Mar 6, 2009

Dark tides

The destruction of the shrine of Rahman Baba, the Pashtun mystic and poet who is widely regarded, indeed revered, across NWFP is yet another indicator of the advancing wave of intolerance and extremism that now engulfs us. Reports say that the shrine was blown up by militants using up to 40kg of explosive because it was frequented by women. There are reports that militants had warned that they would not tolerate women attending the shrine, and that they suspected them of involvement in immorality or 'illegal acts'. It is difficult to imagine precisely what immoral or illegal acts might have been performed by pious women - but not difficult to imagine the misogynist mindset of those who would banish women forever to a darkened room where their sole function is to cook and produce male children. The deal done in Swat is a Pandora's Box of troubles that now pour out everywhere. The validation of one set of extremist demands now gives them the green light to make other demands wherever they choose in the entire country where they wish their vrit to run. Let us be under no illusion here – the militants now ruling in NWFP have their sights set on ruling Pakistan. All of Pakistan. They wish their interpretation of Islam to be the one followed by all of our people, no matter what their Muslim denomination or their faith – which is why our religious minorities fear for their safety and their future. Are we to see the great shrines of Uch Sharif similarly attacked? Are we prepared to see our cultural heritage destroyed before our very eyes? Remember the Buddhas of Bamiyan, those ancient structures in Afghanistan that had stood for over a thousand years? Remember their destruction, just a few short years ago? Or the Buddhist statues in Swat? Or the agitation for the destruction of Buddhist and Hindu rock carvings of great antiquity at Chilas? Are we to see the ruins of Mohenjo-Daro pulverized because they are from a time before Islam or our museums razed to the ground in an iconoclastic frenzy that will leave us bereft of our cultural past? How long will it be before bookshops are burning, following hard on the heels of music and video shops? Ours is a land which was a part of the cradle of civilization. Within what are now our borders were sown the seeds of human greatness and invention. We are the custodians of that heritage. We have a duty to ourselves and the rest of the world to protect it. A duty which, as of recent times, we might be said to be failing in.

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