Intolerance results when conflicts arise among people due to their different identities that they derive from their ethnicities, class and religion. However, the first identity of any individual is that they are human beings, and it is this primary identity of every individual that forms the basis of the necessity of tolerance and peaceful co-existence of people of various colours, religions and classes in any society.
This point was made by Dr Tabassum Khan, SG Group of Companies chairman, on Saturday as he moderated a talk at the launch of ‘Tolerant Pakistan’ campaign at a hotel.
Former foreign secretary Najmuddin Sheikh, All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) Secretary General Syed Sarmad Ali, Italian Ambassador to Pakistan Stefano Pontecorvo and journalist Najia Ashar formed the panel of the talk.
When asked to comment on the rising Islamophobia, the Italian ambassador said the rise of Islamophobia was indeed a phenomenon but he looked it as part of the
general rise of intolerance in Europe.
He said the Islamic world also needed to play its role in this regard and remarked that Islam is a peaceful religion. “We [Europe] owe a lot to Islam and Arab culture.”
The ambassador also shed light on the issue of increase in the number of illegal immigrants in Europe that was also causing intolerance.
He also identified a major problem regarding the elimination of intolerance, which was that in every tolerant society, individuals retained the right to be intolerant as long as they followed the law. He also called for the Pakistani authorities to promote sports in the country as a large number of people here were under 35 and sports helped youth stay away from negative attitude.
Adding to this point, Sheikh said there was a similar issue of the presence of millions of Afghan immigrants in Pakistan. He added that many such refugees did not want not be repatriated due to the uncertainty prevailing in their home country.
Commenting on the role of media, Ali said social injustice and economic disparities were the root cause of intolerance. He recalled his schooldays when the country was far more tolerant. He remembered that children in those times never thought of each other as Sindhis, Punjabis, Baloch or Pathans.
He said now society had become intolerant to such an extent that we were scared over the issue of saying ‘Khuda Hafiz’ or ‘Allah Hafiz’.
When someone is surrounded by social injustice, they would probably start hating someone who was unlike them in belief, race and colour, he said.
The APNS secretary general was of the view that the media could play very important role in this regard by promoting empathy and tolerance. Comparing the current times to the era a few years ago, Ali said now the media could talk about issues like religious difference and blasphemy, which it did not dare to cover six or seven years ago.
He opined that Pakistani people were slowly moving towards a tolerant society.
Ashar was of the view that electronic media has been of late exacerbating the issue of intolerance in society as it sensationalise issues beyond their merit. She, however, added that the rising digital media was reversing it and improving the situation.
She said social media helped ascertain public opinion, adding that many major news stories include those of the murders of Zainab and Naqeebullah Mehsud were reported by the mainstream media after they broke on social media first.