When a bigot gets bigoted…
What happened to former-singer-turned-cleric-proselytizer Junaid Jamshed at Islamabad Airport on the evening of March 26 is not only disturbing but also instructive. Jamshed, to put it mildly, is a misogynist bigot. He wasn’t always like this. He sang beautifully and had a large following of admirers. Then he transformed, Samsaesque-like, into a verminous state and has grown pathetic every day since then.
Yet, the very values he abhors today and rants against must force those of us who hold those values dear and consider their application universal to condemn, in no uncertain terms, the attack on his person by passengers professing the Barelvi denomination for an “offence” he caused last year and for which he showed penance.
But his apology was not enough, at least not for the Barelvis because Jamshed practices the Deobandi denomination. Unlike those who are variously branded, contemptuously and pejoratively, as “libidos” or “libtards”, the faithful of the elusive ummah operate on the basis of exclusion rather than inclusion. Jamshed’s expiation means nothing for the Barelvis. He needed to be sorted out. Some of them got the opportunity at the airport and went for it.
But having seen the grainy video, my question is very basic. What were the Airports Security Force personnel doing when this hooliganism was started by passengers the reports describe as activists of Sunni Tehreek, an extreme Barelvi group headquartered in Karachi. Within the premises of all airports, the enforcement of law and rules is the responsibility of ASF. They are supposed to arrest troublemakers, smugglers and other wrongdoers and then hand them over to the police concerned. In this case, what is visible in the video is a couple of them trying to extricate Jamshed from the Tehreek hooligans. But no attempt is made to neutralize the Tehreek activists. Nor am I aware of any arrests made so far or anyone handed over to the police.
There’s no pleasure in seeing Jamshed being harassed and beaten. The issue goes beyond his person and his often abominable positions. It’s about rule of law and state’s responsibility to ensure the safety and protection of its citizens and to arrest and prosecute those who have developed the tendency to violate laws on the basis of faith. The ASF failed in performing this function and that should be a cause for deep concern for all law-abiding citizens traveling by air.
In this particular case, these hooligans had traveled to Rawalpindi for the chehlum (40th day of mourning) of Mumtaz Qadri, the policeman who murdered, deceptively, Salmaan Taseer, the Punjab governor. While these hooligans only abused and roughed up Jamshed, they displayed the same righteous, vigilante, supra-law mindset that Qadri did. Everyone of these Tehreek activists, getting an opportunity, is likely to act like Qadri. Ironically, these people, as also the hundreds of thousands who mourned Qadri, are, for the most part, ordinary Joes and Janes. They are not what we call terrorists. Yet, just like the Deo-Salafi terrorist groups, these people use the same exclusionary discourse and exhibit the same contempt for laws and rules that galvanizes the terrorists.
The terrorists one can fight, using military power as also other law enforcement mechanisms. But what about these extremist tendencies? How must they be fought? Many analysts fault the state (governments) for not doing enough. In so doing they miss an important point: the state hung Qadri by the neck until he died. He was put on death row for having committed murder. But what must the state do if large sections of society turn up to both celebrate the act committed by Qadri and to mourn his death?
The question becomes even more pressing because, as noted above, all such people are motivated by the same sense of righteousness and contempt for the law which made Qadri do what he did without any remorse. Clearly, no state can start arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating hundreds of thousands of its citizens. And not just because certain freedoms are guaranteed in the Constitution. People can’t be stopped from attending the funeral of and sacralizing even a murderer—nothing can be done until a crime has been committed.
The issue becomes even more nettlesome when we move to another problem: mob violence. There have been innumerable incidents of mob violence in this country either for religious or even ethnic and sectarian reasons. Nothing really comes of it. Even when the leaders and instigators get arrested, they can find multiple loopholes in the law to get out.
The state can use a mix of kinetic and non-kinetic means against terrorist groups. But extremism, unless it crosses the line, requires more deft, long-term strategies. This mindset was not created overnight; it won’t vanish overnight.
And that is where one must indeed fault the state for not moving fast enough to take those steps which can begin to bear fruit in the medium to long term. They would require long overdue constitutional changes, including ridding that document of its many contradictions; changes in the syllabi; effective measures against mob violence (it should be considered terrorism); moving against clerics who use Islam to further their agendas et cetera.
It will be a long haul. It will be tedious. It won’t be easy in a democracy that is totally illiberal and uses numbers to advance illiberal causes. Yet, what needs to be done, howsoever difficult, must be done. No one must be publicly or privately intimated even when it is someone as bigoted as Mr. Jamshed.
Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect, in part or whole, those held by Newsweek Pakistan.