(originally published in Dawn News)
‘SECULARISM’ may be a bad word in the dictionary of our ideologues, but it unites Pakistanis like nothing else. Take cricket as a binding force, for instance.
There’s nothing Islamic or un-Islamic about the sport, and in that it defines what the much-mistaken term ‘secularism’ means: neither religious nor explicitly irreligious, and certainly not anti-religion; secularism is religion-neutral; it can hold all religions in its fold, like in India and Bangladesh.
Of course, there are a handful of those on the fringes of society who oppose even cricket because it is too ‘secular’ for their liking. It is not about going up in the rugged mountains and training to kill in the name of God, but a sport that is enjoyed and played most passionately right down to the grass-roots level — from the dusty streets of Gwadar to the valleys of Hunza. It is everything, including popular, that the Taliban are not.
That is perhaps why they attacked the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in March 2009, putting an end to Pakistan as an international cricket host; they even called football ‘a waste of time’ when football fever was high during last year’s World Cup, ostensibly because it distracts the youth from their mission which is to kill and maim to enforce their version of Islam.
It can be argued that historically populism in Pakistan is tied to secular causes, the kind of populism that sweeps across the land and brings people together. Basant did that for years in Punjab before the killer twine killed it under orders from the highest court.
In the 2008 election, none of the political parties that got the popular vote harped on religious idiom because they knew that since the imposition of the Islamisation process by Gen Zia’s martial law regime, religion had become more of a dividing rather than a uniting force. Among the top victims of that controversial process have been women and the minorities; sectarianism amongst Muslims also sprung up as its ungodly offspring.
That is why Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, a religious party, now practises public issue-based politics, believing in the electoral process even if their goal is to enforce Sharia — a demand that should be more popular than, say, cricket, as the proponents of Islamic ideology would insist, but what to do when it is not? That’s why the Taliban have come to hate him too.
Then, take the 2007-2009 lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judges sent packing by Gen Musharraf. It united the legal community from across the board, as indeed did the election last year of Asma Jahangir to the post of the president of the Supreme Court Bar. The only ideology embraced by the legal fraternity and which won the day was pushing for ‘rule of law’. And this too leads us to a very interesting point in the sphere of law itself. Consider the Raymond Davis case.
When pressure did not work, the US was forced to fight out his case under Pakistan’s existing, controversial Qisas and Diyat law, which favours the rich — no conditions of faith or nationality or the nature of the crime committed attached — as opposed to serving the cause of justice. The outrage over Davis’s acquittal was shared equally by Pakistanis across the land.
Paradoxically, the religious right which wants more such laws enacted in the name of Sharia was most vocal about the ‘injustice’ done in the case. Paradoxically again, instead of the religious right, the Americans were embarrassed before their own voters for having paid for the release of Davis. Washington denied paying any blood money itself; it was arranged through diplomatic channels with help from friendly governments which had no such qualms.
Davis would have gone to trial and probably have been convicted under secular laws, which Ziaul Haq and after him Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif replaced with the controversial Sharia laws. Dare anyone today say that the cause of justice was served by Davis paying blood money and walking away a free man?
Granted all Pakistanis today want the rule of law under which justice is served and also seen to be done. For this do we need laws that are abused or dispense injustice under the pretext of having divine sanction? In fact, they don’t, for Sharia laws are just as man-made as so-called secular laws. We had rather have laws that we can change to meet the demands of justice as human intellect evolves and embraces values that are universally applicable.
When secular causes can bring and keep Pakistanis together why not secular laws? Secularism does not negate Islam as a popular faith as it was practised before the imposition of controversial laws, under which rape victims can be locked up if they cannot prove the crime; mothers can forgive their sons for murdering their own daughters; the rich can pay blood money to escape punishment while a poor man goes to the gallows for committing the same crime; and minorities are booked for blaspheming against Islam. All this brings Islam only disrepute and no glory.
For God, for unity, for the country, we need to rethink our laws. Meanwhile, keep counting on cricket as the secular binding force at a time when all else, especially an obscurantist state ideology, does all to divide and rule us with its misrule.