John Stuart Mill in his famous book “On Liberty” stated,
“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, then he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
The western philosopher was of the view that to silence an opinion is to rob mankind. If the silenced opinion is right, the loss is obvious; if it is wrong, men lose the chance to gain a ‘clearer perception and livelier impression of the truth’ which results from conflict between right and wrong. Truth needs constantly to be attacked in order to preserve its vigour.
Unfortunately in our country the leaders in general and the religious clerics in particular have always discouraged the attitude of nonconformity which has resulted in society’s collective failure to break the shackles of ignorance and intolerance. The shocking incident of Governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassination is a reflection of growing intolerance in our society. The tragic murder is a grim reminder of the way our society has degenerated to a dangerous level of dehumanization and descended into the depths of brutality and fanaticism.
Religious fanaticism and ignorance is seriously threatening to tear apart the delicate fabric of our society. Salmaan Taseer had refused to bow before the pressure of religious extremists and mustered the courage to publicly highlight the urgent need of reviewing blasphemy laws in view of their misuse. The fact that these blasphemy laws lack adequate safeguards against their blatant misuse was regretted by the slain governor. Since Mr. Taseer visited Aasia Bibi in prison, the so-called religious elements were out after him and his effigies were also burnt during December 31 protests.
Governor Taseer was an outspoken and courageous person who did not desist from raising voice for the minorities. And this was the admirable part of his personality that ultimately cost him his life. During his long political career he may have gathered many skeletons in his cupboard but one thing is beyond doubt that despite his warts and all he in no way deserved such cruel treatment. The killer of Salmaan Taseer did no praiseworthy service to anyone except bringing
bad name to Islam. One thing we have to understand is that in this globalized world overwhelming majority of people are getting estranged with Islam just because of the madness of these forces of darkness that do not even understand what Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) struggled for throughout his whole life.
The religious forces are to be blamed in this regard as they, in an attempt to seek political mileage, misled the public into believing that Taseer committed blasphemy. We as a nation have totally lost the ability to appreciate diversity and exercise objective attitude towards those who are at odds over religious views. In the aftermath of Taseer’s murder, the expression of illogical opinions by some self-righteous religious scholars and media commentators indirectly justifying this inhuman act and the general response of ignorant masses lionizing Mumtaz Qadri merely serve promoting a culture of
violence in the country.
Taseer’s cold-blooded murder is a clarion call for all liberal forces to break the ice and play their role to arrest the pernicious trend of religious fanaticism. To live in a particular socio-political environment it is of paramount importance that all the people practice a tolerant attitude towards the differences that exist among them. Islam is a religion of peace and it teaches its followers to behave gently with the people professing different faiths.
The civil society organizations and media must emphasize that values of love and tolerance are key to a peaceful and stable order. The increasing radicalization of the society will jeopardize the Quaid’s vision of a progressive and welfare state. Another discomforting aspect is that the mainstream political forces, amidst the debate on blasphemy laws, adopted an apologetic stance and thus provided the extremists an opportunity to brutally silence the isolated voice of
Acceptance of diversity can only save our country on the verge of moral bankruptcy from further sliding into decadence. This involves consciously challenging those stereotypes that have become the source of deep dissensions. Educators can also play their part in promoting tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
The following steps are necessary to curb the Frankenstein monster of extremism. The textbooks should be purged of any material that spreads hatred towards minorities and differing sects. The curriculum of madressahs needs to be reviewed and brought in conformity with the syllabus being taught in government institutions. An inter-disciplinary course titled ‘Logic and Critical Thinking’ should be introduced at secondary level to familiarize the students with principles of reason.
Stern action must be taken against religious clerics inciting violence in mosques. The educated citizens must raise their voice preaching the significance of harmonious co-existence and marginalize the extremist elements. It is high time the state authorities show zero tolerance towards extremism and create conditions indispensable for flourishing of the norm of reason. Dalai Lama once remarked, “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”