause or another. The question is, do they have a big enough social support base to claim electoral victories? Not yet, but there is no guarantee that they wouldn’t capture a larger public in the future, if our electoral elite continue to plunder the country and use every foul means to amass wealth at the expense of the poor.

Interestingly, our half-baked intellectuals have for decades invented causes for the rise of extremism by reading the fine lines of the curriculum, the nationalist historical narrative, the Afghan war and the Zia regime.

Such intellectual orientations amount to ignoring the real facts that may shift the social balance of power in favour of the religious right — poverty, the increasing gap between rich and poor, and an illegal economy that profits the rich and powerful. The Islamic revolution in Iran is the most relevant social fact to the contemporary conditions of Pakistan. The clergy led the dispossessed to an uprising. The terrorists, militants and suicide bombers with religious orientations are poor, deprived and marginalised. Frankly, flawed state building, flawed politics and flawed distribution of wealth are the real issues that need to be addressed to prevent further social damage.

(The writer is professor of political science at LUMS: Lahore University of Management Sciences).

NOTE:This is a cross post.

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  • Sqn Ldr S. Ausaf Husain (Retd)  On January 10, 2011 at 9:52 am

    I really appreciate the article by Mr Rasul Baksh Rais, he has pointed out the right problem. There is need to educate masses regarding religion by some well educated religious scholars. Sadly, our illiterate mullahahs and so-called religious leaders have poisoned the minds of uneducated people. General Zia also to be blamed for this who for saving his chair pumped up these mullahas and religious extremists. However, if the present scenario created by the extremists on the issue of Blasphemy Laws can be a very serious problem for the government if not tackled tactfully and without use of force.

  • Parvez Amin  On January 10, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    There is another aspect of the problem that perhaps is the most important and is the cause and also the solution. The education policy needs to be closely examined and totally revised to groom the kind of Pakistanis we all yearn for. At the very least, all education should be delivered in the provincial language with Urdu and English as compulsory subjects. This should produce people with a better understanding of the subjects taught with the additional ability to communicate in Pakistan’s national language and an the main international language of business and commerce. To give added advantage spoken Chinese and Arabic could be offered as optional subjects.

  • Archie Haase  On January 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Not sure what Pakistan’s problems are in depth. But from what I have been reading the last 30 years poverty, and lack of upward economic mobility is one source that is driving extremism. Then of course social mobility. It is not meaningful for us humans thinking all life has to offer is an existence at the bottom step socially, or economically.

    Excuse me if I attempt to explain my thoughts, and in the process make generalizations. But it seems to me when life becomes a daily struggle to put food on our families table, when medical conditions become ignored all because lack of money, us human beings turn to other means to justify our lives.

    In the United States we have a tendency also to turn to our understanding of God to justify our inability to participate in the American dream. Many Americans like Pakistanis refuse to change themselves like send their children to good schools, or focus on educational opportunities giving their children an upper hand in society. They choose instead to turn to religion.

    My message to Pakistanis is this. We in the United States have our own extremists. It is not always easy to see ours, because they have blended into America’s elite. I need only to write the name former US UN Amb.John R. Bolton and politician Sarah Palin to explain the depth of acceptance of American extremism being mainstreamed into American thinking.

    The extremists are nurtured in the American media. (example Fox News) The US media like Fox News mobilizing fringe fanatics are responsible for the murder of the US Federal Judge in Arizona and four others. I am also sure the terrible wounding of US House of Representatives, Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

    • pakpotpourri2  On January 11, 2011 at 1:50 am

      A very balanced & unbiased view of the situation & highly appreciated Archie!

  • Asad Durrani  On January 10, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Finally a sane voice. Knowing RBR, I am not surprised.

  • KHAN ZIA  On January 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    It is tragic and particularly so for his family that Mr. Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard. The fact that so many of us have joined in and devoted so much time to mourn his loss for so many days is indeed laudable. The media in particular have spent countless hours on discussions and published God knows how many articles on his passing away which is also very touching and commendable. Apart from anything else, it implies that we are kind, compassionate, caring and thoughtful people —- but is that really so?

    The tragic episode also brings to light another aspect of our society that is deeply troubling. While Mr. Taseer was just one man, thousands of equally innocent men, women and children have been blown to smithereens by the drones fired by our alleged friends and ‘strategic partners’ and countless others injured and maimed for life. They do so without any warning. For them it is like playing video games with the lives of people who are our own and they haven’t stopped. The wanton, merciless and inhuman killing that is a crime against humanity under international law goes on unchallenged, unhindered and without much comment.

    We have to ask why is it that the death of one man touches us so profoundly while we turn a blind eye to the killing of thousands of other Pakistanis, regardless of age, sex or culpability, by a foreign power? Their lives surely are just as precious to their families and their loss certainly has a far greater impact on those they leave behind. Do we consider these people as not our own or the children of a lesser god, to borrow from Arundhati Roy, and hence not worthy of our sympathy and compassion? Or is it that like our government and the armed forces we too believe foreign powers have the right and license to kill Pakistanis where and when they like? Why are we not as outraged in their cases as with Mr. Taseer and why have we not been demanding and protesting for their protection?

    The callous disregard and sheer insensitivity is a national shame that will never be washed away from our collective conscience and history will condemn us for it in no uncertain way. It is not simply Mr. Taseer’s killer; we are all sick and full of pretence and hypocrisy. It is time all of us re-examined our attitudes with a modicum of honesty and started to fear for what Allah Subhana Ta’ala might make of our pretensions and lack of humanity.

  • imnor@brain.net.pk  On January 10, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    a realistic assessment but who will bell the cat in good time.

  • Bajwa  On January 10, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    This is widely off the mark.Religious right has always been on the look out for takeover. Now they think they have got an issue that can ignite the masses and expose the liberals as anti-Islam.Pakistan could very well end in a situation of Iran and be permanently under the thumb of religious leaders. This is a normal development when societies move from feudalism to a capitalist stage. In Pakistan Middle class and feudal groups have been at daggers drawn with Army and Religious groups harvesting the benefits.Liberals should wake up and strike an alliance with the feudal as Mao did with Chiang Kai Shek. The danger is too big and too clear to be ignored.


  • Obaid Nasir  On January 10, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    A brilliant analysis indeed.But who will do all this in a society controlled by feudals and religious bigots. Will you dear Pakistanis adopt the Indian model of inclusive development by first abolishing Zamindari and making your minority the integral part of your society.In India a prime minister sacrifices his govt.for minoritie’s rights a chief minister order firing on his co religionist bent upon destroying a mosque,another chief minister sends behind bars a national leader to stop his odyssey of death and destruction and another union(federal) minister tenders his resignation to protest the callous attitude of a state govt. during communal riots.I Please try to understand the true spirit of Islam which is most progressive religion.Mad Mullahs,so called Jihadis,feudals and military junta is your worst enemy not India.
    (Obaidullah Nasir)
    Editor Qaumi Khabrein Lucknow (India)

  • jim  On January 11, 2011 at 6:41 am


  • math games  On January 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    post not working in firefox

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