Age of unreason

TH E realisation is dawning slowly and inexorably: the horror that was Dec 16, 2014 was no turning point. The curtain has not been brought down on extremist elements; not only do they remain free to propagate hatred and intolerance, those in their cross hairs still have no recourse but to fend for themselves.

According to a report in this paper, senior educationist and member of the government-appointed advisory committee for curriculum and textbook reform, Dr Bernadette L. Dean, has had to flee Pakistan after a hate campaign was unleashed against her by an unnamed political party. She was accused by those against her work of being `an enemy of Islam` and `a foreigner woman who has singlehandedly made changes to the curriculum and textbooks that made them secular`. The campaign against Dr Dean is only the latest in a series of attacks against educationists in the country. Less than a month ago, Debra Lobo, an American national and professor at a medical college, was attacked and seriously injured in Karachi. Even more recently, a Karachi University professor, Dr Wahidur Rahman, was gunned down in his car.

In a time of unreason for what is extremism but unreason? clichés are handy instruments for religious zealots to exploit. Dr Dean`s stellar credentials and long years of service to her country, as former principal of two leading colleges in Pakistan, professor at Aga Khan University, and presently director of the VM Institute for Education, offered her no defence. That she was part of a committee with whose other members she had co-authored the revised textbooks that were reviewed multiple times before being approved, was of no consequence. Nor was the fact that the Islamiat sections were authored only by Muslims, considered a valid argument.

Dr Dean`s very faith rendered her a `foreigner`, her every action suspect. In a country of unfettered extremism, every attempt to stem the slide into obscurantism is met with resistance, every voice raised in defence of moderation, plurality and intellectual curiosity is silenced, often at the point of a gun. Parween Rahman, Rashid Rehman, Sabeen Mahmud these are but a few among the many voices of reason that we could not afford to lose.

Instead of protecting those that are Pakistan`s best hope of clawing back the space ceded to right-wing forces, the state remains shamelessly in retreat. Why has action not been taken against the quarters threatening violence against Dr Dean? Why have they been allowed to put up banners with words that are an incitement to violence? Then again, this is the same country where banned organisations have been taking out processions even after Dec 16 and threatening law-abiding citizens. Cosmetic measures, even at this point where nothing less than a single-minded cleaning of the Augean stables is required, will take us even further into the abyss.

Dawn Editorial