When the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) raided the offices of the Tehreek-e-Jadid in Rabwah earlier this week, arresting nine men, it claimed to have done so in order to stop the publication and propagation of hate speech. The Punjab Government barred Tehreek-e-Jadid from producing any literature in 2014, following a recommendation from the Muttahida Ulema Board, the official body charged with determining what does or does not constitute hate material. This was the basis upon which the CTD chose to take action, displaying a degree of alacrity that is usually missing from most campaigns against terror in the province.
Of course, the situation is not quite as clear-cut as the official narrative of the raid would suggest. Tehreek-i-Jadid is an Ahmadiyya organisation, and the ‘hate speech’ it is accused of producing amounts to little more than literature related to the ideas and activities of their community. As such, it could be argued that the CTD’s actions this week were yet another ignominious chapter in the state’s long campaign of Ahmadi persecution, with the government using a raft of anti-Ahmadi laws to continue harassing that community.
It is important to highlight this incident because it stands in stark contrast with the state’s conduct in the broader fight against terror and hate speech. Two weeks ago, Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, a known sectarian activist and possible terrorist with his name on the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act, was allowed to campaign for, and eventually win, an election that saw him become the newest member of the Punjab Assembly. It is not difficult to find video footage of Jhangvi inciting people to violence, openly using extremely inflammatory language to target Shias, amongst others, as apostates. This merchant of hate and purveyor of extremist violence is treated with all manner of deference and respect; he has been feted by television anchors since winning his election, and will undoubtedly use his new position to further his poisonous agenda openly and with impunity.
Why, one might reasonably ask, does the state move so effectively against a small, non-violent Ahmadi organisation, but refuses to take any action whatsoever against a malcontent like Masroor Jhangvi? There are several possible answers; perhaps the state fears a backlash from his supporters and lacks the stomach and/or capacity for a fight, or maybe this is simply reflective of how the state continues to play double-games with the people of Pakistan, nurturing and tolerating extremism for ideological and strategic reasons? Perhaps the deliberately targets the weak and marginalised as part of a systematic campaign to appease religious militants, hoping that doing so will prevent them from unleashing their murderous rage upon the rest of the country? Atlee believed the same about Hitler. Whatever the reason, it is clear that there are double-standards at work in Pakistan’s ‘fight’ against extremism, and that much more needs to be done to hold the state accountable for its lack of action against militant organisations operating in the country without compunction.
On that note, it also makes sense to pay some attention to yet more counsel from the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) whose Chairman, Maulana Sherani, took the opportunity provided by his final meeting as its head to launch throaty denunciations of several actions recently taken by the government. He argued that renaming the Physics Centre at Quaid-i-Azam University after Dr. Abdus Salaam, the country’s most renowned and accomplished physicist, ‘set a bad precedent’. Precisely why this would be the case was left unsaid, although one suspects it had something to do with the fact that Dr. Salaam was an Ahmadi. Similarly, Sherani had nothing but criticism for the proposed bill against forced conversions currently being debated by the Sindh government. Sherani said that the law was un-Islamic and unconstitutional, since it prevented people from embracing Islam of their own free will. That the law was specifically designed to prevent ‘forced’ conversions, in a context where it is clear that this is a serious problem confronted by the country’s minorities, was simply dismissed by Sherani without comment. In a context where Pakistan continues to grapple with militancy and sectarian violence, he chose to use his last meeting with the CII to focus on the truly important issues of our time.
None of this is unexpected coming from someone who has made a career out of making the most insensitive, parochial, and frankly unhinged interventions in Pakistan’s political discourse. Obsessed with all things carnal, promoter of child marriage, defender of child abuse, enabler of religious persecution, abettor of rape, all of these are labels that could reasonably be applied to the CII chairman based on his pronouncements during his time in office. Even in Pakistan, a country beset with extremism and bigotry, it is rare to find a man as misogynistic, misopedic, and downright misanthropic as Maulana Sherani enjoying the power and privilege that he has. Given the ultimate pulpit from which to preach his vitriol, Sherani has never come across as anything other than someone utterly lacking in even the most basic human empathy and kindness towards those less fortunate than himself, and has amply demonstrated that he possesses a heart full of hatred fuelled by raging self-righteousness. When his term finally comes to an end on the 16th of December, we will all finally be able to see him for what he truly is, shorn of the trappings of office; a small man of limited intellect and few gifts, impotently raging against a changing world that he both loathes and fears. He will not be missed.