We’ve still not lost India and Pakistan to the extremist religious right but at this rate we surely will.
Munawar Faruqui had to quit stand-up comedy after a string of his shows were cancelled because there was fear of a law and order situation. Let’s be clear about it: it’s because he is Muslim. He is not being targeted by the religious right for something he said but because something they imagined he would say that might hurt their religious sentiments.
On our side of the border, a police station was burnt down because they refused to hand over a person accused of blasphemy to a mob. Just a month ago several policemen were killed by mobs on the street.
Where are our countries headed? There is a consensus in all major Islamic schools of thought that no person has the right to attack or kill someone accused of blasphemy but when a mob has been riled up with religious fervour it doesn’t matter to them what Islam truly says.
The Munawar Faruqui incident in India might seem small comparatively but its borne out of the same place: a feeling really, a feeling that the powers that be have instilled in the masses. The idea that somehow despite them being in the overwhelming majority that it is them who are at risk. It is their religious beliefs that the perceived enemies are after.
Political leaders do this to curb dissent and keep the status quo but a fire lit doesn’t know friend from foe. Once you turn a group into a mob and tell them their religion is in danger, that they need to defend it with their lives. Couple it with disenfranchisement, a lack of opportunities and economic strife, you are sitting on the perfect recipe for an explosion – one that can be seen from space even more clearly by NASA than Diwali is.
As a stand up comedian myself, I feel Munawar Faruqui’s pain. At some point, your art is simply not worth your life, and the lives of those you love. There’s not much comfort I can offer him from Pakistan, where journalists aren’t free to report the truth, let alone comedians having any freedom of speech.
All I want to say to everyone else: what do you want? What will you do when all the artists give up? Smell the toxic fumes standing on the rubble of everything you burnt down? Feeling the King of Nothing, patting yourself on the back for protecting your God by killing all of God’s people?
An artist is the moral conscience of the society. Once you lose that, there’s nobody left to tell the Emperor that he has no clothes. Even autocratic kings kept court jesters but now that we’ve elected jesters as kings, what can comics do but hang up the mic? Our lives are not worth your apathy. Enjoy the silence.
Shehzad Ghias Shaikh is a comedian in Pakistan.