Religious extremism: a case for a secular Pakistan

When arrest warrants of hatemonger Khadim Rizvi were issued in the month of March this year on account of Faizabad sit-in held last year, none dared to arrest him and he continued to make public events in a very brazen way.

Faizabad sit-in was one of the most fatal offshoots of the culmination of the long cherished culture of extremism by State elements in Pakistan. Farhatullah Babar rightly said in an event that Faizabad dharna infused extremism into the core of the State of Pakistan. Mumtaz Qadri, a convicted killer of then Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer stands publicly eulogized across Pakistan. Jamaat-ud-Dawa — an outlawed organization at national and international level was making public shows in an open way till recently. What warrants anxiety is that none of the State institutions feel empowered to stop these outlawed acts.

It simply reflects that religious extremism and zealots have critically surpassed writ of State in several ways. Such state of affairs carry detrimental effects for the State and Society in Pakistan. At this juncture, extremism that also leads to terrorism can safely be called the biggest of all threats to the State and Society in Pakistan.

What is a real solution to the problem? I believe that the problem of religious extremism cannot be solved without overhauling of State’s constitutional and legal order on the lines of secularism. Religion must be completely separated from politics and State affairs in Pakistan. Currently, our State, albeit being a non-living entity, has a religion and its hybrid legal order is structured on common laws and Islamic codes.

Let me ground my argument in the work of John Locke ‘A Letter Concerning Toleration’ one of the early masterpiece writings which professed cause of secularism and secular State. He wrote this letter in the 17th century in the backdrop of increasing religious intolerance because of the nexus between State and Religion and mix-up of State affairs with religious beliefs. I wish that all our policymakers and de facto and de jure rulers of this country read this letter and understand normative grounds and exigency of a secular State and a society.

Until our state separates itself from religion, persecution of religious minorities will continue

John Locke structured his arguments and developed a case for a secular State and a society on followings grounds.

Firstly, he believes that religious beliefs are a personal phenomenon and spiritual in their nature, while State is a political entity and an administrative machinery to manage material aspects of society ie peace, social welfare, and social development. Thus, State must not involve itself in beliefs of people. Civil power [State] should not try to establish any articles of faith or doctrine, or any forms of worship, by the force of its laws… the only way to change men’s opinions is through light, and you can’t produce light in someone’s mind by torturing him. The civil government’s power relates only to the public good, attending only to the care of the things of this world. The care of souls is not the magistrate’ business. . . The magistrate [government] has no power to enforce by civil law — in any church, even his own — the use of any rites or ceremonies in the worship of God.

Secondly, once a State begins to meddle into the personal beliefs of people, it provides leverage to the community belonging to the State religion. In return, those people violate civic and human rights of others including the right to faith. He writes that no individual or church or commonwealth has a right to attack the civil rights and worldly goods of anyone on the pretence of religion. No private person has any right to encroach in any way on another person’s civil goods because he declares his allegiance to another church or religion. If there is anything that a man has as a matter of human rights or civil rights, is to remain inviolably his own.

Locke believes that prerogatives enjoyed by a community of State religion pose threat to the State and its society. He calls such State-sponsored religious hegemony as an evil. He writes that an evil that is less visible but more dangerous to the commonwealth [State] occurs when men claim for themselves and their co-religionists some special prerogative that does in fact conflict with the civil right of the [other] community.

Thirdly, it is an inherent responsibility of a State to protect religious minorities. State loses its legitimacy once it fails to protect these minorities. He writes that whether the man is Christian or pagan, he is to be kept safe [by State] from violence and injury.

Last but not least, it is the sheer responsibility of a State to maintain public peace against the outrageous acts of religious zealots. He writes that [State must] let no man’s life, or a body, or house, or estate; suffer any kind of harm on these accounts. . . . If anything happens in a religious meeting that is seditious and contrary to the public peace, it should be punished in exactly the same way as if it had happened in a public square. These meetings ought not to be sanctuaries for trouble-makers.

Based on these arguments of John Locke, our defacto and de jure rulers must realize that State is a political entity that has nothing to do with religion which is apolitical and spiritual in its nature. State being administrative machinery must be structured around modern day laws and codes to meet modern day needs. Until and unless our State separates itself from religion, persecution of religious minorities will continue to occur; religious extremism will continue to muster and will prove fatal for this country and its people. If we really want to see Pakistan to progress and to sustain its existence, we must make it completely a secular State at the earliest. There is no room left for further delays and excuses.

Writer has done Masters in Human Rights and Democratisation from the University of Sydney

Published in Daily Times, May 16th 2018.


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