The Nation’s editorial: Radical Deobandi forces of darkness in Pakistan

For decades, they have colluded with misguided elements of the state to impose their medieval mindset on Pakistan through manipulation, exploitation and sheer force, where necessary. They have spearheaded witch hunts of minorities, created and defended laws that allow blatant victimisation and promote violence, kept women locked up and shut out from public lives and national discourse and stood in opposition to reforms which are necessary to rescue this country and its people from the clutches of ignorance and hypocrisy. And they have done it all in the name of religion, of culture, of values. When they hear calls being made in favour of emancipation of women, protection of minorities and removal of discriminatory laws from the constitution, they feel threatened and find themselves prompted to form an alliance to fight back.

During a meeting held in Lahore on Sunday, a decision was made to unite all Deobandi groups on a single platform in light of recent developments. What are those significant developments that seem to have irked the Maulanas? Obscenity (read presence of women in public affairs), protection of blasphemy laws (read ensuring continued persecution of innocent people) and protection of constitutional provisions declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims (read permission to kill them by playing God). Look at the illustrious line-up. Khadim Hussain Dhillon of ASWJ, an extremist group dedicated to spreading sectarian violence, Hafiz Hussain of JUI, a party considerably angry these days due to the presence of women in PTI’s sit-ins and Maulana Allah Wasaya of Aalmi Majlis Khatam-i-Nabuwat, another group with expertise in victimisation of Ahmadis – to name a few. It has been decided that a seminar will be held on 18 November in Islamabad. Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, whose students have earned laurels in the fields of suicide bombing and other forms of violence; Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi, whose claim to fame is anti-Shia politics; and Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, who finds rape far less deplorable than DNA testing, are expected to attend.

It is important to understand that these groups are not overreacting. Each minor step towards moderation and enlightenment presents a real threat to entities whose politics is based on demonising people and ideals. Through relentless indoctrination, religious and otherwise, they instill fear within common people against perceived dangers, and then present themselves as saviours, all the while contributing absolutely nothing on real issues. It ought to be clarified that the Deobandi school of thought, as a whole, doesn’t hold a monopoly over bad ideas. The rot is deep and spread across the landscape. Regardless, it is perhaps a positive development that they have come forward openly so that people can easily identify and subsequently deal with the problem. The struggle against agents of bigotry and sexism has to be relentless and vocal, and it must come from all quarters who value freedom.