Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The fundamental point

Daily times, Lahore on April 20, 2006

Sir: Appearing on television during the ongoing controversy over the contents of school textbooks, Zubaida Jalal, the federal education minister, has declared, on more than one occasion, that she was a fundamentalist and was proud to be one. She thought this was a smart statement as it would appease the religious lobby and, at the same time, confound the liberals by re-interpreting the word ‘fundamentalist’ as one who believes in the fundamentals of Islam. She is wrong!

Meanings do not lie in words but in the people who use them. Fundamentalism, whatever the origin of the word or its literal meaning, has come to connote fanaticism, extremism, intolerance and religious militancy. This is how it is commonly understood today.

For example the word ‘gay’, which according to dictionaries published before the 1960s, meant joyous and lively; merry; happy; light-hearted means something completely different today. Today no one would like to call himself/herself gay if he or she was feeling joyous, lively, happy and light-hearted.


Saturday, April 17, 2004

Inspired rage

Daily Times April 17, 2004

Sir: On April 12 Daily Times carried a story on its front page,titled ‘Buddha statue dismantled at Lok Virsa’ . The culprits, according to the report, were students from a nearby madrassah (seminary).

This is not the first time madrassah students in Islamabad have damaged or destroyed public property that had significance for religions other than Islam. In a similar incident, a few years ago, the students of a seminary in Islamabad had set on fire and almost destroyed an ancient banyan tree in a protected wooded area in the foot of Margalla hills. The tree was said to have some historic and religious significance for Buddhists and attracted visitors and even tourists from Japan and South East Asia.

In a far more serious and tragic incident a few months ago ( widely reported in the press) protestors, including students from different madrassahs of the city, rampaged through Melody Market in Islamabad, setting fire to the only cinema house in the capital. They were protesting the murder of Maulana Azam Tariq that had taken place a day earlier. Since they had been taught that movies spread obscenity in society, they found the cinema house and the people associated with it a fit target for their rage. When the poor watchman of the cinema house tried to escape the burning building, the protestors, mercilessly, started throwing brickbats at him thus blocking his escape. The young man died inside the smoke-filled building.

Yet we are told, rather too frequently, that the madrassahs in Pakistan impart only religious education and do not train terrorists. Perhaps they do not specifically teach or train to kill or destroy, but clearly whatever they teach these young students creates a mindset that thinks nothing of destroying a harmless statue, burning an ancient tree or, when the circumstances are so created, even killing an innocent person. Terrorism is not necessarily directed; it is usually inspired.