Don’t try to beat the mullahs at their own rhetorical game
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Don’t try to beat the mullahs at their own rhetorical game

In the aftermath of the Taseer assassination, there has been plenty of reflection and strategizing amongst progressive and liberal minded people about how best to make Pakistan a less crazy country. I must confess that at this juncture, I am personally at a bit of a loss of how best to proceed. But one thing I would note is that trying to take on the right-wing (i.e. the rest of the country) on religious terms is bound to fail.

The logic of the religious-terms lobby is this: Pakistanis are religious people and things like the blasphemy law have strong religious connotations. Ergo, to defeat their worldview, you must engage with them on their terms, and show why things like the blasphemy law are unjust from an Islamic point of view.

This strategy is alluring but doomed to fail, in my view. The point is simple: you can’t beat someone at their own game. You can’t beat Barcelona by trying to out-pass them. You can’t beat Rafa Nadal by trying to out-muscle him from the baseline. And you can’t beat mullahs by citing the Quran or what the Prophet said to some random woman when she was throwing trash on him. Sorry, but it won’t work.


Why would he do it? Why would he try to out-hit me from the baseline? It's madness. Photo: AP

Here’s the thing: any time you cite some verse from the Quran or some story from 1400 years ago to show that you’re right, the mullahs will cite some other verse from the Quran or some other story from 1400 years ago to show that they’re right. I hate to break this to you, but organized religions tend to send mixed messages on everything from rights to violence to duties to whatnot (and yes, fundos, I’ve read the Quran — twice, once with translation). So that’s a bit of a cul de sac in that debate.

Similarly, citing Jinnah and that “you are free to go to your temples” speech is also bound to fail. Jinnah was a lawyer and a politician, and lawyers and politicians make careers out of saying different things at different times to suit different audiences. That’s their job. The fact is, Jinnah stoked communal sentiment when he had to, and made secular-progressive sounds when he had to. So again, I say potato, and you say death to Israel — who’s to say who’s right? More generally, once you’ve ceded the substantive space upon which you will engage in combat, you’ve already lost half the battle.

Personally, I liked an idea that Cafe Pyala mentioned, which is to hoist the mullahs, their allies, and their enablers on their own collective petard. Pursue cases of blasphemy of other religions against them — find like-minded lawyers, strategize on which courts to file complaints in, and go after them the way they go after helpless people. Filing cases against high profile figures (leaders of religious parties, “scholars” and other assorted mullah types) as inciters to violence would also not be a bad idea, but I’m not sure how the legalities of all this would work. It would be great if we could get some lawyers to speak up about the viability of some of these tactics.

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