Of intolerance and other demons

Shahana Shah

After the periodic violence that has been plaguing our region this year I have reached a strangely paradoxical conclusion regarding this country. We are not a completely intolerant society. We are tolerant in a way to the extreme. We tolerate intolerance, violence and hatred in a way that would be impossible in any other country. Nowhere else would such a mess be shoved under the carpet, so shamelessly! Nowhere else would the public be so completely desensitized to their fellow humans’ suffering.

No prominent political figure or activist has spoken as loudly as they should have against the sheer inhumanity that has been adding to the dangers of the road leading from the capital of the country to the capital of GB. I am not aware if prayers are offered in Sunni mosques for the souls of the Shia killed or vice versa, but I don’t expect so. And perhaps even worse is the denial discourse. “It isn’t us. It is the Indians/Americans masquerading as Muslims killing us.  No Muslim could do such a thing.” Oh, really? If an average Pakistani Muslim can bribe, steal, lie, murder and rape as we read in the newspapers every day, why can’t he be a fanatic slaughtering others for their mere beliefs different to his own? It is only by accepting that the poison of fanatic hatred has become part of our society that we can look for ways to bleed it out of the system. There is no cure for a patient who refuses he is sick.

There is a simple aspect of law, Islamic or any other, that all parties involved are overlooking. Let me spell it out for the stubbornly ignorant on both sides. When a certain individual kills another, justice demands that the murderer pay for his crime, and not random members of his community on their way home for Eid. And, this is to be carried out by the official judicial apparatus of the state, not by bloodthirsty highwaymen. For, if the latter becomes the norm, no vendetta in the world would ever end before the Day of Judgment.

Yet, the innocent must be avenged, whether Sunni or Shia, Muslim or non-Muslim. How can this be done? The first thing is for the state to wake up to fact that it has some duties. The intentional impotence needs to be cured. Frankly, I have no idea how people like Rehman Malik or Asif Zardari may be able to resurrect their dead conscience. However, there is something else that can be done. And luckily, we don’t need the government for that. There is a certain thing called civic responsibility. The young people of GB are educated and aware. And they are also actively engaged in the development of their respective communities. What is needed is an inter-community forum for the youth that is willing to create and propagate a message of peace. We need more empathy. The Sunni youngster should be willing to stand up for his Shia friend. The young Shia woman needs to be more tolerant of her Sunni classmates. The Ismaili youth should extend their spirit of voluntarism to what they officially call ‘the sister communities’ but whom they see as essentially alien.

It could be started from a simple online group of like-minded people from all backgrounds. With time this group could run on more focused lines working to inject a note of sanity into the proceedings. Social projects could be started that would enable people to live together rather than just side by side.

Think over it. It may sound like wishful thinking but as J.R.R. Tolkein said, “A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.” And reality, my friends, is in sad need of repair. Peace!

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  1. The compliments given to the author for her very courages article need to be followed up with action.

    One tends to wonder what happened to the promises made in the early Eighties, when some of us actually believed, that the massive international funding to certain NGOs to strengthen communities, imbibe them with social responsibilities and to build income-generating activities, would actually ensure the promised Domino Effect.
    It should have been an easy task, as the population then barely exceeded 9 lacs. Funding agencies, overpowered by the glossy reports, never considered transparency and thorough monitoring of the inputs.
    Civil disturbance already erupted during that period, but rather then solving the issues at Inter-Community level, was on many occasion hushed up with promises.

    G-B is full of natural resources, but till today only dried apricots reach the market down country, while the Goverment – both Local as well as Federal is focusing on mineral resources and destroying the remaining forests.

    For the unemployed youth, whose options in by-gone days were focused on jobs down country, the dream has gone sour. In their hands however lies the future of G-B. So, who is there to organise them and follow the suggestions of the author?

  2. After having just left Gilgit Town, I can report that prayers are, in fact, offered in local masjids for the victims of sectarian violence regardless of which sect they come from. Moreover, many masjid communities have made very vocal efforts to condemn the atrocities. We must do more to publicize the brave efforts of those clerics and everyday citizens – whether Shia, Sunni, or Ismaili – who reject the cruelty and intolerance that has so badly impacted life in Gilgit-Baltistan.

  3. Dear Shahana,
    I highly appreciate and salute to your vision. Let me share these lines of David Icke as theses words are much suited to our situation. This issue needs to addressed well in time otherwise the destiny of future generations of GB would be completely dark.

    “The divisions in this World are in our minds, they are our creation…

    it is these divisions, these dogmas, these attitudes played off against each other, right across The World, that fundamentally allow a few people to control the direction of the Planet. Not everything that happens in the World – of course not – but its direction towards more and more centralization of power, in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

    WE can choose to be frightened – we can choose to hate…

    or we can choose not to fear – and we can choose to love…

    I love you whatever – I love you without condition…

    and if we want to change The World, it has to start with self.

    Fear; anger;, hatred; condemnation; dictating what other people should
    be – that’s The World we’ve got – that’s the Prison – but Paradise is waiting – a thought, an attitude away – that’s all it is – a choice away.

    LOVE – to love each other and love The World…

    our lives are fundamentally changed…

    and The World is fundamentally changed…

    and we are the generations that are
    going to love The World to a Paradise.”

    — David Icke

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