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The rise of fascism

In the post-Cold War world, an old phenomenon in new guises has raised its ugly head all over again. This is the rise of the far right and even neo-Nazi parties and groups in the west. Pakistan too has experienced something similar, but ours is a local, hybrid version of the drift to the extreme right in the rest of the world.

Recent events such as the sit-ins in Islamabad and Lahore have highlighted the trend of shrinking space for forces that challenge the status quo. The Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) has by now been thoroughly exposed as an arm of the establishment/deep state intent on destabilising the incumbent PML-N government. Ever since the 2013 elections that brought the PML-N and Nawaz Sharif to power, this establishment, perhaps because of its experiences in the previous two terms as prime minister of Nawaz Sharif where he proved a ‘handful’, has been hell bent on bringing Nawaz Sharif to heel or, if that proves difficult, to remove him from power and politics altogether.

The first blow struck in this effort was the Imran Khan sit-in in 2014. Reliable inside sources report that the establishment, having got what they wanted from then prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s government (probably related to foreign, defence and security policies), advised Imran Khan en route to Islamabad on his long march to abandon the sit-in. Imran refused, but having been told by the establishment: ‘Sir, in that case, good luck’, railed for months about the third umpire whose finger never rose. The PML-N government on that occasion was saved by parliament, particularly by the role played by the PPP. Nawaz proved an ingrate as far as the PPP subsequently was concerned (eg the arrests of Zardari stalwarts, the federal government’s indifferent treatment of the PPP’s Sindh government, etc). That is why the PPP currently is holding off on pulling Nawaz’s chestnuts out of the fire again.

Next came the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif on a technicality by the judiciary in the wake of the Panama leaks. But far from rolling over and playing dead, to the establishment’s surprise, Nawaz has rebounded arguably more popular than ever. First, the Elections Act 2017 restored him as chief of the PML-N. In the process of course, what appears to have been an error or oversight in the drafting of the Act provided the opening for a fresh assault through the TLYRA.

Having been stymied one way or the other in their earlier gambits, the establishment has recruited the Barelvi sect to attack the government. Unlike the Deobandis, the Barelvis are the majority sect of Sunni Islam in Pakistan (and the subcontinent). Being an indigenous form that faith acquired on our soil over centuries, the Barelvis were the inheritors of the syncretic Sufi philosophy that was the dominant narrative of subcontinental Islam till about four decades ago when the maelstrom around the Afghan wars propelled the Deobandi sect to the fore. In contrast to Wahabi and Salafi theology, the Barelvis were always considered moderate and peaceful. That can no longer be claimed with confidence if the emergence and recent activities of the TLYRA are taken into account.

The TLYRA has built its entry into the mainstream on three points: Khatm-e-Nabuwat (the finality of the prophethood of Prophet Mohammad, PBUH), anti-Ahmedi hatred, and the elevation of Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, to the status of a shaheed (martyr) and hero. It is therefore no accident that the TLYRA has, after the one-sided, army-imposed abject surrender by the government, announced a fresh rally on January 4, 2018, the date Salmaan Taseer was assassinated. Our troubles at the hands of the TLYRA therefore are far from over. This may turn out in fact to be only the beginning.

Preceding these developments and parallel to them has been the ever-shrinking space for the expression of dissident or critical views. First, the mainstream media was ‘conquered’ (with some honourable individual exceptions in print), then social media was ‘controlled’, and now with the TLYRA spewing hatred and abuse and worse in the public space, the day of the challenger of the officially certified truth seems all but over.

Religion has been hijacked to the point where even a rational argument based on faith cannot be put forward without risk to life and limb.

Expression of intolerance, bigotry and hatred having been given open license, the space for enlightened, modern, progressive views has been incrementally squeezed to a virtual singularity. Any purveyor of such views must now tread on eggshells when venturing an opinion.

This atmosphere is akin to fascism at its worst. The ideology flourishes on the foundations of self-victimhood, demonisation and victimization of one or the other minority, resort to violence to attain its objectives, not allowing free dissident or critical expression and dominating the national narrative to the point of squeezing out all other points of view.

Sound familiar?

rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Rashed Rahman, "The rise of fascism," Business Recorder. 2017-12-05.
Keywords: Social sciences , Religious issues , Political parties , Religious aspects , Religious challenges , Faizabad sit-in , TLYRA , PPP , PML-N

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