Those who were present in the lecture theater on Wednesday 18th of March 2009, around 3:45 PM saw one of the reasons the state of the world (and particularly this country) is the way it is. The irony of the incident though, lies in the fact that this TISF slot was devoted to a talk supposedly meant to promote harmony and understanding. For what it’s worth- I can honestly say Aneeq (as Saram introduced him to me as) or Adnan (that’s the name the presentation was saved as) and other members of Seeds of Peace sure have their work cut out for them.
Seeds of Peace is an ambitious project with the aim of promoting peace and acceptance among young people in war-inflicted countries (like ours). Pakistan has the unique honor of being in a state of war within its political boundaries, as well as having hostile nations on both sides of the border, so this program- in a Utopian world- may actually help this country more than mass producing rocket launchers. In a Utopian world, of course, we’d be mass producing progressive, honest intelligent leaders that actually care about the country, and that sure as sin isn’t happening.
I missed the start of the session, but when I entered Aneeq was asking the crowd what they thought was the definition of ‘identity’? After a bit of a discussion the crowd as well as the speaker came to the conclusion that a) Identity was about self- actualization and what we perceived ourselves as; and b) it was defined by categories and labels, whatever label that you put to yourself willingly (or unwillingly) is in a way your identity. These categories could be general, such as “I identify myself as a human”; or narrower like “I’m a TIPian.
After the concept of identity was driven home, he discussed what constituted an ‘us’, and what constituted an ‘other’? Who are ‘we’ and who is ‘everyone else’?
Aneeq asked out “What is an example of the Other?”
Sarim answered “The Indians”
O.K., let’s not go there…can anybody name a different ‘other’?
Aasim: “the people outside TIP.”
How poignant is that? In our happy, green, lake centred world we are all TIPians, but anyone who isn’t is not a part of us. Let’s take this to a larger scale…in our happy surviving-go-lucky country we are all Pakistanis, and those who don’t live here, or weren’t born here, or whose parents weren’t born here, are not. They are NOT an ‘us’. Technically that’s perfectly fine because not everyone can be a Pakistani, so where do the problems start?
The answer followed a few minutes later, and became the reason why projects like these have become so extremely important in today’s world.
Aneeq described a project at St. Anthony’s school where a dialogue (I’m not sure though- we never found out what the activity really was) was held between two groups of christian and muslim children. He could not continue because a religious debate sparked up.
“In Islam there can BE no intermingling of religions! It is NOT permitted, and you can’t argue with the Book!”
“Why are Muslims so insecure about their faith? Can’t it be possible that non-Muslims are affected rather than the other way around?”
“There is no discussion. What’s in the Quran is final.”
And Allah also said in Surah al Kafiroon “ For you your religion, for them theirs.”
Should one’s religion be personal? Or should he/she wear it on his/her sleeve?
Should one shun people who are different, or should one accept them openly?
Would Islam approve tolerance? Or would Islam approve intolerance (I’m sorry, bigotry and prejudice are the only opposites of tolerance I could find and they both sounded offensive)And most importantly, as Aneeq asked: “What are the limits of tolerance?”
Are there any limits to tolerance?