Mubashar Lucman is a former student of Aitchison College, Lahore; Pakistan’s premier boys school that posh parents around the city are currently flogging their sons to get into at all costs. While the prime purpose of education as an exercise in opening minds, lowering prejudices and creating rational citizens might sound like too lofty an ideal for most cash-strapped, rough-neighbourhood-serving schools around the world, those whose student body comprises largely of children of FWD-driving parents should be slightly more in tune with the demands of a modern education, which put in terms of the UN’s declaration of human rights is to be: “Directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.”
This short but profound encapsulation of what an education entails should form the basis of the training of all teachers and students who enter an institution. Unfortunately, in the grand tradition of Pakistani pedagogy, what unites Matric and O’Levels schools, rich and poor institutions is the collective sense of persecution that plagues Pakistani society at every level and the unifying joys of bigotry and xenophobia that penetrate the system from top to bottom. Xenophobia as an abhorrent trait is a concept alien to a society that holds its sense of Muslim superiority so dear that every little perceived threat to its religious sentiments has to be responded to with a forceful clamping down on dissent.
Perhaps the most dispiriting aspect of this slide into obscurantism is that even the country’s elite institutions, sometimes with leaders who are sane and humanistic, are so tied by Pakistani laws and their implementation that they are more often than not cowered into silence. Mubashar Lucman’s gratuitous attack on Lahore Grammar School that was allegedly prompted by personal vendetta resulted in making ‘Comparative Religion’ an optional subject at the school. The administration became so terrified by this unprovoked attack and the power of the media blackmailer to incite violence that they refused to plead their case. Any journalistic attempt to hear and relay their side of the story was categorically refused for fear of further backlash. In the topsy turvy world that we live in, the teaching of tolerance via comparative religion is a crime while the continuous incitement of violence against others in the name of religion earns you a ten’o clock spot to freely peddle your hate on national television.
In Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, a man in a monk’s dress who meets the knight and lady – the protagonists of the epic poem – is so introduced to us:
At length they chanced to meet
upon the way
An aged sire, in long black weeds clad,
His feet all bare, his beard all
And by his belt his book he
Sober he seemed, and very sagely sad,
And to the ground his eyes
were lowly bent,
Simple in show, and void of malice bad,
And all the way he prayed, as he went,
And often knocked his breast,
as one that did repent.
This pious man as it turns out is Archimago – the villain garbed in religious dress – taking the age old Machiavellian shortcut to power. This, and Mir Taqi Mir’s scepticism, Ghalib’s irreverence, Iqbal’s ambivalence is the alternative narrative we need to teach as a counter to the religious dogma that has poisoned our generations.
What Mubashar Lucman does for commercial gain, many drawing room zealots aspire to for ‘love.’ Men with beards with some aspirations to upward mobility have shifted shop from mosque loudspeakers to television screens, with monetary rewards and a sense of self-importance increasing exponentially as a result. The most profitable business in the country today is religion, so much so that it has now become impossible for any institution or individual to stand apart from this all-consuming, ravenous beast. The only way to stop feeding it the flesh of our minorities, dissenters and thinkers is to allow for universal human values to flourish at least in private institutions. Instead, contrary to popular belief, elite private institutions in Pakistan are as much a hotbed of extremist hate and intolerance as any madrassah. Mubasher Lucman is only one loud and dangerous prodigy of this system.
Sabahat Zakariya is a writer and editor, interested in exploring the intersection between Pakistani pop culture and feminism.