All society needs tolerance, not just academia
The brutal stabbing of the head of the English department of the Government SE College Bahwalpur is a tragedy. The murder of Prof Shahid Hameed by a fourth-semester student, Khateeb Hussain, was supposedly over the former’s insistence on holding a mixed-gender welcome party for the incoming class. The student may see himself as a hero, and indeed received the news of the professor’s death (who had not succumbed immediately to his injuries) without remorse, but the crime seems one of extremism, for even Islam, which the killer relied on to oppose the welcome, does not prescribe such a punishment for mixed gatherings. What punishment it prescribes, or whether it does at all, is debatable, but certainly it does not prescribe stabbing, let alone death. Another dimension of the murder is how it works against academic freedom. There seems to be an upsurge in extremism, which is by no means limited to militants, and it is reflected in such incidents as the killing in Bahawalpur, and last January when a student killed his principal in Shabqadar, Charsadda district, for asking him about his going off to attend the Faizabad sit-in. Apart from campuses, this intolerance in society is reflected in the increasingly violent language being used by politicians on all places on the spectrum.
Voices of reason and moderation cannot wait any longer, because they are already in danger of being drowned out by the new harshness.The state cannot escape blame. The death of a professor while in NAB custody, and the handcuffing of a former Punjab University Vice-Chancellor, come to mind. In neither case was there a conviction; mere accusations were enough to attract disgrace. True, no one should be above the law, but that dictum should also apply to the law enforcing agencies. It should also be remembered that law enforcement officials are initially trained by campuses, and if a violent and intolerant atmosphere prevails in them, moderation and tolerance will be disincentivised.
The state alone cannot take the needed measures, and must seek input from all stakeholders, which include educationists, ulema and even students. The aim must be to solve the problem of intolerance, and provide a means for disagreements to take place, but only by peaceful means.