Something is seriously wrong with Pakistan. It is an understatement to say the world was devastated to learn of the school massacre in Peshawar. How can anyone do such a heinous act? Killing children and that too in the name of Islam, which clearly says that killing of one human being carries the sin of killing the entire humanity? In Islamic laws of defensive warfare, causing harm to children is prohibited. Did not the Pakistani Taliban know such edicts?
It is a sad irony that a country which boasts of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles has been blighted by spiritual bankruptcy, although 96 per cent of its people follow Islam, the very meaning of which is submission or non-aggression.
The school massacre in which 132 children, their principal and teachers were mowed down by armed morons will not be the last such attack in Pakistan which had no Taliban problem before George W. Bush brought the war on terror. The Taliban terrorists have no religion. They are brainwashed by their leaders who have hijacked Islam. Their barbarism will continue. Pakistan needs to act fast. This does not mean, militarily action alone. The short and long term process should involve sweeping socio-economic reforms. Taking education to remote areas and producing scholars, doctors and engineers from Taliban-infested areas is the way to combat the spread of the terrorist-producing canker. It will be a gigantic task in a society where at the drop of a turban, a fatwa is issued calling for the death of someone.
A couple of weeks before the school massacre, Pakistan was embroiled in a controversy over an innocuous remark made by popular preacher Junaid Jamshed. A lead singer in a pop band, prior to his enrolment in the Tabligh Jamath, an Islamic propagation group, Jamshed faced the wrath of the mullahs for posting on Facebook a video clip in which he was seen mocking women for their frailties, citing Prophet Muhammad’s wife Ayesha as an example. He said the story about Ayesha feigning illness to gain the attention of her husband “proves that a woman cannot be reformed even if she is in the gathering of the prophet.”
The mullahs were frothing wild. Well, the feminists the world over would have cheered them on if the mullahs had been agitating over Jamshed’s sexist remarks. But the mullahs were calling for his arrest, for he has blasphemed Ayesha, the mother of the faithful. Jamshed issued a grovelling apology in an apparent bid to avoid arrest. But the mullahs were adamant that he be punished.
In Pakistan, blasphemy charge carries the death penalty and often a minority Christian or a Hindu is slapped with such charge for making disparaging remarks about Islam. Human rights activists complain that the draconian blasphemy laws are being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas. Since the laws were amended in 1987, making them more rigid, some 1300 people, largely members of religious minority groups, have faced blasphemy charges. More than 50 of them have been killed by fanatics during or before the trial. Those who called for changes to or repealing of the blasphemy laws have been assassinated. Among them were Punjab Province Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti.
In contrast to the position taken by half-baked mullahs who have monopolised the interpretation of Islam, a young Muslim preacher of Pakistani origin in the United States has exhorted forgiveness in the Jamshed case. Citing a more serious matter involving the prophet’s wife Ayesha when she became the subject of an atrocious scandal, the young preacher, Numan Ali Khan, says Quran’s decree is to forgive and be charitable to even those who falsely accuse your daughter of adultery.
If Khan could see the Quran in the correct spirit, why cannot the mullahs? The answer is lack of education and enlightenment. Since the inception of Islam in the 7th century in Arabia, the Muslim world had been making remarkable advance in mathematics, medical science, astronomy and architecture. Western academics say that the West owed much of its Renaissance and knowledge revolution to the early Muslims. The Muslim march of progress came to an abrupt halt when the Tartars and Mongols conquered the Middle East in the 13th century. The Mongols burnt the libraries and centres of learning in Baghdad, the Muslim world’s Oxford. The Mongol conquerors who embraced Islam as a political ploy to win over their new subjects, made no effort to promote education. Even today, the Middle East is suffering from this Mongol syndrome. With the oil income, the Arabs, once the barefoot shepherds, are competing today with each other to build the world’s tallest towers, but their investment in knowledge is woefully inadequate to take them to the height the early Muslims had reached.
It was only last week that Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel peace prize for defying the Taliban and promoting education among girl children. The cowardly massacre of schoolchildren on Tuesday brazenly underscores the need to turn every citizen of Pakistan into a Malala. Pakistan’s governments have attempted to take education to the remotest areas but with little success. This is because, in Taliban-infested areas, the writ of the central government has a limited say in terms of concessions they elicited to become part of Pakistan 67 years ago. The tribal leaders see anything Western, including the school education system, as un-Islamic or devices meant to destroy Islam. They oppose polio vaccine to their children, alleging that the vaccine was a Western ploy to make Muslim children infertile.
Even in provinces where Pakistan’s law applies, feudal landlords oppose bringing education to villages because they fear that the upward social mobility that education guarantees will deplete their source of cheap slave labour and end their dominance in village affairs. As a result, at a time when the rest of the world is thinking in terms of making contacts with aliens, Pakistan is lagging behind in the literacy race. A literacy rate of 55 per cent means virtually every other person in Pakistan is illiterate. Pakistan has almost 5.5 million children who are out of school, the second highest number in the world only after Nigeria. Yet the Nawaz Sharif government has no qualms over cutting the education budget. What a sad state of affairs in this age of social media and knowledge expansion.
All countries, including nations that have contributed to Pakistan’s instability, must help Pakistan to eliminate Taliban terrorism and the best way to do it is to make education available to every child in this terrorism-devastated country.