Editor’s Note: Atif Mian is a professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. The views expressed here are his own.
A local reporter walks past a damaged wall of the Army Public School, which was attacked by Taliban gunmen, in Peshawar, December 17, 2014. At least 132 students and nine staff members were killed on Tuesday when Taliban gunmen broke into the school and opened fire, witnesses said, in the bloodiest massacre the country has seen for years. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz
There is a line separating man from God that should never be crossed. For when it is, hell breaks loose. We witnessed hell this week in Pakistan. One hundred and thirty two children slaughtered in a barbaric attack on a school.
This time the line was crossed by Taliban – a serial offender. They gloatingly accepted full responsibility, adding that the children were murdered in response to Pakistan army’s offensive against them. One might question such logic. After all there are rules, even in war. Rules set by the very religion the Taliban profess to follow. Civilians are off-limits. The children, for sure.
But such logic matters not. For when you have crossed the line, you are no longer subject to constraints put on men. You are “god” now – judge, jury and the executioner – all rolled into one. The Taliban want to impose “shariah”. We can never know what that means, except to know that it means whatever the Taliban want it to mean. Murdering children could be kosher, if “the god” Taliban so decides. We better submit, or our head could be next.
There is a word in the western world for crossing the line between man and God. It is called Fascism, and the line-crossers are known as Fascists. But we in Pakistan know them through more honorific titles such as Maulana, Allama and Mashaikh – or even Generals and Prime Ministers.
Yes, make no mistake. The Taliban are not the first to cross the line between man and God. In fact, they are really one of the last to join this habitual pastime of Pakistani elite. The line was first breached by Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1974 who, flanked by every political party and religious scholar, set out to determine who was a true Muslim and who wasn’t. General Zia took this initiative to the next level by inventing his own “divine laws” that prescribed precise penalties for a wide range of “blasphemous” acts.
The following generation of leaders, both within the army and beyond, became even bolder. Why not just decentralize the whole business of trespassing on God’s territory, they thought. Thus you no longer had to head the parliament, or be a General to decide “god’s will”. Anyone with the right length of beard could do it. The subtleties of law and due process were no longer a hindrance. A local cleric would declare some poor Christians “blasphemous”, and they could be lynched, burnt alive, or their entire community set on fire. The cleric and his mob would never face justice. And if the “accused” Christian somehow managed to save her life, she would surely be picked up by police and banished behind bars for years to come.
Before the Taliban butchered our children in Peshawar, there was a Talibanesque mob in Gujranwala that went to punish the “heretic” Ahmadis. They locked up women, and children as young as 8 months old, inside a room before setting it on fire. The whole episode was video-taped with exuberant men chanting religious slogans. The government looked the other way because the “god” was on their side.
This begs the question. Why blame the Taliban alone when so many in Pakistan are quick to impose divine punishment upon others? But let us not try to answer this question any more. It is not easy to bury one’s own children. Not so many. And not so regularly. We must put an end to this. We must do the unthinkable. We must redraw the line between man and God in Pakistan, and promise never to breach it again.
This means getting rid of all discriminatory laws in Pakistan. All laws where the state interferes in matters of faith. It means getting rid of all blasphemy laws. The question is not whether Aasia Bibi committed blasphemy or not. The question is why should there be such a question in the first place.
We must respect the line between man and God. Let us all admit that there is no god, except God. May our children rest in peace.