The war he fought on cultural front

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By Saman Rai and Waqar Jappa

“Let’s give history a nudge. Let’s come out of a routine file pushing mode and do something constructive and impactful. Our children, our youth deserve more than a closed and sombre environment they are growing up and living in. Let’s give our best to fight extremist tendencies through culture. I need a concept note on it. The earliest, the better.” Secretary ICD was precise, clear and assertive as always in the weekly review meeting at his office chamber.

My Additional Secretary Culture and I came back thinking and deliberating on the contents of the concept note for “His war on extremism” from the cultural front. We agreed to propose the establishment of a specialized cell. A brief rationale and way forward of the proposal has been given in the following paragraphs;

At the heart of the proposal; establishment of Extremism Control Unit (ECU) in culture section of Information and Culture Department (ICD), Government of the Punjab lies the firm belief that “culture” (read with various forms of arts) has the potential to outweigh militant and extremist tendencies among children and youth in Punjab. It is the best yet underestimated and underutilized weapon we have got to neutralize extremist mindset. Widespread extremism and intolerance that we face today have managed to penetrate deep into the social, intellectual and religious roots of the society largely due to lack of development, promotion and appreciation of various forms of arts by the state at any level.

Much is at stake and indecision on the part of the administrative department to chalk out a direct, precise and clear roadmap to defeat extremism through patronization and promotion of cultural products is causing harm. Time has come for ICD as a whole with its supporting formations to fully understand the delicate responsibility they have been entrusted with. Gone are the days of the traditional mode of operation. Changing times call for out of the box vision and action to deal with the daunting challenge we face today.

Extremism is a multi-layered phenomenon. It needs a multipronged response. Only one department or two cannot tackle it completely. Leaving it to the law enforcement agencies alone won’t help. It’s a common enemy which needs a common response. We all need to pool in our resources to besiege it and defeat it once and for all. That’s where Information and Culture Department can play a pivotal role.

We strongly believe that by promoting various traditional and modern forms of art; by generating maximum recreational activities such as annual Urs; fairs, festivals, theatrical drama, dance, painting, calligraphy, music competitions etc at local level in collaboration with schools, colleges and darbar administrations on regular intervals can give us the strategic depth to fight this war against extremist tendencies.

 We also believe, by setting  people free with a focus on children and youth to choose and practice any form of art they might find interesting or passionate about without the fear of any backlash from any segment of the society; by liberating art and arts education from social taboos and religious limitations, by reintroducing music, drama, painting, drawing and other such arts at elementary level of school in collaboration with curriculum wing of Punjab Text Book Board and by promoting a culture of critical thinking and debate on religion at our educational institutions with the help of modern religious scholars such as Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, Dr. Nikhat Sattar, Dr. Khalid Zaheer and Bilal Qutub the cultural war against extremism can be won.

We have a firm belief that all such initiatives will directly contribute towards the end goal; defeating extremist mentality, dissuading would be extremists, minimizing the role of conservative clergy at the local level from indoctrinating the innocent minds and erecting the foundations of rational, peaceful, art-loving and progressive society.

Keeping this in view, we think that following initiatives under the umbrella of Extremism Control Unit (ECU) at culture section of Information and Culture Department will certainly go a long way. Proposed initiatives are as under;

1.)            Establishment of Tehsil Culture Committees

2.)            Establishment of District Cultural Complexes

3.)            Establishment of Art & Culture Society at Schools/Colleges and Universities

4.)            Holding of a series of monthly talks titled; Lahore Culture Talk” at Al-Hamrah, the Mall by inviting national and international speakers on contemporary Literature (Urdu and English),  Drama, Film, Music etc

5.)            Holding of an annual film festival titled “Lahore Film Festival” at Al-Hamrah. It will be a 3-day international film festival

6.)            Establishment of a think tank on arts and culture under ICD to assist Punjab Text Book Board on introducing art curriculum elementary school; promote research on culture as a tool to deter extremism and role of cultural products and various genres of art in a (creative) economy at institutes of higher learning.

One lives in hope that due consideration will be given to set up ECU to launch an effective war against extremism and it’s offshoots in the society! Long Live Pakistan!