- And tools used to make and mould a fanatical mindset
Thousands of ‘true believers’ thronged capital a fortnight back. They met little resistance en route to Faizabad, one of the main entry points to Islamabad. They were enraged and aghast over Election Bill, 2017 and alleged the government of fudging with the clause pertaining to the finality of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). The government called it a clerical error and restored the original clause.
The matter stands settled, the government announced. The hatchets should have been buried after this but, alas, in the laboratory of Islam this is not how business is concluded. At the time of writing this column, the stalemate persists. The denizens of twin cities languish as they try to reach their offices, schools and colleges. While the protestors chant their slogans, reiterate their convictions as their leaders have even demanded that law minister and others responsible for the faux pas be hanged ‘in front of the Parliament House’. All this continues despite the Islamabad High Court and Supreme Court of Pakistan’s orders to wrap up the show.
Those present and protesting hail predominantly from Barelvi school of thought — although followed by majority of Pakistani Muslims the school has never been a coherent political force. After decades of slumber and political irrelevance, the Barelvi religious leadership found a godsend in the person of Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard-turned-assassin of Salman Taseer, businessman and former governor of Punjab. Qadri was handed down capital punishment and was hanged on 29 February 2016. The death of Qadri gave a new lease of life to Barelvi politics. Now, they had a martyr in shape of Mumtaz Qadri. The hitherto apolitical, indifferent Barelvis found their true calling. The aloof lot of faithful, practising Muslims turned into ‘true believers’ willing to go the whole hog.
The anatomy of true believers
Few years back, I came across this beautiful book titled ‘The True Believer’ by Eric Hoffer. In his magnum opus, Hoffer delineates in great detail the factors and catalysts that shape and perpetuate mass movements of various hues and bents. Ranging from the ideological movements to the religious cults, Hoffer sums up the history and mechanics of fanaticism as a quest for an individual to gain a meaningful identity in a group after shedding his solitary, meaningless existence.
And that is how true believer is born. He is sure of righteousness in his purpose, devoid of doubt, and willing to kill and be killed for the greater good of the cause.
The most important question is: What makes a true believer? Does the firmness of faith and absolute certainty in one’s conviction make a person fanatic?
The most important question is: What makes a true believer? Does the firmness of faith and absolute certainty in one’s conviction make a person fanatic? Or is it illusion of monopoly over ultimate truth, knowledge of the unknown? How about seeing and seeking a higher consciousness through anonymity of a crowd a reason enough. What if finding refuge in heavenly ideals after being thoroughly battered by earthy guilt and remorse a major incentive to take the plunge?
The answer is elusive and tough to grab as it may be some or all of the factors above that play a role in making and manufacturing of true believers. However, one thing can be certain, once the transition of an indifferent individual to a devoted believer completes, the failure of society to keep ‘true believers’ in check results in discord, nuisance, extremism and, in rare cases, revolt.
There is another saviour/villain in our midst i.e. freedom of expression. Dearest sirs and ma’ams, it is the most fiercely desired, most savagely denied fundamental right in our hyper connected world. On the one hand if there are statutory laws to guarantee it, on the other there are regulatory bodies to monitor it. Then there are private vigilantes who are eager to take law in their own hands as and when they think fit. Also, there is a fine, almost invisible line between freedom to express ourselves and hate speech, libel and slander. Truth, in every case, is an absolute and complete defence.
Blowing sensitive issues to extremes, condemning the weakest of the weak, enticing the most bases of human emotions in the name of religion are standard practices for the mustached, bearded, and clean-shaven leaders, gurus and opinion makers. The irony of Islam being in danger in an overwhelmingly Muslim country like Pakistan which prides itself as a fort of Islam is completely lost on many of them.
Following are the two excerpts from the book mentioned above. It seemed best not to summarise them so I am giving them in their entirety.
‘A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business. The minding of other people’s business expresses itself in gossip, snooping and meddling, and also in feverish interest in communal, national and racial affairs. In running away from ourselves we either fall on our neighbours shoulder or fly at his throat’.
‘The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nations, his religion, his rather or his holy cause’.