IN a recent address, Chaudhry Nisar hit out at political opponents by classifying them as ‘secular’ and equating the term with ‘non-believing’. Clearly, the interior minister needs tuition in history and political philosophy. There is no simple thing, place or peoples called the ‘secular’, the ‘religious’, the ‘West’, ‘good’ or ‘evil’. Each carries multiple, contradictory meanings and is subject to historical interpretation. Only political manipulators use these as fixed and oppositional categories in order to create divisions and distrust. Debates around secularism often follow religious wars or conflict and, like many countries, Pakistan also faces this dilemma.
Secularism is a philosophy rooted in the 16th century, when European Protestants struggled against the rule of the exploitative Catholic Church. These dissenters were not without religion, or la-deen — they simply wanted social, political and economic freedoms from the tyranny of the Holy See. Secularisation is the result of the social and political processes that followed, influenced by rising capitalism and scientific discoveries. The tumults of secularisation spanned a century, up until the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). Still, this bottom-up history does not mean that all Western societies are unimpeachably or completely secular today. One visit by the Pope to any European country will confirm the secular paradox.