Hum sub umeed say hain

Ejaz Haider

Mian Shahbaz Sharif says he is coming. The chief minister of Punjab, the redoubtable Chaudhry Sahib Jr, thinks Mian Sahib is bluffing and won’t come. He has been trying to come for a long time, Chaudhry Sahib told journalists. For his part, Mian Sahib seems quite serious this time and is working himself to fever-pitch. Let’s hope he does come this time round.

This business of trying to come and then holding back is quite interesting. It is another manifestation of brinkmanship (brink-person-ship, actually) — just there, but not really. To put the record straight, Mian Sahib is in fact a new entrant in this game of rising to the plateau but not exactly keeling over.

Until sometime back, former premier Ms Benazir Bhutto, who the PPP-wallahs refer to as MBB (which is not a fancy degree but short for Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto — why can’t they add ‘S’ to it for Sahiba, beats me), also played this game. Whether she was faking it, I don’t know but she hasn’t come as yet. Indeed, the game of chicken nuclear strategists talked about should be replaced by the game of coming. Who says our leaders don’t have staying power.

As for us, hum sub umeed say hain (we are all expecting). Meanwhile, with the leaders trying to come and the entire nation expecting, small wonder the Punjab government has a draft law on the anvil which it calls the Public Performances (Regulation) Act, 2004 and which, as the nomenclature indicates, is meant to take cognisance of inappropriate (read, obscene) public performances.

Which takes me to this business of obscenity. How does one define this elusive term? For the Taliban indulging in anything that makes life worth living was obscenity: playing, kite-flying, listening to music, watching television and presumably reading anything other than the Holy Book. Most of us still remember what the Vice and Virtue police did to a football team from Quetta that went to play a friendly match in Kandahar. Caught playing the game in shorts (the decadent Greeks of course played in the buff), the Quetta boys’ heads and eyebrows were shaved off.

But that was not to deter our many Urdu columnists some of whom still hark back to that interlude in Afghanistan’s history as the golden period of Muslim rule! It does not matter of course that most Afghans refuse to partake of our enthusiasm for the renaissance that took place under the great Mullah Omar, blessed may he be wherever he is.

A lot of that renaissance rubbed off on us. When Ibn Khuldun talked about the sedentary and nomadic societies and postulated that the sedentary societies are normally defeated by the nomadic ones, he was describing the victory of the latter through force of arms. But in our case, Afghanistan’s victory over Pakistan was ideological. If that process had completed, it would have been a first in history of a complex society succumbing to the elementary intellect of a semi-nomadic society rather than influencing it. I can’t prove it but such a reversal would most definitely have stumped Ibn Khuldun.

Make no mistake, however. We are still writhing under the Taliban’s ideological jackboot. No less a person than our federal education minister has declared herself a fundamentalist. To say that her declaration was nothing but political expediency is to ignore the extent to which theodology (my nonce word for theological ideology) has metastasised in this country’s body politic.

The other day I had the misfortune of spending some time at the University of the Punjab, that necropolis of education today that was yesterday’s premier institution of learning. Observing the students and feeling the ambience was an experience. Every ten yards I saw boards displaying Islamic teachings, a job well done by the moral brigade let loose on that hapless institution by Jama’at-e Islami.

Now I have absolutely nothing against the display of Islamic teachings, though the selection mostly leaves out what is really profound in Islam, emphasising primarily the observance of rituals. But at a university which claims to teach a number of disciplines, can we not find anything of substance to display from outside Islamic sources? Indeed, I couldn’t even see the name on the boards I saw of any of the great Muslim thinkers. Shouldn’t the PU, as a seat of learning, display the names of all the great lawgivers and make its students privy to the best minds humanity has produced? Haven’t we been raised on the apocryphal story about the Quaid choosing Lincoln’s Inn to study law because he saw the name of the Prophet (pbuh) inscribed there?

But none of this is possible in a country where the present enlightened government has taken out from a lesson about the second caliph a passage that shows him listening to and, presumably, enjoying music. Why…because today we do not favour music. May all of us stay perennially in this benighted state. What loss is Taliban’s Afghanistan if we can replicate it here? So while all of us may be expecting, I don’t know what it is that we shall beget.

Ejaz Haider is News Editor of The Friday Times and Foreign Editor of Daily Times

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