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'Even children are being brainwashed in Pakistan'

April 05, 2011 23:59 IST
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Pakistan has lost its soul, believes Pakistani-Canadian author, journalist and social activist Raheel Raza. The co-founder of the Toronto-based Forum for Learning, who was in Pakistan in March, was disappointed that even educated people supported the death of Punjab governor Salman Taseer.

 "It reminded me of Nazi Germany. First ordinary people were in denial, they were indifferent and later they accepted the propaganda that made another human being worthy of killing," she said during an interview with Rediff-India Abroad.

You were in Pakistan recently. What do Pakistanis say about the murders of Salman Taseer and (minorities minister) Shahbaz Bhatti?

Pakistanis are accepting the dehumanisation of other people when people were massacred. Even educated Pakistanis are not speaking out against Taseer's murder. Their mind has been brainwashed. Religiosity has taken over reason.

When religion takes over an ideology -- whether it is an ideology of faith, an ideology of violence, or an ideology of inhumanity -- you don't see any reason or logic. In Pakistan I saw various layers of society.

At the government level, they are not concerned about what's happening in the country. Their coffers are filled… They can leave the country at any time. 

Taseer's murder is a big message: If you speak out this is what we will do to you; nobody will support you, which is a fact. Even I couldn't speak out when I was there. My family there had warned me to keep my mouth shut. 

Even children are being brainwashed. I have photos and videos of thousands of children being brainwashed in support of the blasphemy law when they don't even know what it's about.

I met the Pakistani Christian community here. They are very concerned about what we can do after Bhatti's killing. I said we are, in some ways, powerless. We can only speak out here, create awareness and support each other.   

Are there no efforts at the institutional levels for people to speak out against what's going on in the country?

In Pakistan there are no such institutions. Everybody is looking after his/her own and this religiosity is at its height. The Islamists are brainwashing people into their beliefs, something which is not even part of our faith.

The elephant in the room is the dreaded blasphemy law, which few people even want to discuss, let alone abolish. There's no such thing as blasphemy law in the Quran. It is a man-made law. It was done by then Pakistan president Zia-ul Haq.

The Islamists have killed people on the basis of this law. Even the government is scared of these people. People are afraid and they don't want to speak out.   

How can Pakistan's educated and affluent class remain silent?

It's not a new phenomenon. It started during Zia's time. We have been since then screaming that there's a problem. Look at it. What do you do when people have been brainwashed for 30 years?

Some of us here have been shouting 'For God's sake educate them that it is a huge problem coming.' Sadly, that realisation hasn't come here yet, not to the extent that people are ready to bring about the change. The majority of Pakistani-Canadians are so involved in their jobs that they have no time to think about what's happening back home.

To be an activist you have to sacrifice a lot. If you are an activist, people leave you alone, as they don't want to hear the truth and people are drawing room dialogue makers. We have to create awareness amongst the youth. I do this activism for the sake of my children and grandchildren. I do this for Islam and Pakistan.

We are here in Canada, and if there's any backlash against Islam, against Muslims, they won't look as to who is moderate and who is not. It is going to affect all of us.

The problem in Pakistan is closely connected with the problem in the Muslim world today, which is lack of any interest in bringing about any change, religiosity and no respect for democracy, freedom and reason. These are very serious issues, but my philosophy is that I have to clean the garbage in my house before I criticise others. 

It is a lot of effort. It is not a pretty job. Those people who see the problem must do something. In my book Their Jihad… Not My Jihad, which appeared seven years ago, I warned that the Muslim community should have taken some action long time back.

I quote what the Hindustan Times wrote when my book was released: 'Being a reformer in Islam is to flirt with ridicule, vituperation and anger. It's not an easy job.'

What do you want to tell Pakistani Canadians and other Muslims?

Please wake up before it is too late.

It is a very fine line that we walk because you know that people who are willing to jump on the bandwagon hate Muslims, hate Islam. Hate doesn't solve anything. I do this activism because I deeply love my faith and the country of my birth and we can only bring about change if we care where we live.

Any kind of bashing doesn't solve the problem. We have to look deep into ourselves and see that nobody else can solve our problems, we have to solve ourselves. 

My husband Sohail and I established the Forum for Learning largely for dialogue, for the youth. It's what we call 'between the mosque and the mall.' The youth can come to the mosque to ask critical questions, but critical thinking is lacking in our community. Also lacking is reflection and freedom of speech.

To create awareness of what's going in Pakistan, we organise symposiums, lectures and debates. And when I speak of justice, I don't want injustice for a person of another faith. I want the same justice for you as I want for myself.

I talk of justice for everybody who has been a victim of terrorism. I tell my co-religionists, my countrymen, my compatriots that think of others. Put yourself in their shoes and try to bring about the change before it is too late.

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