Monday, January 5, 2015

JUSTICE VS REVENGE  (This column is called 'Reason wins over rage' in the magazine).


By Rabia Ahmed - 
The tragedy in Peshawar brought people together in grief and against terrorism, both within and without the country. But there is something not quite right about the aftermath of the event, because the horror and anger that swept the country coalesced not into a call for justice but for revenge.
In the aftermath of the deaths in Peshawar, people have been calling for more forceful military action and for the execution of terrorists. In a bid to be seen doing something our government, forever short sighted and self serving is taking the line of most gain and least effort by complying with these demands where compliance is most visible.
Many ‘liberals’ are also calling for madrassas to be shut down because madrassas are fertile ground for terrorists, and undoubtedly they are. But madrassas, like mainstream schools, mosques, the media, and the economy should be monitored, and they are not. Therefore that warped creature known as a terrorist.
The teaching in madrassas is highly questionable but they still have a huge enrolment, because madrassas are all that many people can afford. These are people who were never educated in the rights and wrongs of religion or taught the importance of wider knowledge. Most recently a man of the Ahmadiyya community was shot in the Punjab, less than a week after a well known cleric called Ahmadis enemies of Pakistan on a popular television show. This is the second time such a thing has happened. It is not known where the ranting cleric was educated but the compare of the show is known to call himself a doctor based on a fake degree.
Gross economic inequality has pushed the have-nots into the arms of the local mullah and his madrassa, even into larger more affluent madrassas or mainstream government schools. Is there much difference between them? There are no minimum criteria for mainstream primary and secondary teachers or for the teachers in madrassas. My own English students can barely string an English sentence together yet they easily get jobs as English teachers. As for humane attitudes towards students, this varies as with anything else. I studied in a ‘prestigious’ convent school. My teacher slapped my face on my first day in class 3 for no apparent reason and also forbade me from going to the bathroom with dire and entirely expected results.
If closing down madrassas is the only action taken and nothing is done to improve the standard of education across the board, the results will once again be dire and entirely expected. Our literacy rate will plunge from low to pathetic because those children who at least learn to read in madrassas will be denied even that. Meantime madrassas will still exist, let’s be in no doubt about it, since mullahs will still exist and continue to be produced.
As for the greater demand for armed action against militants, clearly armed action is now unavoidable, but let us be prepared for the repercussions. The public has a short memory and has forgotten how the Taliban were created, how we cooperated in their creation and later fostered them for our personal gain.
Howard Zinn says that “War in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.” He writes that following the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan the hospital morgue in Jalalabad alone received seventeen bodies in one weekend and officials estimated at the time that eighty nine civilians were killed in several villages. The injured included such as Noor Mohammad, 10, who lost his eyes and hands to a bomb that hit his house. Little has changed. ‘Targeted’ attacks such as those taking place today are causing the death of innocent civilians in Pakistan; it is mostly the survivors of such attacks who avenge themselves the way they did in Peshawar. After that event the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack calling it retaliation for the military operations in North Waziristan and the Khyber tribal agency.
Reacting to the sudden call for terrorists to be executed, Pakistan’s Interior Minister announced the government’s intention to execute approximately five hundred prisoners on death row. One such prisoner is Shafqat Hussain in prison for involuntary manslaughter. His age at the time he committed that act was fourteen.
Justice Project Pakistan (‘JPP’) a non-profit human rights law firm and Reprieve, an international human rights NGO, issued a joint report in December 2014 which states that ‘over 800 prisoners on death row in Pakistan were tried as terrorists, though in many cases (as many as 88%) there was no link to anything reasonably defined as ‘terrorism’. It states that ‘in terrorism trials many of the defendant’s fundamental due process rights’ as well as various of the Islamic law provisions of Pakistan law, ‘are explicitly suspended in apparent violation of the constitution.’ It ends by saying that ‘there are currently over 17,000 pending ‘terrorism’ cases in Pakistan, many of which have nothing to do with terrorism.’
What we really need to do is something other than all these things above, so that we obtain justice, not revenge for ourselves and for those who committed the horrible, monstrous murder of our children.
Revenge, according to Jeremy Taylor, a 17th century cleric, is like ‘rolling a stone up a hill which, when a man has forced it to the top will return upon him with greater violence and break the bones of him whose sinews gave it motion.’
Justice on the other hand requires greater effort and starts with changing the living conditions of those persons who are pushed into becoming terrorists because of their disadvantaged living conditions. We must improve the lot of the poor man, concentrate on his education by bettering its content and monitoring and standardizing what is being taught in all the education institutions throughout the country. Also in need of very close monitoring are the so called religious leaders who wield their position and the microphone like a gun.
We need to work out what Pakistan stands for at a very basic level allowing for differences. And then we must work towards protecting it.

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