The limits of tolerance

Anger, antagonism and frustration tend to promote the culture of violence directed against those who are unable to defend themselves

Tolerance is a double edged sword because one can tolerate the views of the other side whereas at the same time can also exercise enormous patience and restraint to accept injustices, cruelty, corruption and nepotism. Pakistani society tends to show a great deal of tolerance and patience for things which are tantamount to appeasing evil and criminal deeds.

The barbaric act which took place in Kasur, a district in Punjab province of Pakistan on January 9 resulting into rape and murder of seven-year-old girl is not a singular event but is a reflection of inhuman mindset questioning the level of tolerance of people of things which cannot be tolerated in a country which happens to be Islamic and democratic. In a short span of time, it was the eight incident of that type in Kasur and countless similar acts have taken place in different parts of Pakistan, either reported or not.

Why frustration, anger, aggression, intolerance, extremism and violence have permeated in Pakistani society and how the culture of indifference on matters which are cruel, barbaric and violent can be transformed as conscious and civilized? How one can exercise zero tolerance for things which not only promote inhuman practices but also tarnish the image of the country abroad?

It is not for the first time that the gruesome incident of rape and killing of minor girl has taken place. In fact, reported and unreported incidents of such types are on daily basis but no serious steps are taken to find out the causes of such incidents and to award timely and exemplary punishment to those responsible for destroying the future of this country.

Anger, antagonism and frustration tend to promote the culture of violence whether directed against those who are unable to defend themselves and become a victim of human lust and cruelty or against those resist such inhuman acts. The brutal killing of Mashal Khan, a student of Abul Wali Khan University Mardan last year April on false charges of blasphemy is a vivid example how tolerant people of this country are to allow such things to happen. And who can forget the killing of the former Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer by his own police body guard in broad day light in front of a market in Islamabad in January 2011 again on false assumptions of blasphemy? Tolerating those who take law into their own hands is a dangerous trend which can further deepen the level of violence in Pakistan.

Negative tolerance is thus crux of the problem as far as Pakistani culture is concerned. It will take several decades to re-establish ethics and social values provided concerned efforts are made at the state and societal level for zero tolerance as far as cruelty, violence, injustices, corruption and nepotism are concerned

Tolerance is essential for promoting political pluralism, alternate discourse of thinking and strengthening democracy but when people tolerate injustices, cruelty, corruption and nepotism it means their understanding of tolerance is highly negative. And that is exactly what has been going on in Pakistan where people possess enormous patience to tolerate things which are utterly wrong, inhuman and unjust.

Paradigm shift in the phenomenon of tolerance is because of four major reasons. First, erosion of values and ethics in Pakistani society. Five decades ago, injustices, violence, extremism, corruption and nepotism were highly disliked and those who were found in practicing such evils were not only punished but were also socially boycotted. The majority of people had zero tolerance for crimes, corruption and nepotism and societal values at that time played an important role in distinguishing between what is right and what is wrong.

Now, in the last four decades, the line which used to divide right and wrong, good and bad has disappeared from scene. Second, the criminalization of politics which promoted the surge of mafias in the form of elected representatives aiming to maximize their wealth and misuse of authority is primarily a post-1971 phenomenon. The genocide of merit and the culture of nepotism augmented frustration, anger and antagonism in society, particularly amongst the youths. Elected representatives, who should be role models in society, were to a large extent equated with inefficiency and corruption. On these grounds, when violence erupted in the wake of barbaric act against a 7 year old girl in Kasur, the target of mob violence was the elected members of provincial and national assemblies. People wanted to release their anger against their elected representatives and ministers as they had failed to provide them with basic security and a better sense of living.

Third, the culture of indifference and tolerating things which are bad, inhuman, cruel and corrupt has evolved as a result of a process of several decades. When leadership at the national, community and family level is irresponsible and tolerates injustices, corruption and nepotism, it means societal decay. It is the leadership at any level which matters and is responsible for upholding social values. The erosion of social values is because of decline in educational standard and the failure of state to ensure free, compulsory and quality education to all the school going children of Pakistan. When the standard of education is compromised; corruption and nepotism permeates in educational institutions, the outcome is further erosion of social values and ethics.

Good education at the family and school level builds a strong character among students which is to a large extent missing these days. Since, a vast majority of the people of Pakistan do not have access to good education, most of the incidents targeting children and women for their sexual lust take place and because of the culture of indifference of people who tolerate things which are inhuman in nature.

Finally, the culture of tolerating injustices, cruelty, violence, corruption and nepotism has deepened in Pakistani society because people have lost faith in law, order and justice. When those involved in inhuman practices get away, people question why they should take a stand when the absence of the rule of law provides space to criminals and thugs? Maximum what people can do to express their anger in case there is something cruel and barbaric is by demonstrating, attacking, damaging and burning public and private property. And, they also know that instead of apprehending the culprits police will go after them. At the end of the day, the practice is that people will forget what had happened till the time another cruel and barbaric incident takes place.

Negative tolerance is thus crux of the problem as far as Pakistani culture is concerned. It will take several decades to re-establish ethics and social values provided concerned efforts are made at the state and societal level for zero tolerance as far as cruelty, violence, injustices, corruption and nepotism are concerned.

The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi and can be reached at amoonis@hotmail.com

Published in Daily Times, January 19th 2018.