Malala Yousafzai arrives in the Swat Valley by helicopter on March 31, 2018. Photo: AFP
Malala Yousafzai arrives in the Swat Valley by helicopter on March 31, 2018. Photo: AFP

Malala Yousafzai’s return to her homeland with a Nobel Prize in her résumé has weakened the narratives of Pakistan’s pro-Taliban right wing and conservatives. After being called an “agent of the West” and “blasphemous” by religious fanatics, Malala and other progressive Pakistani citizens are now being termed “bloodthirsty” by conservatives.

Liberal or progressive voices in Pakistan have traditionally been criticized and punished for showing dissent to the narratives of religious clerics and military personalities. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib and Ahmad Faraz were all dissidents against the narratives of the religion/security state. Even Fatima Jinnah, sister of the founding father of the nation, was termed a liberal who was allegedly going against the state and its religion.

This is actually an indication that in order to keep the common people hostage to rotten state policies, the nexus of the establishment, mullahs and opportunists in politics and the bureaucracy have been silencing critics and dissidents by terming them traitors or a enemies of religion and the state.

To achieve this objective, they have successfully brainwashed ordinary people by making them believe that liberals are sponsored by the Western powers and that they work with a Western agenda and propaganda of maligning religion, the state and Muslim civilization. Such is the hatred and bias that even a kid like Malala is not spared.

Unfortunately the state, with the help of mullahs and right-wing pseudo-intellectuals, has built a perception that Malala and other progressive citizens termed as “liberals” are a great threat to society, the country and its religion. Opportunist politicians help their cause.

Even a liberal political force like the Pakistan Peoples Party has had to surrender to the establishment-mullah nexus and compromise on its ideologies. Zulfikar Bhutto, bending and surrendering in front of mullahs, is a classic example in this regard.

Ironically no one bothers to check the facts. Malala and other progressive voices in the country have by no means had any role in promoting extremism in Pakistani society.

The Afghan jihad that brought in the culture of heroin and guns was not started by liberals. Liberals never issued fatwas alleging blasphemy against anyone, nor did they kill tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers in the name of religion. It was in fact the opposite.

The jihad that brought extremism, violence and drug culture into society was initiated by a dictator and religious fanatic, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. A sectarian war was also started by him by laying the foundation of Sipah-e-Sahaba, a political Muslim organization.

Fatima Jinnah, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Saadat Hasan Manto, Habib Jalib and Ahmad Faraz were all liberals or progressives, their contributions to society evident through their work and struggles. The conservatives and extremists are known by the legacy of Zia-ul-Haq, the Taliban and extremists like Sami ul Haq, Malik Ishaq and Khadim Rizvi.

Labeling Malala and other progressive voices as threats to religion and the nation may satisfy an illiterate or brainwashed mind, but it does not change the facts or reality

Right-wing intellectuals, by spreading a hijacked narrative of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, have actually contributed to the demise of society. When the world was exploring horizons of technology, science and social growth, conservatives like Ashfaq Ahmed and Qudrat Ullah Shahab were preaching that society should not to face reality and should take refuge in spiritualism.

Likewise, Tariq Ismail Sagar and Naseem Hijazi were making sure that Pakistani society remained hostage to the distorted history and glorification of wars. The security establishment, with the help of mullahs and conservative politicians, for the sake of their own vested interests, made sure that nothing against their self-created beliefs and narratives should emerge as a threat to their hegemony.

Liberals with progressive thoughts and the ideology to bring back the essence of Jinnah’s Pakistan were considered a great threat to the ruling elite. So they did exactly what was needed to brainwash the masses.

Labeling Malala and other progressive voices as threats to religion and the nation may satisfy an illiterate or brainwashed mind, but it does not change the facts or reality. Conservative forces are deliberately refusing to see the writing on the wall that clearly states that the era of ignorance, hatred and extremism is over. You cannot suppress logic with the might of a gun or by using religion to promote your interests. For sure, it is easy to manipulate the uneducated or brainwashed population with propaganda, but it is not possible to suppress the voices of more sane elements of society.

Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and pro-education activist Malala Yousafzai winning international awards in Pakistan’s name are much more worthy of support than the terrorists killing thousands of their own countrymen. It is evident that the so-called custodians of the religious and defense narratives of the state are scared of the voices of liberals because they make an impact not only in Pakistan itself but in the whole world.

People like Orya Maqbool Jan and Zaid Hamid are busy spreading extremist views but are actually damaging the foundation of society and the country. The extremism they breed is a threat to the state and society.

Pakistani society needs larger numbers of sane voices, as conservatives backed by fanatics are determined to take all of us down with them. Knowing that their narrative is now being defeated across the globe, they are trying to make sure this narrative is imposed on Pakistani society with the might of the gun.

The tragedy of Pakistani society is that conservatives are trying to force their ideologies on society with weapons or violence. The divide between conservatives and liberals is a natural thing, but using this divide to support vested interests and trying to silence dissent with force is unacceptable in the 21st century.

The Pakistani state, instead of promoting the culture of dialogue, has aligned with the conservatives and extremists, resulting in divisions that actually are themselves is threats to society. The failures of the state have been the results of promoting extremism and conservative ideologies.

After successfully marginalizing Ahmadis and other minorities, it seems that the state, through the conservatives, is trying to marginalize liberals too. Instead of rectifying errors, state-patronized extremism will further destroy the social fabric of Pakistan. It has to be realized that conservatives and extremists, not progressives like Malala, are a big part of the problem.

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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