THE BLOG
12/27/2014 01:56 am ET Updated Feb 25, 2015

The Peshawar Tragedy Shows That Pakistan Needs a New Religious Narrative

As in other Canadian cities, students and community members of Pakistani origin recently gathered outside the Alberta Legislature to hold a candle light vigil. Eschewing socio-political commentary, they wanted to collectively mourn for the 132 school children mercilessly killed by the Taliban in Peshawar, Pakistan.

However, praying must give way to reflection, as the Qur'an harrowingly asserts, 'woe to those who pray but are heedless of prayer'. What is urgently needed is personal and national ehtesaab -- accountability.

Some Pakistanis feel that this incident should galvanize the nation against the Taliban. While it should be a simple matter to take a united stand against murderers of children, it is not as simple as it may seem.

Malala Yusufzai mentions in her book that after she was shot, General Kayani wanted to rally a consensus against the Taliban. However, many Pakistanis refused to believe she was shot and even ridiculed her for being a pawn of Western powers.

Even in the aftermath of the Peshawar children massacre, media space was given to Taliban sympathizing clerics and hundreds prayed at the funeral of a terrorist.

The problem lies in the failure of successive governments to provide proper education and in the army's nurturing of the Taliban for strategic purposes. Over the years this led to the rise of various militant groups.

Inept governments and apathetic masses yielded public space to hateful clerics, who, funded by Saudi money, indoctrinated generations of Pakistanis with conspiracy theories. They moulded a takfiri (excommunication) mindset and taught the masses to implicate the U.S., India, Ahmadis, and Zionists for the ills of the Muslim world.

The brutal massacre of children in Peshawar is merely the next step in a long list of atrocities that began with the targeting of Ahmadis since the 1950s, the Shiis notably from the 1980s, and religious minorities including Christians with the advent of blasphemy laws.

The recent assassinations of Muslim scholars like Dr. Shakeel Auj, Dr. Farooq Khan and even the more conservative Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi, only confirm the relevance of Pastor Martin Niemoller's words, "Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me".

No wonder, some Pakistani critics feel that the greater enemy is not the bearded Taliban outside but the Taliban mindset within.

The Qur'an asserts, 'Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves.' As such, the military operation Zarb e Azb against the Taliban will not be sufficient to rid Pakistan of the Taliban menace.

What is required, according to Muslim scholar Javed Ghamidi, is a counter religious narrative to that of the Taliban. Even more importantly, in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's words, a "merciless introspection" is sorely needed to confront the Taliban within.

After all, what ideological difference lies between the Taliban extremists who wantonly engage in fisadh fil ardh (corruption on Earth) and those who while eschewing violent means, still support a religious narrative that has led to the subjugation of others.

When will the Pakistani masses realize that exploiting Islam to recreate the glory of past Caliphates and to justify the subjugation of religious minorities is based on a supremacist ideology born out of immense inferiority complex and colonial baggage?

Yet, hope lies in the 400 hundred protestors in Islamabad who have gathered outside the Red Mosque to demand the arrest of Maulvi Abdul Aziz, a Taliban apologist who has continued to indoctrinate Muslim youth in his madrassa.

These protests have unnerved the Taliban to the extent that they have issued death threats to a young social activist, Jibran Nasir, one of the organizers of the Islamabad demonstrations.

Nasir has defiantly asserted, "I don't see myself as a lone soldier. The real heroes are the 400 brave people of Islamabad who decided to join me in taking on people like Abdul Aziz."

While a non-bailable arrest warrant has been issued under public pressure against Maulvi Abdul Aziz, the momentum of the public protests must not be allowed to die out.

Will Western critics use their collective might to provide assistance to these brave protestors by calling into account the ineffectual Pakistani government or will they continue to harp "Where are the moderate Muslim voices" long after such voices are silenced?

Will Pakistanis in the Diaspora do nothing but pray? Must the Islamabad protestors and the few brave judges and police officers stand alone in the face of death threats and other challenges?

Can they accept Nasir's online challenge to flood social media with messages declaring, "We are not a nation of Taliban apologists, we are not afraid of the Taliban and we wish to reclaim our mosques".

Will they sign the Charter of Demands by ordinary Pakistani citizens that includes a zero tolerance policy for hate speech and extremist ideologies?

Can they recognize that the draconian blasphemy laws and the Second amendment, which subjugate their fellow citizens, emerge from the same cesspool of hate that has resulted in the cold murder of 132 Muslim children?

Will they reach out to Pakistani Christians, Ahmadis, Sikhs, and other religious minorities, who despite being immensely persecuted, stand firmly for Pakistan against the Taliban?

If the death of these 132 children does not lead to such introspection and action, then to use Islamic jargon, the fate of such a nation is sealed.