Thursday, June 3, 2010

Can Secular Laws Promote Tolerance in Pakistan?

Guest Post by Vanguard

The Model Town incident in Lahore started the exercise in same old introspection. Most of the essays start with Quaid-e-Azam did not want an Islamic state just a Muslim state, others blame the original sin of carving out Pakistan, some point fingers at Objective Resolution and last but not the least policies of Mard-e-momin Mard-e-haq Zia ul Haq.

What we seem to forget in these exercises is that the people carrying out the rampage have no religious preference per se. They did not selected their targets because the constitution describes them as non Muslim. Today they have murdered Ahmedis, but a few days ago they were murdering general population (religion/sect no bar) in moon market blasts, prior to that firing incident in a Friday prayers in Islamabad Mosque, Sri Lankan cricket team, police academy outside Lahore, GHQ attack, shia procession, pathan roti walas and thailay walas and prior to all this killing of shia professionals in Karachi.

What all this shows is total breakdown of law and order in the country. There are some people hell bent on killing (they might kill a one group more than the others) and the state is incapable of doing anything against them.

I respect Quaid-e-Azam and what I am today is because of Pakistan and hence my gratitude for him. However, Quaid was not a prophet nor an angel. He was a mere mortal and mortals can make mistakes and not everything they do and say is 100% correct. This is not to say that he said anything wrong.

He may have wanted a secular constitution but he believed in democratic principles and left it up to the people through their representatives on how they want to be ruled. If the constituent assembly or the future assemblies decide (rightly or wrongly) that Islam is to be state religion, then democratic principles imply that it should be.

Islam gives equal rights to people from other religions to practice. However, if the Muslim population does not allow the minorities equal rights, its not Islam's fault, rather it is the fault of Muslims and Islam being the state religion not has nothing to do with it.

When minorities are attacked, its not because we are not secular. Take the case honor killings that take place in Sind and Balochistan (most secular of all the ethnicities in Pakistan). It does not have any implicit protection or even a nod in the constitution. How many persons have been tried for honor killings?

Akbar Bugti (though murdered extra judicially) himself claimed to have murdered his subjects in his youth just because he could. There is a minister in Balochistan government who admitted to be on panchayat that agreed to burying women alive. Except for little hue and cry when he made the statement, nothing else has happened against them. Now that we don't have Hudood Ordinance, still such crimes continue and go unpunished.

Despite how it appears to be, I am not recommending here that constitution and law should not be improved. What I am implying here is that even if we changed the law, things will not improve because all this happens in spite of the law, not because of it.

With the exception of Zia and Nawaz Sharif, the country has been ruled by what you call in Pakistan secular or liberals. We lost half of the country under the stewardship of liberals i.e., Islam had nothing to do with it other than probably delaying the secession. Seculars were ruling the country under a secular constitution. Compared to the murder and rape that took place in Bangladesh, the current crimes pale in comparison against them.

Some people claim that it was bound to happen since there was a thousand mile hostile country in between. One of the most stupidest arguments ever. The world had seen large empires with the seat of empire sometimes at a distance of a month's journey from the frontier even before airplanes were invented and such empires existed for centuries.

Coming back to secularism, we have many commentators exploiting the Lahore tragedy to spew vitriol against Islam nowadays. Will they be happy if so called Islamic injunctions are taken out of the constitution of Pakistan? I don't think so because a few weeks ago some of them were spewing in a similar vein against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in favor of Hazara region. And this is when Khyber is ruled by a secular party.

In Karachi, which is ruled between PPP, ANP and MQM, all three are secular parties, is a boiling pot of ethnic tensions with 16 people killed in single day a few weeks ago with NO hue and cry anywhere.

You can make the constitution as secular as you wish, but the fact is that secularization of laws will not make your problems go away.

Related Links:

Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah's Vision For Pakistan

Pakistan, Turkey and Secularism

Pakistan Must Defeat Agents of Intolerance

Daily Carnage in Pakistan

Religious Leaders Respond to Domestic Violence

Fighting Agents of Intolerance

A Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change

A Tale of Tribal Terror

10 comments:

anoop said...

Secularization of law is the 1st step in building a secular society. Just because Murder is punishable offense doesn't mean that Murders are stopped. But, that doesn't mean it should be ignored. As in this case, the constitution shouldn't enter areas(like Religion) that it cant define. As in it shouldn't say who is a Muslim, who is not. Or, what the Religious Texts say.

No society is perfect. Even the society of the most richest country in the world. But, the point is we should aim for a better society. Our laws should reflect that. What on earth is the constitution defining something that no 2 people can agree about, like Religion,God,etc? There is absolutely no excuse for that.

Jinnah was a smart man. But,History always judges people based on the result rather than the action. Nehru is blamed for turning India towards socialism and pursuing outdated economic policies. He was responsible, thus, for stagnation of India's growth. But, Nehru's intention was for the good. Similarly, History will judge Jinnah for the result of his actions, rather than the intention.

Riaz Haq said...

anoop: "Just because Murder is punishable offense doesn't mean that Murders are stopped."

It's ridiculous to compare non-secular constitution with criminal law.

Besides, you can not pass a constitution or make laws that do not have the support of the majority in a democracy.

anoop: "No society is perfect. Even the society of the most richest country in the world."

Wealth does not make you perfect. In fact, the richest are often the most corrupt and least perfect, as demonstrated time and again by the rich and powerful in America.

The most recent example is the 2008 financial meltdown in the US, which the rich got bailed out by the taxpayer funds, while the middle class and poor lot their homes and their jobs.

anoophp_777 said...

"Besides, you can not pass a constitution or make laws that do not have the support of the majority in a democracy. "

--> I dont subscribe to that theory. I dont see how Secularism will annoy the majority of Pakistanis.

Secularization of the Constitution is largely symbolic which will smooth-en the wheels of governance in Pakistan. It'll lead to a healthy debate.

Anonymous said...

'Besides, you can not pass a constitution or make laws that do not have the support of the majority in a democracy.'


A few basic points here a constitution is a sacred document which contains the ideals that the founding fathers of a nation stives it to be.Its not a popularity contest.

The average American didn't have a clue what democracy was when the then founding fathers of the united states made it the world's first democracy.

The anti miscegation laws and desegregation laws similarly were wildly unpopular with the majority of americans acording to most opinion polls of that era but America in the 20th century had an unusual abundance of great leaders who saw beyond pety politics.

Riaz Haq said...

anon: "A few basic points here a constitution is a sacred document which contains the ideals that the founding fathers of a nation stives it to be.Its not a popularity contest."

Passing a constitution and amendments is a popularity contest in a democracy.

US constitution and amendments require two-thirds majority in both houses, and approval by two-thirds of the state legislatures.

Nothing can be approved without massive support. The case in point is the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) failed miserably because of lack of sufficient support.

Anonymous said...

There was no popular referendum on whether the US constitution is acceptable to the people of the united states in 1789 just as there was no popular referendun in France after de gaulles fifth republic constitution was enacted.

A constitution can only be amended in a manner mentioned in the constitution itself.

A country is a democracy because its constitution dictates it to be not the other way round.It is the bedrock on which democratic institutions and checks and balances and powers of the vital organs of a state are determined and is referred to in case of conflict.

'Nothing can be approved without massive support.'
really ? dropping of A bomb,berlin airlift,NATO,marshall plan,korean war ,United Nations etc etc were initiated by executive decree of Harry S Truman.There are many other examples.

Riaz Haq said...

anon: "There was no popular referendum on whether the US constitution is acceptable to the people of the united states in 1789 just as there was no popular referendun in France after de gaulles fifth republic constitution was enacted."

The US constitution today is fundamentally very different from what the founding fathers envisioned.

Just the Bill of Rights alone has fundamentally changed its characters through a series of amendments that required massive support of the people.

As to some of actions of the executive branch such a dropping of A-bomb or the UN, the constitution clearly delineates the powers and limitations of each branch.

The US executive has the power to wage war, but all the international treaties, including UN foundation, are subject to approval by the US Congress.

Some of the US states like California allow voters to force actions by the government through various propositions which are voted on in every election.

Anonymous said...

'The US constitution today is fundamentally very different from what the founding fathers envisioned.'

Obviously but they were amended in a manner prescribed in the US constitution itself which was not subject to a popular vote.That is exactly what I am saying.

Ditto French,Canadian,Irish and other constitutions.

Also the fundamental division of powers between the judiciary via judicial review,executive and legislature are enshrined in the constitution whose basic features are again not subject to amendment.

You CANNOT for instance via an amendment to the US constitution take away the power of the Supreme court to declare a law ultra vires via the process of judicial review.

Riaz Haq said...

anon: "You CANNOT for instance via an amendment to the US constitution take away the power of the Supreme court to declare a law ultra vires via the process of judicial review."

It's common practice to limit judicial discretion through laws in the US...the simplest example is mandatory sentences for various crimes, and three-strike laws.

Under certain circumstances, the executive can also suspend fundamental rights, including habeas corpus.

If no one challenges the constitutionality of over-reaching laws, such as the Patriot Act which essentially trashed the Bill of Rights, then the courts continue to abide by such laws.

The US history is full of instances where the executive has flouted Supreme Court order. The most glaring one related to the forcible eviction of the Cherokees from their lands which is often remembered as the "trail of tears".

And the US Supreme Court itself has violated the US constitution by approving the mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans during the WWII.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from a piece by Beena Sarwar on the role of Pakistani media in the aftermath of Gov Taseer's assassination:

..
... To top it all, how was the opportunity created to transform Qadri into a celebrity? Who informed people about his court appearances, resulting in crowds gathering, chanting slogans and showering him with rose petals? Television cameras broadcast all this, further glorifying the murderer. These slogans, and the banners and posters supporting Qadri that have cropped up around the country, have not only turned this man’s cowardice – in shooting at an unarmed victim – into some kind of heroism, it has resulted in further intimidation of anyone who supports amendments to the controversial, man-made ‘blasphemy laws’.

Such was the manufactured hype and the propaganda around Qadri’s supposed act of valour that a group of lawyers (mostly supporters of the PML-N and PML-Q) hailed him as a hero and vowed to fight his case pro bono. And these are the people who are supposed to uphold rule of law.

Then there was the preposterous video clip of the murderer in police custody, singing a ‘naat’ (religious song), apparently filmed by policeman on his cell-phone and released to the media and the internet.

The glorification of Qadri’s criminal act of murder could not be possible without the vilification of Salmaan Taseer’s supposed ‘blasphemy’ – for which there is not an iota of evidence anywhere. The build-up to the murder owes much to the Pakistani TV talk shows and channels that perpetuated this false propaganda against the Governor. This propaganda is what led to the widespread belief that the Governor was somehow, preposterously, guilty of his own murder – in much the same way that attention is diverted to what a rape victim was wearing or doing.

The media editors and bosses belatedly realised the effect that the constant exposure of Qadri was having. According to a senior inside source at a major TV channel, they have since got together and agreed informally to cut down on such coverage that was serving only to glorify the murderer.

The 24/7 news channels amplified the outrageous propaganda of the ‘religious right’ that preceded the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer apparently because he took up the case of Aasiya Noreen, the poor Christian woman sentenced to death by a sessions court for ‘blasphemy’. Taseer tried to obtain a presidential pardon for her even before her case came up for hearing before the Lahore High Court, which must confirm the death sentence or acquit an accused. Taseer did not say anything that human rights organisations like the HRCP have not been saying for years but he was flamboyant about it, while being a political thorn in the side of the Punjab government.

There was propaganda also against Sherry Rehman, the PPP parliamentarian who has submitted a bill to amend the ‘blasphemy laws’ in order to prevent their abuse and misuse. The propaganda against her included the outright lie that she was acting alone and had not taken other parliamentarians into confidence. The truth is that she had lobbied extensively behind the scenes and even got the opposition PML-N to agree not to oppose the bill once it was tabled.

The agreement of the TV channels to avoid publicising Qadri’s words and deeds, although belated, is a welcome step. The next step is to take criminal action against all those indulging in hate speech and incitements to murder. Some citizens have begun to register such complaints with the police. Will the government stand by them?