Category Archives: Women Gender and Human Rights

Laaga Chunri Main Daagh by Arif Waqqaar – BBC URDU

وہ جو بیچتے تھے دوائے دل وہ دکان اپنی بڑھا گئے

پاکستان کے شہر لاہور میں واقع تاریخی بازار حسن وہ بازار ہے جہاں پچاس کی دہائی میں قانونی طور پر ناچ گانے کی اجازت دی گئی تھی۔ لیکن ملک میں دہشت گردی کی لہر سے یہ ثقافتی مظہر بھی ویران ہوگیا ہے۔ راتوں کو جگمانے والے بازارِ حسن میں خاموشی کا راج ہے۔ کچھ لوگوں کا خیال ہے کہ لاہور کا بازارِ حسن شہر کا کلچرل حوالہ تھا جودہشت کی گرد میں دھندلا گیا ہے۔

عارف وقار

بی بی سی اردو ڈاٹ کام، لاہور

علامہ اقبال نے ابلیس کی جراتِ انکار کو خراجِ تحسین پیش کرتے ہوئے اسے جبرئیل کے مقابل لا کھڑا کیا ہے جہاں وہ نیکی اور بھلائی کے مجسمے جبرئیل کو للکارتے ہوئے کہتا ہے:

دیکھتا ہے تو فقط ساحل سے رزمِ خیروشر

کون طوفاں کے طمانچے کھا رہا ہے ،میں کہ تو؟

انسانی معاشرے کے سمندر میں بھی جہاں عورت کبھی ماں کبھی بہن کبھی بیٹی اور کبھی بیوی کے معزز کردار میں ساحل کے پرسکون ماحول میں زندگی گزارتی دکھائی دیتی ہے، وہیں سمندر کی پرشور اورتندوتیز لہروں کی زد میں عورت کا ایک اور روپ زندگی سے نبرد آزما نظر آتا ہے۔وہ ایک طوفان سے نمٹتی ہے تو دوسرا طوفان اس کا منتظر دکھائی دیتا ہے،ایک بھنور سے نکلتی ہے تو دوسرا بھنور اسے گھیر لیتا ہے۔

ایسے ہی حالات شاعر کی زبان سے لفظ بن کر یوں نکلتے ہیں

زندگی ہے یا کوئی طوفان ہے

ہم تو اس جینے کے ہاتھوں مرچلے

موت سے کھیلتی ہوئی اس زندگی کو طوائف کا نام دیا جاتا ہے اور معاشرہ اسے کسی بھی نگاہ سے دیکھے، شاعر اور ادیب نے ہمیشہ اسے ہمدردی کی نگاہ سے دیکھا ہے۔قدیم یونان، چین، یورپ، مصراور ہندوستان سے ہوتا ہوا یہ کردار جب جدید اردو ادب تک پہنچتا ہے تو مرزا ہادی رسوا کی امراؤجان ادا، غلام عباس کی آنندی اور منٹو کی ہتک کا روپ دھار لیتا ہے۔

اٹھارھویں اور انیسویں صدی کی اردو غزل میں عشوے اور غمزے دکھانے کے بعد نازو ادا کی یہ لہراتی بل کھاتی ُپتلی بالا خانے کے پردے چاک کرکے بیچ بازار آن کھڑی ہوتی ہے اور ساحر لدھیانوی کی زبان میں چِلا چِلا کر کہتی ہے :

ثناخوانِ تقدیسِ مشرق کو لاؤ

یہ گلیاں یہ کوچے یہ منظر دکھاؤ

اکیسویں صدی کے’ شاعرو صورت گر و افسانہ نگار‘ کے لیے طوائف نہ تو دل بہلانے کا کوئی کھلونا ہے اور نہ کوئی ملعون و مطعون کردار۔

’لاگا چنری میں داغ‘ کی ایسکورٹ گرل ہو یا اقبال حسین کے کینوس پر نقش ایک بازاری عورت۔۔۔

آج کا فن کار اسے نفرت سے مسترد نہیں کرسکتا۔وہ جانتا ہے کہ اس عورت کو بازار میں کون لایا ہے، اور یہ بھی کہ اس کی کھوئی ہوئی نسوانیت اسے کیسے واپس ملے گی۔

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woh jo bechtay thay Dawai dil …wo dukaan apni……..

رقص و موسیقی کی جو عظیم روایت نوابوں، جاگیرداروں، راجوں اور مہاراجوں کے درباروں میں پروان چڑھی تھی وہ تو جاگیروں اور راجواڑوں کے ساتھ ہی دم توڑ گئی لیکن بازارِ حسن کی شکل میں اس کی جو باقیات رہ گئی تھیں، اب وہ بھی آخری دموں پر ہیں۔ لاہور کا بازارِ حسن جسے پرانے لاہوری شہر کے ماتھے کا جھومر کہتے تھے، اب گمنامی کے اندھیرے میں کھو گیا ہے۔

لاہور میں واقع تاریخی بازارِ حسن میں ناچ گانے پر موجود حالات کی وجہ سے مکمل بندش کے بعد بازار میں واقع ان تمام کوٹھوں پر تالے پڑگئے ہیں جہاں روزانہ رات کو رقص کی محفلیں سجتی تھیں۔

یہ ملک کا وہ بازار حسن تھا جہاں پر پچاس کی دہائی میں قانونی طور پر ناچ گانے کی اجازت دی گئی لیکن ملک میں دہشت گردی کی حالیہ لہر سے یہ بازار ویران ہوگیا ہے۔

تاہم بازار حسن کے باسیوں کا کہنا ہے کہ جہاں دہشتگردی کے خطرات کے پیش نظر بازار میں ناچ گانے کا سلسلہ بند کروا دیا گیا ہے وہیں اب یہ کاروبار شہر کے مختلف علاقوں میں پھیل گیا ہے۔

دس ماہ پہلے اس علاقے میں کم شدت کے دھماکے ہوئے تھے جس کے بعد یہاں رقص کرنے والے لوگ یہاں سے چلے گئے اور اس طرح برسوں پرانی ثفاقت ختم ہوگئی۔

ڈاکٹر شہزاد آصف، ایس پی لاہور

شہر کے اس قدیم بازار حسن میں لگ بھگ تین سو سے زیادہ کوٹھے تھے جہاں روزانہ رات کو تین گھنٹے کے لیے ناچ گانا ہوتا تھا اور دس بجے سے ایک بجے تک رقص دیکھنے کی قانونی اجازت دی گئی تھی جسے بعد میں کم کر کے گیارہ بجے سے ایک بجے تک کر دیا گیا تھا۔

لیکن اب رات کے وقت یہاں خاموشی کا راج ہوتا ہے۔

اس علاقے کی بااثر شخصیت ندیم علی کا کہنا ہے کہ دہشتگردی کے خطرے کے پیش نظر پولیس نے بازار میں رقص کا سلسلہ بند کروا دیا ہے۔ ان کے بقول اس اقدام سے کئی افراد بے روزگار ہوئے ہیں اور اب ان لوگوں کے لیے دس بیس روپے جیسی معمولی رقم بھی بڑی اہمیت کی حامل ہوگئی ہے۔

انہوں نے اس بات پر حیرت کا اظہار کیا کہ بازار حسن میں تو رقص کو مکمل طور پر بند کر دیا گیا ہے تاہم شہر کے دیگر علاقوں میں رقص کی محفلیں سجانے کا سلسلہ جاری ہے۔

گانے اور رقص کو تو بند کرا دیا گیا ہے مگر اس کی جگہ برائی کا کام شروع ہوگیا ہے۔جس کام کی اجازت ہے وہ بند ہوگیا ہے جس کام پر سزا ہے اس کی اجازت ہے۔

ندیم علی

ندیم علی نے کہا کہ بازار حسن کے جن گھروں میں گانے اور موسقی کی محفلیں ہوتی تھیں اب ان گھروں پر یا تالے پڑے ہیں یا ان عمارتوں کو کاروباری لوگ خرید رہے ہیں۔ ان کے بقول ’اب بازار میں جوتوں کے کارخانوں کی تعداد زیادہ ہوگئی ہے‘ ۔

انہوں نے کہا کہ حکومت ساتھ دے تو بازار حسن دوبارہ آباد ہوسکتا ہے اور یہاں رقص اور موسیقی کی محفلیں شروع ہو جائیں گی۔

ادھر لاہور پولیس کا کہنا ہے کہ اس بازار میں رقص اور موسیقی کی محافل کی مکمل بندش کی بڑی وجہ دہشت گردی ہے۔

لاہور پولیس کے ایس پی ڈاکٹر شہزاد آصف خان کا کہنا ہے کہ دس ماہ پہلے اس علاقے میں کم شدت کے دھماکے ہوئے تھے جس کے بعد رقص کرنے والے لوگ یہاں سے چلے گئے اور اس طرح برسوں پرانی ثفاقت ختم ہوگئی۔

ڈاکٹر شہزاد نے اس تاثر کی نفی کی کہ پولیس نے خود بازار حسن سے رقص اور موسیقی کا کام بند کروایا ہے۔

بازارِ حسن میں رقص کی بندش سے متاثر ہونے والوں میں کوٹھوں پر کام کرنے والے سازندے بھی شامل ہیں۔ ایسے ہی ایک سازندے حیدر علی کا کہنا ہے کہ ناچ گانا ہونے سے انہیں بھی روزگار مل رہا تھا لیکن بازار بند ہونے سے ان کی آمدن بھی بند ہوگئی ہے۔

بازارِ حسن میں رقص کی بندش سے متاثر ہونے والوں میں کوٹھوں پر کام کرنے والے سازندے بھی شامل ہیں۔بازار بند ہونے سے ان کی آمدن بھی بند ہوگئی ہے۔ اب ان سازندوں کی آمدن کا دارومدار بنیادی طور پر اندرون ملک و بیرونِ ملک طائفے لے جانے والے ان پروموٹرز پر ہے جن کےدفاتر اس بازار میں کوٹھوں کی جگہ کھلے نظر آتے ہیں۔

اب ان سازندوں کی آمدن کا دارومدار بنیادی طور پر اندرون ملک و بیرونِ ملک طائفے لے جانے والے ان پروموٹرز پر ہے جن کےدفاتر اس بازار میں کوٹھوں کی جگہ کھلے نظر آتے ہیں۔

اس بازار سے رقص و موسیقی کی رخصت کا اثر کبھی یہاں سجنے والی محفلوں میں آنے والے شائقین کی خاطر بنائے گئے کھانے کے مراکز کی بِکری پر بھی پڑا ہے۔

اب ان دکانوں پر وہ رش دکھائی نہیں دیتا جو کبھی اس علاقے کی پہچان تھا۔ اس بازار میں واقع سری پائے کی ایک مشہور دکان پر موجود شہزادہ پرویز بھی مشکل کا شکار نظر آئے اور ان کا کہنا تھا کہ بازار کی بندش سے آنے والوں کا رش بھی کم ہوگیا ہے اور ان کا کاروبار پہلے سا نہیں رہا۔

ہیرا منڈی یا بازار حسن میں بچ جانے والے افراد کی آج بھی یہی خواہش ہے کہ ان کے علاقے میں وہی روشنیاں دوبارہ جگمائیں جو اس بازار کی پہچان تھیں اور یہاں کی رونقیں دوبارہ بحال ہوں تاہم ایسا ہونے کا اب کوئی امکان نظر نہیں آتا۔

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Sexual Harassment’s fourth Pillar by Miranda Hussain

COMMENT: Sexual harassment’s fourth pillar —Miranda Husain

Daily Times 25 February 2010

It is a sad truth that even those industries that look in the mirror and declare themselves the most liberally progressive of all, have proved themselves to be the least bovvered when it comes to tackling harassment

We certainly have come a long
way, baby.

Here at the dawn of the first decade of the 21st century, a mere 30 years since man first set foot on the moon, and Pakistan’s National Assembly has passed the country’s first-ever anti-sexual harassment bill.

For many, this represents an unexpectedly wonderful departure from yesteryear’s era of enlightened moderation. A period that saw, among other things, the who’s-who of Lahore’s professional activists bravely taking to the city’s streets to protest the proposed presidential ban on the Second Lahore (mixed gender) International Marathon.

At the time, many of us were, perhaps, superbly naïve in our belief that these courageous women were selflessly upholding the right of Pakistani women everywhere to run alongside men in public. To exercise the freedom to ogle all the while as the darker sex became increasingly hot and sweaty and surrendered to the demands of their running shoes as they, well, just did it.

Apparently, though, this was just an added bonus for the voyeurs amongst us. For when the marathon ultimately went ahead, the activists lauded the move as a triumph for the reclamation of women’s rightful share of the public sphere.

Yet once the cameras stopped their rolling-and-flashing frenzy, this most public of orchestrated battles seemingly faded to grey. This was, perhaps, to be expected. For a few high-profile, stage-managed X Factor events, showing that Lahore really has got talent, could never hope to be adequate substitutes for legal frameworks and the mechanisms of enforcement.

And this, of course, is why the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill must be welcomed.

For it is a sad truth that even those industries that look in the mirror and declare themselves the most liberally progressive of all, have proved themselves to be the least bovvered when it comes to tackling harassment.

Take the media, for example. Outwardly, society’s fourth estate has rightly long prided itself on giving headline space and airtime to crimes against women. More recently, it has found itself actively jumping into the fray. Meaning that when women have been raped or had acid thrown on them and the police — for reasons best known to them — have refused to register First Information Reports (FIRs) against the alleged attackers, the media has relentlessly highlighted these cases to the point where the authorities have been publicly shamed into ensuring that the legal process be invoked at all levels. And for this, the media must be applauded.

Inwardly, however, it must be said that certain quarters of the media have been less than conscientious when it comes to safeguarding the honour, dignity and safety of their female employees.

Although the recent media explosion has seen a welcome increase in the number of young women joining the workforce, newsrooms still remain a predominantly male-dominated environment. This is especially true of the print media.

This may explain the countless and untold cases of harassment of female staff. Ranging from suggestive comments to inappropriate text messages to explicit e-mails. From marriage proposals to subsequent bullying tactics when the man in question is turned down.

Yet responses to such behaviour have often been determined according to the class and workforce ranking of the adventurist.

Meaning that when the offender is part of the so-called disposable labour force, such as a tea boy or security guard, there is usually no hesitation in showing him the door. But when he happens to be at the higher end of the chain of command — a man who wields actual power and authority, such as an editor-in-chief, resident editor or news editor — professional integrity all too often falls by the wayside.

Thus, more often than not, a woman who has the gumption to stand up and complain can find herself being told that such behaviour is simply part and parcel of working life. Or, incredibly, that she would not be complaining if she fancied the cad in question. Yes, really.

Unfortunately, this false nexus between class and sexual harassment has, in the past, been upheld by women themselves.

In 2008, South Asian Women in Media (SAWM) held a preliminary meeting of female journalists in Lahore to discuss harassment and to devise possible support mechanisms.

Interestingly, the emerging consensus identified cameramen and, at times, reporters, as the most likely to offend. Apparently, their lack of ‘education’ meant that they could hardly be expected to behave any better.

Naturally, such a skewered approach simply gives the powers of authority a free ride. It inadvertently downgrades their advances to that of mere harmless banter, thus allowing them to believe that the light is always green. Whereas, as one of the meeting’s participants succinctly put it: harassment is never a class issue but always a matter of what these opportunists think they can get away with. And as long as sexual overtures are not nipped immediately in the bud, it becomes a matter of what they know they can get away with.

And this is why legal implementation alone will never prove effective unless and until those at the helm of organisations prove their unwavering commitment to zero tolerance on this front. Whomsoever the offender may be. For the line between inaction and complicity is, indeed, very fine.

The writer is a Lahore-based freelance journalist and is currently working on her first novel. She can be reached at humeiwei@hotmail.com

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DAWN.COM | Columnists | Persecuted by all

DAWN.COM | Columnists | Persecuted by all.

By Rafia Zakaria 
Wednesday, 24 Feb, 2010
People from Pakistan's Christian community rally to condemn attacks on their fellows in Gojra.—File photo by AP
People from Pakistan’s Christian community rally to condemn attacks on their fellows in Gojra.—File photo by AP

At least one of three Sikhs who were abducted for ransom about a month ago by the Pakistani Taliban was killed on Sunday, Feb 21.

The murdered man, Jaspal Singh, and his fellow kidnap victims were Pakistani citizens who lived in Khyber Agency’s Tirah Valley. 

Their abductors were demanding a ransom payment of Rs30 million, to be delivered by Sunday. The other two in the group are allegedly still being held by the Taliban, although there is some confusion since some reports say that two beheaded bodies were found in Orakzai and Khyber agencies.

There are also unconfirmed reports that decapitated heads were delivered by the Taliban to the gurdwara in the area, and that letters found with the bodies warned elders in the region not to disclose the case to the media. 

The killing of minorities by the Taliban is not a new issue; their elimination and demands for the payment of a jizya tax have been an ideological staple of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The plight of Christian, Hindu and Sikh minorities in and near Swat and the tribal areas is particularly precarious, with their livelihoods and day-to-day existence threatened by the encroaching presence of the Taliban. 

Yet the Taliban are not the only threat to Pakistan’s religious and sectarian minorities. The past few months have seen the emergence of horrifying cases of systematised persecution of religious minorities.

These instances extend from the individual, such as the case of 12-year-old Shazia Masih who was allegedly tortured and killed while she was employed by a former president of the Lahore Bar Association, to cases such as that of Gojra and Korianwala where mobs were mobilised and Christians were burned alive in their homes. 

The latest case of Siddiq Masih is an illustration of the lack of societal outrage against the persecution of minority groups. In this instance, the Punjab minister for prisons,Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor, reportedly persuaded two Christian brothers to convert to Islam and transact a real estate deal that would hand over a 16-marla plot in Christian Colony owned by their brother Siddiq Masih.

According to some reports, the two brothers were addicted to drugs and wanted easy cash with which to procure them. In 2004 they converted to Islam and then produced fake ownership documents that showed them as the true owners of the land. 

The deal did not go through as planned and in October 2009 the two accused their Christian brother of blasphemy and alleged that he had desecrated the Quran.

Siddiq Masih had already lodged a case against his brothers but provincial minister Abdul Ghafoor is now said to be involved in the case, and is reportedly pressing him to withdraw the case and turn the land over to his Muslim brothers — so that he may purchase it at a pittance. 

If the story is true, and many insist it is, the case demonstrates the manner in which the blasphemy laws have become convenient instruments in the hands of anyone who chooses to target minorities.

These laws, contained in various sections of Pakistan’s criminal code, forbid the damaging or defiling of a place of worship (Section 295-A) and outraging religious feelings (Section 295). Section 295-C states: “Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.” 

The trial must be presided over by a Muslim judge in a sessions court. Defaming the Holy Prophet (pbuh) can lead to a death sentence and defaming the Quran can lead to life imprisonment.

In practice, evidentiary requirements for witnesses are sometimes relaxed by judges overcome by religious zeal to inflict punishment on the accused.

The blasphemy laws have thus in effect become legal tools allowing the majority religion to persecute minorities or the weak under pretextual charges of having defamed the Quran or the Holy Prophet. 

Despite calls for the repeal of these laws from minority groups as well as human rights organisations, recent debates on the blasphemy laws are being directed toward the revision rather than repeal of existing legislation.

The appointed (rather than elected) minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, has promised that a “revised” blasphemy bill will be introduced in parliament later this year.

This move again reflects the lack of political will to take on Islamist political parties such as the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, which has declared that no one “has the power to touch the blasphemy laws” and has threatened legislative and street protests if the revised bill is introduced. 

All this despite the fact that scholars such as Asghar Ali Engineer have declared the current form of the laws to be un-Islamic in that they were introduced to legitimise Gen Ziaul-Haq’s regime, and make little effort to ascribe to the evidentiary or doctrinal standards of classical Islamic law. 

If the Taliban kill minorities as part of their project to attack the Pakistani state, the Pakistani state in turn allows the perpetuation of a legal system that leaves minorities vulnerable to persecution at the whim of anyone who chooses to accuse them of blasphemy.

This juxtaposition blurs the moral lines between the state trying to maintain the rule of law, and anti-state forces such as the Taliban trying to destroy it. At the heart of the problem lies the assurance that the lives of minorities who are crushed between the barbarity of the Taliban and the corruption of the state are ultimately expendable and unworthy of protection. 

The recent beheading reflects in gruesome detail the tyranny of the Taliban. But the continued existence of the blasphemy laws are perhaps equally damning indictments of the Pakistani state.

The writer is a US-based attorney and teaches constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

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Morality isn’t the monopoly of any faith

Morality isn’t the monopoly of any faith

February 17, 2010 by alexpressed

Morality

Consider this demographic projection for the UK, and ponder its implications for a moment: within five years, the majority of babies will be born to unmarried parents. However, before you put this down to yet another example of Western immorality, just remember that all these babies will have the same legal rights as those born to married couples.

This trend is part of the wider decline of marriage as an institution. According to a recent study, the figures for people getting married in Britain is at its lowest ever since these statistics began to be compiled nearly 150 years ago.In 2008, only 21.8 per thousand adult men of marriageable age actually took the vow. At 19.6, the figure for women was even lower. And the average age for men getting married for the first time was 32, and for women it was nearly 30.

These figures reveal not so much disillusionment with the institution of marriage, as much as they do a widespread rejection of religion. Church marriages are still favoured by the middle classes, but more for the pomp and glamour of the wedding dress worn by the bride, and the finery sported by the guests. Indeed, attendance for church services has fallen steadily, and most Brits only go to church for weddings and funerals.

A glance at the European table reveals that the belief in a god is generally quite low in all the major countries. Sweden, with only 23 per cent of the population believing in a deity, is the least observant, with the UK at 38 per cent. Germany and France are similarly atheistic or agnostic. Interestingly, Catholic countries seem to be more staunchly Christian, with Poles, Spaniards and Italians being among the most fervent of believers.

Indeed, a lack of belief in a supreme being has long been the hallmark of Western intellectual thought since the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Hence, lawmakers have tried to separate religion form politics, few more so than the Founding Fathers of the United States. Both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were fiercely agnostic in their views.

Scientists, too, have tended to question the belief system they were born into, as revealed by this quotation from Albert Einstein: “Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behaviour should be based on sympathy, education and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”

Many have condemned modern Western civilization for its ‘godless’ ways, pointing to widespread cohabitation between men and women, men and men, and women and women. Alcoholism, nudity and drug-abuse are also frequently cited. All these lifestyle choices are mentioned in arguments over the superiority of Eastern religions and societies. Yet the firm belief in religion and an afterlife in our part of the world do not necessarily translate into better societies.

In the Transparency International table for global perceptions of corruption for 2009, there is not a single Muslim country in the twenty most honest states. However, seven Muslim countries figure among the ten most corrupt states. Interestingly, Sweden, the most godless state in Europe, comes in at joint third with Singapore as the least corrupt country in the world.

There is an argument that corruption is a function of poverty, and once societies have acquired a measure of economic well-being, they tend to become more honest and accountable. While there is some truth to this assertion, how to explain the fact that Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world, is listed as 63rd by TI? And Kuwait comes in at 68. Clearly, then, there is little direct linkage between religion and morality.

Nevertheless, billions around the world continue to believe deeply in the faith they have grown up in. They derive comfort from following the belief system of their forefathers, and most of them have never felt the need to question it. Indeed, the poor obtain solace for their wretched condition with the promise of compensation in the afterlife. And the rich in our part of the world try and assuage their guilt by giving alms generously, thereby hoping to buy a place in heaven. If only they would pay their taxes with the same zeal, we might be able to make a better world in this life.

In religiously inclined societies like Pakistan, we are fond of criticising Western materialism, while holding up our supposed spirituality as being superior. Even the millions of Muslims who have chosen to migrate to the West make the same assertion. However, I have not noticed any of these people denying themselves the conveniences and the advantages of these same ‘materialistic’ societies.And frankly, I do not see too much evidence of our vaunted ‘spirituality’ in our behaviour or attitudes.

These differences have been sharpened after 9/11, with more and more people in the West now seeing Islam and Muslims as being behind the rise in extremist violence in much of the world. Muslims, for their part, see themselves as victims of a rising Islamophobia.  Interestingly, the trend towards atheism and agnosticism is far less marked in the United States than in Europe. Well below five per cent of Americans assert they do not believe in any god.

Indeed, some Evangelical Christians in America think they have more in common with Muslims than the ‘godless Europeans’.

One reason it is so difficult for many Muslims to become assimilated into the societies they have chosen to live in is the huge cultural differences they encounter. Generally coming from deeply conservative backgrounds, they are shocked with the free and easy lifestyle they encounter. Rather than encouraging their children to integrate, they seek to insulate them from Western values, thus causing a state of mild schizophrenia in second- generation immigrants. Some of these young people become quickly radicalised, and seek clarity in the black-and-white world of religious extremism.
Unfortunately, too many of them lack the education to realise that ultimately, no set of beliefs or values is inherently inferior or superior to another. Morality, as we have seen, is not the monopoly of any faith: an atheist can be more ethical than a religious person. At the end of the day, what matters is that humans behave with consideration and decency, and avoid imposing their beliefs on others.

This essay was originally published in DAWN on 17th February, 2009.

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