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The Civil Discourse

By Qaisar Sultan

The brittleness of our thought process, especially in the matters of faith, makes us to suffer from an impenetrable barrier to reason. Instead of being tolerant to other faiths, there is a common desire to prove them wrong. We have witnessed the clashes of faith, resulting in deaths of millions. The history is full of heroes on all sides fighting to destroy other faiths, if they could. The pride in the killings with a sense of nobility and piety is beyond the ethical and moral norms of all faiths.  The display of arrogance, brawling and affront, anger and malice reduce us as people. What has happened to “O believers of the Book, be not unduly immoderate in your religion”-5.77.  It is the humility and understanding of other point views, no matter how outlandish it may sound, that gives room for reconciliation and appreciation of ideas opposed to ours. There is no philosophy, dogma, religion and thought process that was not challenged by someone standing on the opposite side. The absolutism of moral truths in determining its goodness or evilness ought to be judged in the context of the act and the moral positions of the time, cultural and religious norms.   If we are supposed to accept the objective validity of a belief within, the possibility of accepting any reason as a valid point may depart to an absurdity. All of these arguments do not imply at all that one should not love his God and practice his religion as he sees fit. The humanity has generally endorsed one idea that there is a God- Even though the idea of a Super Being has been denied. It is incomprehensible to a religious person that someone intelligent, a scientist, a thinker or a poet cannot see God directing the whole humanity with exact same faith of their fathers; that should be an absolute, a priori in all contexts; and it is not to some – That brings anger to a religious mind. We see in all religions a common theme of a “beneficent and merciful God”.  The evolution and gradualism were the way of providence; prophets brought divine laws in steps. There was a common message of all the religions and the prophets: obedience and love of God and His creation, universal truth, compassion, charity and kindness.  Where do people find in religion to be maleficent, having intent to harm those who do not comply as they desire?  The rigidity is one of the reasons that we see the civil discourse and democracy has found roadblocks in Muslim countries. The extreme religious views are not new to Western countries; they have gone through Dark Age. Right after Roman Empire embraced Christianity, the religious fervor took root there; and that was the beginning of the end of that great empire.  The European savage culture of the religious era became intolerant of other faith and other people.  It was until the enlightened period that Europe changed and engaged in a civil discourse. The state and church were separated to protect the state from its own ignorance, rigidity and cruelty.

The theological approach to politics is at odds with certain civil discourse as found in the modern western ideas of liberal democracy, where free speech plays the most important role and the role of church is limited. But we find the traces and influence of the religious forces in USA and Europe. If one has to find rigidity and extreme view of politics, listen to some of the stalwart from the religious right.   Recently, we have seen hateful rhetoric from the religious right wing of Republican Party in USA that has resulted in the death of innocent people in Arizona. They go as far as they can; they call Islam as a gutter religion. To them, we, including Catholics, are blasphemous; and to Catholics, all those who do not believe that Christ was son of God, are committing heresy. Those firm believers in the pre-eminence of the religion in politics show the incivility in American discourse by demonizing other religions, ethnic groups and liberal and secular politicians. The dogmatism in its extreme form cannot compromise with the openness and acceptance of religious and political pluralism. If the religious forces were allowed to change the constitution in the USA, the secularism that protects us all would be rejected by those the religious forces. If listening to any idea slightly different from the Christian religious point of view can be construed as an insult to God, there cannot be any civil discourse. The extreme view of religion and adherence to some of the proclamations may be misinterpreted for the endorsement of violence with a sense of piety and pride. If they wished, they could find a moderate solution in place of murdering or severing the neck of a human being. In the USA, the religious right groups have bombed the abortion clinics and killed doctors and nurses involved in abortion. So the question is: how any religion or culture can relish murder by an individual? If the religious right has the power, they would go back to Canon ecclesiastical laws (Christian laws); religious laws such as Sharia laws. As we have witnessed in the history and even now that the fanatical Christian groups resorted to violence. The civil laws and secular constitutions protected us all; even the government or legislature cannot change the fundamental rights of its citizen to embrace any religious dogma. Nobody should be allowed to bring in the religious impulses of killing someone, no matter how obnoxious a person is to any religion. But the civility demands that one should refrain from any comment or conduct that hurts feelings of others; the insult to prophets is a grave and serious matter. The civil societies should be extraordinarily cautious about the sensitivities of others. A civil thing to do is to avoid talking about the religion and politics- There is always a possibility that the other person may find the discussion offensive. There is an intense desire of some uncivilized people to make sure that the others should start believing in what they believe in-Quran, 109,006: “Unto you your religion and unto me my religion” should be the basis of all the arguments.  The religious imagery is important to all of us; and laws and practices should be neutral to all religions and faith. There is no room in any civilized society to allow an individual to take law in his hand.

We see in Pakistan that the political views that are influenced by the laws and customs of the land rely mostly on the religious maxims with confusing and duplicity of a political and judicial system. The fixed ideas depose the subtle balance required for a civil discourse. The result is that we have become hostile to slightly different point of view. Then we have the religious zealots becoming way too powerful for a civil discourse.  The religious zealots are angry men. They incite hatred against Christians, Jews, Hindus, Ahemdis, Parsis, and other Muslim sects – Barelvi call Deobandi as non-Muslims. In America, nobody is treated as a third class citizen because he is a Jew, Catholic, Hindu or Muslim. The religious groups in Pakistan have the street and political power to force the discriminatory application and personal vendetta into the prosecution of innocent religious minorities and even Muslims from different fiqh.  Then we have reserved seats for religious minorities, meaning that they are not true citizens of the country. In America, we, as Muslims, vote for a councilmen, congressmen, or senator, and not only for a religious minority candidate. The entrenched elements of religiosity in Objectives Resolution has resulted in a theocratic mindset of the nation; it opened the Pandora box of deep rooted religious biases that are in full force in Pakistani society.

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