Gangsterism – religious and political

The place is not far from Islamabad. A three hour drive and one is far away from almost everything Pakistani. Not only is the weather pleasanter; this small place presents the ethos of a non-Pakistani world. Here it is just one road on both sides of which are located a number of hotels and other shops. It was evening time and I was sitting in the restaurant of a hotel and looking through the window-glass out on the road. It was no crowding here, only a few visitors doing shopping and walking on the road. On the right side from where the road seems to come, I could see just the same scene. Look straight where the road was goes to, I could see the road turning towards left and disappearing.

The sky was cloudy and a cool breeze was flowing with a soothing hiss. All of a sudden, this calmness was broken by a rising noise. As if a crowd was chanting slogans with full force and creating gargantuan sound of their motorbikes’ engines! Everyone and everything stood still in anticipation of it. The shoppers and walkers all stopped wherever they were. First, young bearded men riding on motorbikes appeared. They were holding flags of a religious (political) group. Then open loader vehicles came forward. Men of all ages were aboard with the same flags waving and shouting slogans. Then there were others riding on motorbikes; but it was not a very big crowd. They all stayed there awhile at the turn of the road.
As if just now they have conquered this place, they with a new vigor started chanting the same religious (political) slogans. All the shopkeepers and shoppers and visitors were watching them as if mindlessly. For about ten minutes, they performed the ritual and then moved ahead, maybe to conquer the other part of this place. I tried to take a sip of the tea, but it was all cold.
Years back, it was in Lahore and in a very congested area that the same type of ritual I witnessed. It was late afternoon. Suddenly the shouts of slogans started creating ripples in the air. In such localities such things are strange and folks eagerly try to make out what’s that has come to happen in their midst. The shouts were coming closer. Like others, I too tried to have a glimpse. A young bearded man was leading a group of boys as old as 15 or 14 years, and as young as 6 or 7 years. They were about 25-30 in total.
I asked for another cup of tea. My mind was disturbed: what the hell all this is about. Is not Pakistan a predominantly Muslim majority country? Religious minorities have no substantial number here and maybe that is why they enjoy no religious freedom! Here everywhere there are only Muslims. Then what is that such groups, which are not too few, but too much in number, are up to? What do they want to achieve?
Let this point be clear here that there is no truly religious party or group in Pakistan. The undeniable fact is that almost all of them, though they present themselves as religious, are fundamentally political. They have political aspirations and political cravings. No doubt, the truly religious do not indulge in politics.
Also another undeniable fact is that almost all of them use religion for their political purposes. They all have political motives, be they are individuals, groups or parties clad in religious garb.
Meanwhile, one friend who was sleeping upstairs in his room came down and joined me. He asked: What was happening on the road here in such a place? I was confused. I had no words to tell him what it was. Just that moment it flashed through my mind. Instead of answering, I put a question to him: have you ever watched such a movie in which gangs of motorbike riders are shown committing crimes. They are in fact criminal gangs. They commit crimes in groups. They ride heavy motorbikes with powerful engines, the thundering noise of which causes great alarm and fear.
Here in such a peaceful place, it was such a gang of motorbike riders and others boarding on open vehicles, but I cannot make any sense what they were after, after all, I told him. Instantly, I tried to clarify that this was not a criminal gang in the strict sense of the word. They are different. They do not commit crimes like criminal motorbike gangs do. However, what is obvious, they make use of all of the tactics which such gangs of criminals use. They use motorbikes, and the sound of their engines, and the group psychology of creating fear. Above all that, they use the flag of religion to silence others and to justify as well as sanctify their gangsterism.
He concurred. We did remember the days of our studying in a university, where a group of students affiliated with a religious (political) party used the same tactics of criminal gangs riding heavy motorbikes. We did remember and realized that on the night of every new year, this group riding on motorbikes in dozens or in hundreds try to harass and punish and torture the revelers on the roads. And all that in the name of religion! They are in fact gangsters. Or actually whatever their objectives are, good or bad, they use the ways and tactics of gangs.

This helped us see what the political and (religio)political parties are doing in Pakistan. They now and then resort to the tactics and methods of gangsters. Lately, in most of the cases, it is religious groups and parties which have often come to act like gangsters. In a philosophical sense, it means that both politics and religion have abandoned their moral appeal and moral ways. Both of them are intent upon achieving their ends at any cost by any means. No matter these means are good or bad. They never care a dime about their means. That is how both religious and political parties have acquired and adopted the ways and tactics of gangsterism in Pakistan.

Note: This article was completed on July 22, and was originally posted in August 2014.

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