Friday, April 23, 2010

Intolerance and violence at Punjab University

What if some students from my class decide to attack and beat me up with metal rods and hockey sticks? I was thinking about this after reading the harrowing account of the beating of an environmental science professor at Punjab University by members of Jamiat, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami. Professor Baloch first locked his office and then tried to hide in the washroom, but the hooligans broke open both doors and physically assaulted him with metal rods and hockey sticks:
The professor was working in his office here on the campus of Pakistan’s largest university this month when members of an Islamic student group battered open the door, beat him with metal rods and bashed him over the head with a giant flower pot.

Iftikhar Baloch, an environmental science professor, had expelled members of the group for violent behavior. The retribution left him bloodied and nearly unconscious, and it united his fellow professors, who protested with a nearly three-week strike that ended Monday.

The attack and the anger it provoked have drawn attention to the student group, Islami Jamiat Talaba, whose morals police have for years terrorized this graceful, century-old institution by brandishing a chauvinistic form of Islam, teachers here say.

But the group has help from a surprising source — national political leaders who have given it free rein, because they sometimes make political alliances with its parent organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s oldest and most powerful religious party, they say.

What a shameful act! But, then this also mirrors many of the problems that Pakistan is facing in general:

The university’s plight encapsulates Pakistan’s predicament: an intolerant, aggressive minority terrorizes a more open-minded, peaceful majority, while an opportunistic political class dithers, benefiting from alliances with the aggressors.

The dynamic helps explain how the Taliban and other militant groups here, though small and often unpopular minorities, retain their hold over large portions of Pakistani society.

But this is the University of the Punjab, Pakistan’s premier institution of higher learning, with about 30,000 students, and a principal avenue of advancement for the swelling ranks of Pakistan’s lower and middle classes.

The battle here concerns the future direction of the country, and whether those pushing an intolerant vision of Islam will prevail against this nation’s beleaguered, outward-looking, educated class.

Please read the full article here. Also, please check out this short (5 min) video that provides some shots of Punjab University as well as interviews with a few faculty members, including Iftikhar Baloch. By the way, this is not a new thing for Jamiat. It has been terrorizing students for at least a few decades now and are an exemplar of intolerance in the name of religion. Can this lead to the banning of this fascist group? I would like to hope so - but the likelihood is small. This group is well connected and people, in general, seem to have a high tolerance for religious intolerance - and I doubt this incident will change the status quo. I don't the current situation, but Jamiat lost its power in Karachi in the 80s to an equally violent student wing of the secular, but ethnic, Mattahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). So much for universities as safe spaces for intellectual inquiry!

If you follow urdu, here is a news report that covered the original attack on Iftikhar Baloch:

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