Tolerating Intolerance At The Cost Of Tolerance

Having suffered so much damage, can Pakistan afford to tolerate more intolerance?

Tolerating Intolerance At The Cost Of Tolerance

Karl Popper, a notable philosopher, established the paradox of intolerance in his seminal book, "The Open Society and Its Enemies," a complex notion that analyses the boundaries of tolerance in keeping a free and open society.  Simply put, the paradox of intolerance indicates that if a society is completely accepting of all values, views and beliefs with no boundaries, it may become subject to being taken over by intolerant individuals or ideologies.

In other words, if a society tolerates all points of view, even those that advocate hatred, prejudice, and violence, it may wind up undermining the same virtues of tolerance and openness that it aims to promote. To summarise, the paradox says that if a society tolerates the intolerant it will lose all its tolerance. 

First and foremost, religious intolerance has become a very complex problem in our society. There have been several instances of brutal murders of innocent people under the garb of blasphemy. Mashaal Khan, a brilliant young student whose life was cut short in a university campus lynching, is one important example. In addition to Mashaal Khan's case, there have been numerous other cases of blasphemy-related violence in Pakistan, including the infamous assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Moreover, Nigar Alam, a local religious leader in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who was killed over a speech that the crowd deemed blasphemous. These incidents highlight the need of striking a balance between protecting religious feelings and guaranteeing justice for everyone.

Not to mention, those religious scholars who advocate for a peaceful interpretation are discriminated against, silenced and ultimately they have to leave this country because of the threats. One prime example is of a reasonable muslim scholar, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, who questioned and criticised certain aspects of traditional interpretations of Islamic laws, including blasphemy laws. 

After Salman Taseer's murder, Ghamidi had expressed concerns about the misuse of blasphemy laws to target innocent individuals. "The blasphemy laws have no justification in Islam. These ulema (council of clerics) are just telling lies to the people," said Ghamidi in an interview. And consequently he started getting threats and ended up leaving Pakistan for his own safety. 

On the other hand, the religious speakers who have asked for violence under the name of religion are roaming freely in the country. Such as Mufti Hanif Qureshi, whose speech aggravated Mumtaz Hussain Qadri who ultimately killed Salman Taseer. 

 Another example, of late Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his blatant speeches for violence against religious minorities. Especially against the Ahmedis whose lives are already at stake in Pakistan. It has also been noted that since Khadim Rizvi’s speeches the attacks on Ahmedis have increased. Moreover, when a group of students of LUMS visited Rabwah, Khadim Rizvi threatened and issued a warning to LUMS. 

Furthermore, in 2020, he also infiltrated the film industry when he spoke out against the release of the film "Zindagi Tamasha" and accused acclaimed filmmaker Sarmad Khoosat of blasphemy. The filmmaker received threats and as a result he did not release the film.

Second, Pakistan's past is littered with examples of political intolerance, when lust for power has led to the persecution and even killing of political leaders. Figures like Liaqat Ali Khan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Mujeeb Ur Rehman, Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif have all been ousted from office or slain by political rivals. The sad death of Pakistan's first democratically elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, for example, demonstrates how political intolerance may lead to power usurpation and the deterioration of democratic norms. 

Similarly, the 2007 murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto demonstrated the perils of political violence and the threats that politicians who dared to confront the existing status quo.

Following Imran Khan's election, there has been an alarming increase in uncivilised political rhetoric. During political debates, supporters on both sides use harsh rhetoric and aggressiveness. But it must be noted that Imran Khan himself used this foul language and indulged in name calling in his own speeches to malign his opponents and asked his followers to do the same. 

Last but not least, women in Pakistan face traumatic encounters as a result of deep-seated societal intolerance. The country remains one of the worst locations in the world for women, with honor murders, domestic abuse, and discrimination against those who campaign for their rights. The women activists who speak up for women are silenced. 

In Pakistan, for example, women organise the yearly Aurat March to demand their rights and oppose patriarchal traditions. Despite the march's peaceful and inclusive tone, participants are frequently subjected to criticism, online abuse and even threats from conservative forces who see it as a violation of cultural and religious norms, such as from the Jamiat Ulema e Islam Fazl (JUI-F) followers.

To conclude, Pakistan's fight with intolerance highlights the importance of Karl Popper's paradox of intolerance. I think it is quite evident from the examples provided in the previous paragraphs that if intolerant people are given permission to uphold  speeches under the garb of free speech they would wipe out tolerance from society.

It must be noted that there are some limitations to free speech and especially tolerance in a society. But there is a crucial yet important question: how come we have reached this stage of intolerance in our society, especially religio-political intolerance. What are the reasons for it? To answer this question we would have to go back in the history of the subcontinent. One of the most influential muslim scholars of the 20th century, Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, his ideology of political Islam flourished in the minds of masses and on the other hand Maulana Abu Al Kalam Azad's secular philosophy of Islam did not become popular among Pakistani muslims. In the words of Nadeem Farooq Paracha, "Maudodi is to political Islam what Karl Marx was to communism." 

In addition, Maulana Maudodi's student Maulana Wahid ud deen Khan criticised his teacher's thoughts and claimed that Maulana Maudodi was seeing Islam through lens of politics only. He also wrote a book called "The Political Interpretation of Islam" to counter Maulana Maudodi's arguments. 

Furthermore, Dr Israr, a religious scholar,  was influenced by Maulana Maudodi's interpretation. His opponent, Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, could not inculcate his doctrine to the public successfully and was outplayed by Dr Israr.

Global powers, such as America, have also supported these political interpretations of Islam, especially during the Afghan War. In a nutshell, the nexus of religion and politics paves way for intolerance and American Imperialism has promoted this to a great extent. 

As a result, intolerance has prevailed and it has destroyed the fabric of society. So, only by working together will Pakistan be able to overcome the paradox of intolerance and emerge as a more compassionate and understanding society, building an atmosphere in which tolerance thrives and extremism recedes.