In his book ‘Orangi Pilot Project: Reminiscences and Reflections,’ Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan says that one of our foremost traits as a nation is orthodoxy, and explains the repercussions: Orthodoxy makes many segments of life sacred; once something becomes sacred, it seems profane to subject it to critical inquiry and reason, and critical inquiry and reason are therefore employed only to uphold the sacred.
History, and our religious figures and heroes are amongst those things that are now sacred, says Dr Khan, and therefore no longer subject to critical analysis. ‘We worship our imperial past,’ he says, ‘and are constantly told that in the past we were the greatest and the best. Therefore logically, we are still the best even if we do not appear to be so. And we can become the greatest again if we take the trouble to follow the example of our ancestors. This ceaseless trumpeting of our greatness,’ says Dr Khan ‘has given us an invincible megalomania.’
A decade and a half after Dr Khan’s death innumerable incidents illustrate his point, especially the case of the Christian couple burnt to death in Kasur, probably the most direct and worst result of national megalomania and delusions of greatness.
The second case is the JI’s determination to ‘rectify mistakes’ in school curricula in KP, and the third the Higher Education Commission’s instructions to all universities to ‘ ”remain vigilant” against any activity that challenges the ideology and principles of Pakistan and/or the perspective of the government of Pakistan.’
The last two examples stem from and help create further delusion.
The Christian couple (she was pregnant) who worked as bonded labour in Kasur, allegedly made a blasphemous remark. Matters never reached the point of arrest and trial under that other creation of orthodoxy the blasphemy law, another sacred cow which is above criticism, and which would (unfortunately) have applied in this case. The couple was hounded, tortured by an enraged mob, and burnt to death, possibly while still alive. Horrifyingly, this happened as a result of announcements from mosques urging people to act.
Zeeshan Hasan (who holds a Masters degree in Theological studies), discusses blasphemy and the death penalty in a recent article and says that ‘Hadith does not provide support for the death penalty to be applied to a non-Muslim who is guilty of blasphemy,’ he says, ‘nor is what might constitute such blasphemy even defined.’
If Islam is a peaceful, compassionate, reasonable religion, one can only conclude that the reason for the bestiality that resulted in Shama and Shahzad’s death lies in flawed teaching in schools and other places of learning, where as Dr Khan says enquiry and reason are inhibited and restricted producing an ‘invincible megalomania’ that in turn feeds upon and is fed by laws such as the law against blasphemy.
In Pakistan, education is provided by government schools and madrasahs. Private schools cater to the very few. Madrasahs, once teaching religious as well as secular subjects now teach religious subjects alone. An estimate in 2008 put the number of madrasahs in Pakistan at over 40,000.
Madrasahs and their orthodox teachings are fertile ground for militants, although in itself a madrasah if regulated is a benign entity. In fact, in a place like Pakistan the contribution of madrasahs even as they are cannot be disregarded because they are the only source of education for many children whose numbers far outweigh the number of militants produced. Orthodoxy of course has other major social repercussions, but these are not under discussion here.
Without going into the low standard of our books and curricula (once again not under discussion here), it is enough to note the presence of orthodoxy and absence of critical inquiry in books meant for young readers and in government curricula. Below are just a few examples.
A Pakistan studies text book for students of Class nine states that a major result of the 1965 War between Pakistan and India was that ‘Pakistan got international fame and it elevated its dignity’ (sic). Another major result was apparently that ‘Pakistan learned that America and Europeans had two face characters’ (sic).
When speaking of the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971, the book says that the Mukti Bahini killed numerous Pakistani soldiers and ordinary citizens. Thousands of Bengalis also massacred, are not mentioned.
‘The negative role of Hindu teachers’ in Bengal is given as a major reason for the separation of Pakistan’s eastern wing. Apparently they ‘tarnished the minds of new Bengali generation with the idea of Bengali nationalism and prepared them to rebel against the ideology of Pakistan’ (sic)’.
The preface to a popular Urdu series of books for children claims that (translated): ‘this series highlights the great and golden achievements of our heritage so that our children who will control our future may be mentally well nurtured and informed.’ The preface goes on to say that the publishers feel it their duty to lay before their readers those achievements of our heritage that astound the world.’ One of the books in this series deals with the great achievements of the Mughal emperor Alamgir, who, the book claims, was a great and a true Muslim. It cites his virtues, among which was that he did not tolerate non-Muslims at all, although he never did any non-Muslim who rightly deserved it out of a promotion in his government. Bravo. Especially since this is the same Aurangzeb who kept his father confined until his death and brutally murdered two of his own brothers to prevent their accession to the throne, who is now being cited as a role model for the future generation of Pakistanis.
Therefore we have a country where non Muslims are not tolerated, where mistakes in the curricula have been ‘rectified’ to project an ideology and a set of principles that may not be examined or criticised, producing a generation disinclined to examine and criticise its past or present because, among other reasons it is unaware of what the past contains that may contradict the said ideology or set of principles.
Is it any wonder then that in Pakistan minorities live in fear of their lives, education is scant and questionable, time is shrouded…the past changed or obliterated, the future in uncertainty, and people live amidst serious concerns for peace, stability and their lives?