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Let's Be Divisive

9 February 2011

"Pakistani Christians Seek Safety in Islam", was the headline of Rich Westhead's article in The Toronto Star, January 21. The thrust of Westhead's article is that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, religious fanaticism, and the intolerance that accompanies it, are at such a fever pitch that Christians in Pakistan are converting to Islam to avoid harassment. Like McCarthyism, all it needs is an allegation to be made without a shred of evidence, to whip a crowd into a frenzy and lead to assaults and arrests.

For example, a Muslim doctor who threw a salesman's card into a garbage can, was beaten by a mob, arrested by police, and charged with blasphemy because the salesman's name was Muhammad. One doesn't take the prophet's name in vain in such high intellectual company. A Christian woman got into a heated argument with her sister-in-law, a Muslim, who went outside and yelled that the Christian had blasphemed against Islam. A group of protesters broke into the house and beat the woman who later went into hiding with her husband.

Nor is a position in society any protection. Last Fall, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, campaigned to save the life of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy. Last June, while working in the fields, Bibi went to get water, which Muslim women refused to drink because a Christian woman had brought it. A heated argument ensued during which Bibi was accused of Blasphemy. On January 4th, while the debate over the future of blasphemy laws was at fever pitch, Taseer was shot and killed by one of his own security guards; shades of the Praetorian Guard. According to one Imam, Raghib Naeemia, "I felt good when I heard he was dead. It's very clear in the Holy Qur'an that if you say something nasty and harsh about the Holy Prophet, then you become a cursed person. We are supposed to round up theses people and kill them very harshly."

Perhaps Nadeem Antony, a Christian and a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, summed it up best, "No one feels safe. People are scared. If you want something from your neighbour, or you are angry at him, you call blasphemy and that's it."

Given those circumstances, it's no surprise that some of Pakistan's three million Christians in a population of 180 million, are converting to Islam. Between 2005 and 2010, an average of four hundred Christians converted annually. That number is expected to increase considerably in 2011. As one convert put it, "It feels great. I moved to a Muslim neighbourhood and now I feel like we are one family."

One cannot help but be reminded of the paradox, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." During the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions, some Jews converted to Christianity under similar circumstances. Today, the Jewish members of predominantly Muslim communities are too small for the religious and secular authorities to consider worth picking on. The most insightful comment on the whole matter was expressed by Zafar Hilali, a former Pakistani ambassador and Foreign Secretary, who claims the uproar of blasphemy has more to do with economic differences than with religion. "The poor are becoming increasingly desperate and don't know what to do; some religious leaders are using that."

What Hilali didn't say is that capitalism is a divisive society where there are always people to be blamed for particularly bad economic times, instead of analyzing the situation rationally. Furthermore, capitalist society trains everyone from birth to shun that which is different. It's a case of 'hate him, he's black, or white, or has long hair, or short hair, is a Protestant, a Catholic, a Shiite Muslim, a Sunni Muslim, a Jew, an immigrant, an atheist, and so on. The list is endless because there are millions of specific and superficial differences, but they all have one common denominator - that at a given time and place this person, or persons is different to the rest and therefore deserves to be attacked in one way or another.

By the above, the capitalist class, whether it be part of the secular or religious authorities, achieves two objectives. They create pressure to conform and give protestors someone to blame when the going gets tough. As socialists, we believe that these differences are superficial and should not divide the working class; that, a member of the working class i.e. anyone who sells their labour-power for a wage or salary, has more in common with the worker anywhere than a capitalist who lives in the same country.

The fact that the reaction to hard times in Pakistan has taken the form of religious differences is further testament (no pun intended) to how the capitalist class everywhere strives to maintain ignorance among the working class. Religion, which is another word for superstition, is something people cling to when it seems all hope has gone. As Marx said, 'Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions."

Socialists, too, are divisive. We divide the nonsense from the truth. Nothing but a socialist society can save the world's population from the disaster it's heading into. We stand on the cusp of financial and environmental collapse and quarrelling amongst ourselves prevents organizing to avoid it. Nor can one blame the capitalist class for their lies that perpetuate capitalism. They are driven by economic conditions, just as the working class is so driven.

There is only one answer to intolerance, genocide, destruction of the environment, food and water shortages, preventable diseases, poverty, and war, and that is the establishment of a socialist society. So why not study the case for socialism now and organize for its arrival and a world organization that is capable of tackling those problems.

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