The horrifying forms of fanaticism and intolerance have entered into the daily lives and behaviours of Pakistani society. The recent violent incidents that occurred during TLP protests depict a dismal state of affairs and expose the behaviour, thoughts, ideas and beliefs of ordinary men.
During the TLP protests, the killing of one soldier and the maiming of dozens of others indicates a disappointing situation of religious intolerance. That a group of men easily kill and inflict injuries on their co-religious brethren without showing any qualm suggests how much cruelty can be expected from them in the case of other minorities who hold opposite beliefs.
How have we reached this low point in the area of social virtues like tolerance and progressiveness? The most probable reason appears the ever shirking space for the liberty of thought and discussion. These beneficial elements are not only absent among the illiterate or less educated ordinary citizens, but the members of our educated or otherwise refined class also lack these qualities.
Two years ago during official training, our trainer, who was an officer of BS-18 of Pakistan Civil Services, was discussing tax laws, Islamic viewpoint of justice and giving an opportunity of being heard to the accused. He said that Islamic teachings enjoin that no one should be punished without giving him a reasonable opportunity of being heard.
To this I interrupted and asked: If Islam teaches this virtue then why do we not give the same opportunity of being heard to those accused of committing blasphemy, as we know, to settle some personal grudges against somebody, they are usually accused of committing blasphemy?
The trainer seemed to disbelieve his ears, so in surprise or rather disbelief he asked me to repeat my question. I repeated the question, but to my utter astonishment, the trainer exclaimed, Astagfirullah, Astagfirullah! And got infuriated and started brawling at me for asking such a silly question. His attitude was so horrifying, that I got scared and awaited the ending of class so that I may go to the hotel where I was staying and be freed from that displeasing situation.
I wonder If on this simple question such was the behaviour of an educated bureaucrat who had also lived in America, then what can be expected from ordinary men who have no familiarity with history, philosophy or other subjects.
The space for the liberty of thought and discussion is not available in our society. As a result, the problems of extremism, whether of religious or national nature are worsening with time. Our education system discourages questioning. It is only producing technicians and managers and does not deem it useful to inculcate social studies in students. The result is that our so-called educated people are not interested or unaware of social problems. Consequently, they do not contribute to the transformation of society by purging it of social ills. These social problems are worsening without measures to counter them.
While the short term solutions are being adopted by the government like proscribing the organizations with violent viewpoints. But only long term educational based solutions can achieve the desired objective of a balanced and progressive society. For this purpose, the teaching of general western philosophy should be adopted as a compulsory subject at the School and College level.
Good Philosophy encourages speculation, questioning and critical examination of knowledge and information that we acquire through education or from our surroundings. It will generate intellectual sobriety where people will critically examine their ideas and beliefs, so as a result they would hold and practise only those ideas which are based on humanity, universal virtue and ethics. Common sense will be applied on all practical matters and this will hopefully create an environment with enough space for liberal speculation and discussion.