June Issue 2003

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 16 years ago

There is a chill in the air. The face of fanaticism has reared its ugly head once again.

The country’s self-appointed custodians of morality are on the rampage, no holds barred. In the Frontier, vigilante groups of the Jamaat-i-Islami’s youth wing, Shabab-i-Milli, ran amok, smashing and pulling down hoardings and billboards featuring female models. The Frontier government attempted to distance itself from this act of vandalism, but failed to explain why the hordes of policemen standing guard failed to intervene.

How can the MMA absolve itself of any responsibility, when all that it has been doing since it assumed power six months ago is unleashing the forces of obscurantism in the province and creating an atmosphere that reeks of medieval times?

They started out on their Islamisation mission by using intimidatory tactics to coerce musicians and singers into abandoning their careers, and went as far as kidnapping them and smashing their musical instruments. It seems the MMA would rather have these musicians turn into Kalashnikov-wielding jihadis.

Next, they attacked video cassette shops and cable TV outfits, making bonfires of hundreds of cassettes and cutting cable wires, incurring losses worth thousands to the hapless owners. There is no talk of compensating them. What does the MMA want to prove by this despicable act? That Islam is a killjoy religion that forbids all forms of entertainment.

As if that were not enough, the MMA turned its sights on school uniforms. All children were ordered to wear what in their view is the Islamic dress — the shalwar kameez — and abandon western clothes from the next semester. Does the Quran stipulate the wearing of shalwar-kameez or merely talk of a modest dress code?

The MMA have taken it upon themselves to interfere in all aspects of life. And their most magnificent obsession has got to be women. They seem determined to limit a woman’s space even further. An MMA parliamentarian has introduced a resolution in the Frontier Assembly demanding that females of 12 years and above observe purdah. Will the MMA men also be deciding what constitutes purdah for women, or will women have the freedom to interpret what the Quran means by purdah? A woman parliamentarian confronted a maulana in a TV talkshow recently, demanding to know why young girls had been transferred to far-flung areas like Mansehra by the MMA government, in mass-scale transfers in the NWFP, if they were so concerned about a woman’s purdah. The maulana had no answer to that.

The MMA is equally adamant about introducing segregation in all spheres of life. It wants separate colleges, universities and medical institutions, and even a sports directorate run exclusively by women. Next, it may demand that women resign from all offices where men work, thus restricting a woman’s career options.

A sinister plan is afoot to enforce all MMA edicts. The Hasba Act, recently presented in the NWFP Assembly by the MMA, proposes the setting up of a Vice and Virtue Department to mind the country’s morals. How this fits into the province’s existing policing and criminal justice system is a moot point. Will this committee supersede those presently in authority? Who will eventually call the shots? A Pandora’s box is about to be flung open.

Talibanisation is knocking at the doors of the Frontier — and beyond. Its reverberations are being felt in another city, another province: Lahore, where the female faces on the hoardings were defaced overnight. And that’s not all. A city developer had to abandon his plans for another food street, this time near Heera Mandi, because the torch-bearers of our morality feared that visitors would be lusting after the diamonds intead of the food (Speak for yourself, maulana!). But what takes the cake, bakery et al is the task a Punjab University professor has been assigned: he has to purge the English language and literature course books of all obscene and anti-Islamic words. Examples: rape, wine, vodka, whiskey and cock. And under the microscope are works of stalwarts like Ernest Hemingway and Alexander Pope.

Will this then be the shape of things to come in 21st Century Pakistan? Who will want to visit or invest in a country that is fanning the flames of extremism, instead of addressing the more pressing issues of poverty, unemployment and development.

The MMA is attempting to go its own way, to create a state within a state, a parallel government with its own writ of law, its own jurisdiction. What if the other provinces were to follow suit? Would this not spell the end of the federal structure? The signs are ominous…

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.