Say No to Conformity

28 Nov

A friend of mine told a famous member of the Islamabadi Chatterati that she disliked the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan. She thought these laws were unjust and were used to persecute minorities. She was of the opinion that these laws needed to be repealed. He, famous columnist and policy analyst, was of the opinion that since she did not like the laws in the country, she should get on a plane and leave; travel to more liberal shores where such laws do not exist and neither is there popular support for them.

“Get a green card and go,” she was told. Apparently, her criticism of the state and its laws, that enjoy support from the masses, makes her unworthy of being a citizen of Pakistan.  She also wears jeans and speaks in English and this also apparently detracts from her Pakistani-ness and makes her less worthy of holding the hallowed green passport or living on the pious shores of the great Islamic Republic.

Now, said commentator also wears jeans, western garb and hob-nobs quite frequently with the white folk; those dushmans of Islam and those busy in plotting the downfall of the shinning beacon of Islamic light – Pakistan. But, this is not of consequence, because Mr. Chatterati despite all of the afore-mentioned is committed to upholding what the masses of Pakistan believe in and conforming to and promoting “mainstream” and therefore “authentic” Pakistani sentiments. Hence, he is worthy of being a citizen, but furious friend is not.

He believes that all the noise created by the “liberal elite” for the repeal of the laws is out of touch with reality.  And there should be no calls for repeal (those people should leave Pakistan). He agrees with supporting a move towards amending the law to prevent their misuse.

There are a couple of problems with this dangerous call for conformity.

While I agree completely with Sir Chatterati that calls for repeal are unlikely to be met with success and that we should focus on building support to amend the laws, I disagree completely, that those who demand repeal of the laws should be silenced, ridiculed or asked to leave the country. For far too long, liberals in this country have been asked to conform to the mainstream – a mainstream that is not appropriately educated or given access to diversity. People like my friend are forced through coercion, bullying and social exclusion to become like the majority in this country who do not believe in human rights, or free speech or even condemning hate speech. Just because they are a majority does not make them right. And sometimes, instead of the saner fringes being asked to become part of the madding crowd, maybe we should be working towards moving people from the mad mainstream into the saner fringes. Why must the upholders of free speech or tolerance be asked to conform to or put up with the intolerance of others?

The conformist chatterer, in his zeal to save Pakistan, has gotten it all wrong. In order to reduce social conflict, he thinks the way to go is to ask the liberals who believe in things like repealing the Blasphemy laws and the Hudood Ordinance and all those laws that make the average Pakistani (Wait!! Not every Pakistani – just the average Muslim Pakistani) sleep better and remain more Muslim and therefore more Pakistani at night; to shut up or ship out. However, we encourage dialogue with and appeasement of those who have brutally and indiscriminately murdered innocent Pakistani citizens. We call them a reality that is not going away and must be accepted and brought into the mainstream political arena – but those liberals with their high ideals – they are truly dangerous and not worth appeasing or listening to and should just be told to shut up or ship out. I’m appalled – to say the least.

And while these political pundits might have their pulse on what’s current, they seem to totally have forgotten, what has been forced onto the dung heap (it’s really no dust heap!) of Pakistani history. Since 1947, support for conforming to and accepting one idea of citizenship and Pakistani-ness have been seen as the only way for Pakistan survival. It was believed that a country, pulled together but the vision of a few and not glued together by one language, religion or even continuous geographical mass would never survive. The separation of East Pakistan is held up as testimony by those who predicted the downfall of Pakistan. What they fail to acknowledge is that East Pakistan became Bangladesh because we told them to conform to and bow down to the will, wishes and the culture of West Pakistan. Apparently, East Pakistan was not Pakistan enough. Demanding conformity of language and culture and obedience to the policies of one ethnic sect became the reason for the partition of Pakistan in 1971. Had we been more accepting of plurality and embraced it instead of fearing it, we could have been a country brought together by historical circumstance but held together by respect for diversity. 

But clearly, we have not learnt our lesson and we insist on demanding conformity to the mainstream – a fluid concept at best – as the only way to our salvation.

And then when cornered, all liberal chatterers parading in their “mainstream man of the masses garb” resort to the conciliatoryand apologetic argument of “extremism of all kinds is bad for the country and the liberal extremist are just as bad as the religious ones. What they forget is that God has not made all extremists equal; one has a gun, a grenade, a suicide vest and a mission to use them. The other only has lofty ideals.

I wonder which one you would prefer to get rid off?

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6 Responses to “Say No to Conformity”

  1. Mumtaz November 28, 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    Is that a surprise considering that the behaviors of a vast majority are shaped by madrassa-educated mullahs who get a chance to preach intolerance for any views other than their own every Friday.

    Check out this video in which Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman (of Ruet-e-Halal fame) is having a go at Javed Ahmad Ghamidi re: Blasphemy Law for being a non-conformist to the mainstream view.

  2. A.M November 30, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    Needed is education of Islam and sciences. Islam from The Quran, to be read understood and contemplated, not from deobund and other nonsenses.
    It is useless to go with labels like “liberal’ and ‘conservatives’ . distinction should be between ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ based on authentic knowledge.

  3. Amin Jan Naim November 30, 2010 at 6:34 pm #

    The best critique of this topic is by Babar Sattar in The News of 20th and 27th November 2010 entitled “Our intolerant ways”. This is a vital issue for us and the extremist tide must be rolled back.

  4. moaiz December 8, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    It is very unfair to ask people who disagree with the current social, legal and societal order, to ‘leave the country’. This country is as much ‘theirs’ as it is ‘ours’ (an artificial dichotomy)and they deserve to live the sort of life they want with their family and friends.

    Unfortunately, this society punishes people who think differently and all attempts are made to make people ‘fall in line’. People hell-bent on defending blasphemy laws also want others to fall in line.

  5. Dr Farrukh Malik December 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    Sociology was one of my subjects in CSS exam in which I topped. And one’s conformity to social norms is the central theme of sociology. I do not agree when you say that one should say no to conformity, because conformity also means many other things besides what you had discussed.

    Conformity implies that we should persuade our behavior according to the norms of society, doing this, we would be able to create harmony instead of clash of values in a given society.

    for example, society wants us to conform with its norm to wear clothes unless not necessary. how would we behave if we go out without clothes? i think we will be stoned to death by people frustrated outside. this is why conformity is necessary.

    this is my view but i also respect yours.

    cheers 😉

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