October 31, 2018 marks one of the most important days in Pakistani history. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has accomplished what the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and the establishment could not — standing up to the bigotry of Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his band of anti-state extremists. In an atmosphere of international scrutiny, media controls and economic meltdown, the SC has revived hope, in the darkness of Pakistani human rights’ scene. After a decade of intense sectarianism against non-Muslim minorities, we finally have solid judicial verdict against the controversial article 295-C of the constitution. Protection of Islam from blasphemy might have deterred the ‘so-called anti-Islamists’. However, it unleashed the monster of Islamic hatred, which mars the essence of Islam as a peaceful religion. It was just last year that we saw in horror the political and unelected establishment giving into the demands of the Faizabad dharna in Islamabad. Most importantly, we saw officials of the state actually broker a deal, wherein the state of Pakistan completely gave into the demands of a hate driven agenda. Then came Imran Khan, who asked Atif Mian to resign from the EAC, due to the same pressure from motley group of extremists. Time and again these vigilante groups have obstructed enlightenment and progression. In 2015, they vowed to protect the legal right of a man to hit a woman. They constantly harass and attempt to hold this country hostage to their intolerance, fear and bigotry. However, it seemed as though, nothing would dissuade our establishment — not even the threat of the FATF grey list, for housing terrorism — to realise the danger that these hard-right groups pose to the security and national interests of Pakistan. Needless, the SC has revived our faith in the sanity and rationality, of at least one faction of the state. It is difficult to separate Aasia Bibi’s case from being just about a poor Christian woman’s access to justice, and anchoring a debate on national ideology. The death sentence of Aasia Bibi delivered by lower courts, unleashed a spree of violence that shook the ideals of freedom of speech and fairness in Pakistan. It encompassed the unjust murder of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. The threatening of human rights lawyers, an upsurge of extra-judicial blasphemy violence, mob lynching and the tragic death of Mashal Khan, Rind Qutb and so many minority citizens. The country was divided between extremist parties, those who gave into them and the rest of us; fearing our lives and sick to our stomachs. The question then arises, why? Why are some among us so intolerant? Why do we relish the politics of extremism? Why do we thrive on persecuting minorities? Why is it that Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs live in constant threat? The answers lie in the political manifestos of religious parties such as TLP, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Jamaat-i-Islami (JUI), and the endorsement of their venom by our mainstream parties, policies and institutions. While having no agenda on the economy, climate, national security, healthcare, education, administration; they have managed to garner unbelievable support. It is because they have been successful in sowing seeds of uncertainty, fear and notions of irrevocable dangers for Islam. They prey upon the religiosity of uneducated, deprived, poverty stricken masses, who are told to “rise and sacrifice for Islam”. They have resurrected fear within Sunni Muslim masses, resembling anti-colonial Muslim revivalism. The notion that “Islam is under threat, from external and domestic forces”. While external sources, such as rising Islamophobia in the West, are legitimate realities reserved for diplomatic activism. It’s these ‘domestic forces’ which bear the brute of hyperbolic defense. And who is Islam threatened by in Pakistan? By working class women, minorities, outspoken youth, liberal government officials, esteemed academics, world-renowned economists? It is through this appeal to public Muslim sentiment, that these leaders instil a false sense of heroism, in defending what was never under threat, by the most vulnerable sections of our society. It is not illogical to co-relate the role of extremists, spewing hatred and intolerance, to those terrorists who kill based upon this exact ideology. How is KHR not a terrorist, when he provides an argument for taking the heads off of SC judges? Moreover, we see these extremist religious parties making a mockery of our constitutional system. A night before the SC was to announce the verdict of Aasia Bibi’s case, Khadim Hussain Rizvi released a video message. In that message, Rizvi instructed his followers to take to the streets and stay out till the authorities issue a second decision, in case the SC acquitted Aasia Bibi. Before the final hearing in October, he threatened the SC to reach the “right decision, or face serious consequences”. In effect, harassing, bullying and assuming that he has the authority to intimidate some of the highest ranking officials in the country. If there was any doubt over the matter, as soon as the acquittal was announced, he declared the judges delivering the verdict as “wajib-ul-qatal”, that his supporters should bring their heads to him. For his followers, a fatwa is more binding than a decision passed by the highest court in the land. Rizvi even encouraged ranking generals, to stage a coup against Army Chief whom he declared as a non-Muslim. We have to question the establishment that continuously oversteps its jurisdiction, opportunist politicians who during the elections mimicked Rizvi’s sentiments to garner votes, a government that gave into every extremist whim, whereby Imran Khan defended Article 295-C just as fervently as Rizvi did. Perhaps these groups, should indulge in a much-needed self-evaluation on how they handle questions of human rights in relation to their power struggles. However, for now, we must unite and eradicate the disease of extremism that has hijacked our national discourse since the Zia years. Pakistan must use the momentum from Aasia Bibi’s verdict to protect its minorities. If the fifty-six page verdict of this historic case has emphasised anything, it is the wrongful, discriminatory prosecution of innocent minorities by an unjust, man-made law. A blameless woman spent almost a decade in jail, due to faulty evidence, fabricated statements and biased lower courts. A sitting Governor and Minister were killed over defending her. Why do we get angry when the international community condemns Pakistan for “housing terrorist outfits”? It is not illogical to co-relate the role of extremists, spewing hatred and intolerance, to those terrorists who kill based upon this exact ideology. It is terrorism when you incite violence against SC judges. If Pakistan does not begin to take substantial steps to curb religious extremism, then we run the risk of becoming a divided, violent country where bigots would dictate national affairs. The write is a senior assistant editor at Daily Times and can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, November 1st 2018.