Religion is becoming less tolerant, and more central to Pakistan
Visibly more pious
THE CLEAN-SHAVEN, middle-aged academic in Lahore is under fire from his wife and his bushy-bearded 20-year-old son, a student. Last year he completed the haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim is expected to make at least once. Now, after a lifetime of weekly attendance at the mosque, on Fridays, he is told by his family that he should make the half-hour trip there to say his prayers five times a day. “Pakistan”, he says, “has become very religious-minded and anti-West.”
Since 2001, these sentiments—piety and anti-Westernism—have become inseparably fused. Pakistan’s founder, Jinnah, still revered as the greatest of national heroes, created a homeland for Muslims but was a Westernised intellectual, often photographed in Savile Row suits, puffing on a cigarette. Now, though, many Pakistanis see the West as waging war with Islam. The outward forms of piety have become more visible everywhere. Far more women now cover their heads.
The spread of stricter forms of Islam has been disguised by the electoral failure of avowedly Islamist parties. Even in the general election in October 2002, when Jamaat and five others campaigned as a united alliance and enjoyed their best result ever, they won only 11% of the votes, despite some alleged help from the ISI. But supporters of the mainstream parties are not voting for secularism.
With the rise in religious observance society has become less tolerant. In late 2011, as Pakistan was rocked by crisis after crisis, the press still agonised over the antics of Veena Malik, a Pakistani actress who had posed on the cover of an Indian men’s magazine, apparently wearing nothing but a tattoo reading “ISI” (she claimed the photo had been doctored). It was hard to count how many taboos Ms Malik had flouted, but the ones governing female modesty were among the most important.
In a studio stacked high with his artwork and antiquities rescued from Hindu temples, Iqbal Hussain, a well-known painter, shrugs off the many threats he receives. His subjects are the working women of his neighbourhood, the red-light district of Lahore. His only customers seem to be foreigners. If intolerance stopped at public prudishness it would be less worrying, but all too often it is also a pretext for violence. Last year saw the assassination of two leading politicians for daring to call for reform to Pakistan’s pernicious blasphemy law, which carries a mandatory death sentence and is often abused to persecute alleged blasphemers on the basis of hearsay evidence.
Murderers as heroes
One critic of the law, Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province, was shot dead in the street in Islamabad in January 2011 by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. His murderer was feted as a hero. Not long after Taseer’s murder, Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist and leading advocate of liberal secular ideals, confronted two Islamic spokesmen in a television debate. The studio audience of 100 or so students clapped when his interlocutors called for death for blasphemers. When Mr Hoodbhoy accused one of them of having Taseer’s blood on his hands, the response was a plaintive “How I wish that I did!”
The Ahmadi minority, who consider themselves Muslims but are regarded by the law as infidels, suffer particular persecution. In May 2010 at least 93 were killed in bomb explosions at two of their mosques in Lahore during Friday prayers. Christians, too, complain of victimisation. The explosions in Lahore were blamed on the Pakistani Taliban. But the tolerance and even encouragement of violence by mainstream clerics must surely be one reason armed extremism flourishes.
As noted, the state, too, has played a big part in that, encouraging jihadis to fight first in Afghanistan, then in Kashmir and, it is widely believed, elsewhere in India too. Now it has itself become the target of jihad. Muhammad Amir Rana, of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad think-tank, says the Pakistani Taliban gain their political legitimacy from the war in Afghanistan, but their ideological legitimacy from radical Islam and the aim of establishing theocracy in Pakistan. A 2009 treatise on Pakistan’s constitution by Ayman al-Zawahiri, at the time second to bin Laden in the al-Qaeda hierarchy, called for the destruction of the Pakistani state.
Mr Zawahiri may still be hiding out in North Waziristan, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan. The Pushtun tribes there have provided fertile recruiting grounds for the groups that have coalesced into the Pakistani Taliban. As in Afghanistan, their appeal stems from their ability to deliver swift justice and settlement of disputes. Mr Rana says the radical groups have no big support base. They have, however, become a serious threat to the Pakistani state, not just in the tribal areas but in “settled” Pakistan as well.
No army wants to be at war with its own people, and the campaign against the Pakistani Taliban is complicated by the political legitimacy Mr Rana refers to. So from time to time peace talks are held, which give the extremists a chance to regroup. Moreover, the army’s record in fighting both in Swat and FATA has been marked by allegations of brutality, torture and extra-judicial killings. This has further boosted militant recruitment.