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Sunday, September 28, 2008

In the Name Of Allah the Merciful: Irfan Hussain

When private TV channels began to sprout across the airwaves, I had high hopes that they would alter the political and social landscape. Given the power of the medium, it can act as a major agent of change. However, while many of these channels have challenged the political establishment, they have seldom questioned the intolerance that holds sway in our society. Indeed, more often than not, they have reinforced existing prejudices.

Most analysts and commentators seem to feel that the freedom of the press is to be used only to criticise the government of the day. But that’s the easy bit. Although useful, the true test of independence lies in the ability and willingness to take on rigid beliefs that have resulted in most of the country remaining backward and ignorant. And this, I am sorry to say, is a test the Pakistani media have failed.


Over the years, intolerance has hardened and become a murderous element that is now threatening to break up Pakistan. Whether this is expressed in the form of a truck of explosives detonated outside the Marriott; an Ahmadi killed because his beliefs do not conform to mainstream orthodoxy; a Christian attacked on the grounds of his faith; or a Hindu girl kidnapped because she has no protection in a Muslim state, it all leads back to the same strain of intolerance that says: ‘I am right, and you are wrong. And because you are wrong, I have the right to kill you.’

We need to be very clear that all these everyday examples from contemporary Pakistani society reveal a nation at war with itself. More than ever before, this violent zeal needs to be fought by moderates. We need to hear more voices of reason and sanity that oppose the simplistic, black-and-white worldview of the fundamentalists. And the media has a duty to promote this peaceful vision.


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