Leading the fight for religious tolerance abroad, failing at home

Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat rally

Our diplomats achieved another notable success this week when the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution tabled by Pakistan on Combating Religious Intolerance and Discrimination. The resolution was presented on behalf of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an international organisation founded in 1969 consisting of 57 member states and has been presented as part of a broader effort to counter Islamophobia. Indeed, the resolution is an impressive achievement and worthy of praise. But we should be asking ourselves whether we are living up to our own demands.

Is is important to understand that the UN did not adopt a resolution condemning Islamophbia, it adopted a resolution condemning religious discrimination and intolerance. A full copy of the resolution is linked here so you can read it yourself.

It is worth noting that section 1 of the resolution:

“Expresses deep concern at the continued serious instances of derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief as well as programmes and agendas pursued by extremist organizations and groups aimed at creating and perpetuating negative stereotypes about religious groups, in particular when condoned by Governments…”

This could easily be considered a description of the situation in Pakistan. Setting aside for the moment the issue of terrorist attacks and target killings, before any shot is even fired there is “derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion or belief.” Anti-Ahmedi conferences are held regularly which project hate and incite violence based on their belief.

Shia too are not only openly killed, but are openly defamed and stereotyped by groups like ASWJ that operate with impunity and some believe the support of the state.

The resolution tabled by Pakistan’s diplomats and approved by the United Nations is deserving of praise. Now it is time to prove whether our words are hollow.

Mundane Extremism

yed Arif Shah Owaisi at Aalam Aur Aalim

After intense protests outside Lal Masjid, FIR was registered against Abdul Aziz and a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued for the religious leader after he refused to condemn the attack against APS Boys Peshawar. This was seen by many as another sign that the atrocities committed in Peshawar had finally pushed the nation past the tipping point against extremism and violence. While this was taking place, another scene was unfolding that received much less attention, but has much more serious implications for any hope that things are changing for the better.

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Gazans of Pakistan

Members of the Ahmadi Muslim community hold the names of victims as they stood over their graves in Chenab Nagar, located in Punjab's Chiniot District

Members of the Ahmadi Muslim community hold the names of victims as they stood over their graves in Chenab Nagar, located in Punjab’s Chiniot District

The terms ‘apartheid’ was first used to describe the political situation in South Africa when the country was divided along racial lines. South Africans with light skin were a class above South Africans with dark skin who were treated as unequal and unwanted in their own country. Dark skinned South Africans were denied housing, jobs, justice, and even killed due to their race. Eventually, the entire world could see the injustice in this political system and it South Africa was forced to change. A similar hope is for the future of Palestine, that the world will see that Israel is a new apartheid state that denies housing, jobs, justice, and even life to innocent Muslims only because of their religion.

But there is another apartheid state that exists today, which sadly is Pakistan. It is here that a group of citizens is legally declared to be unequal and are denied housing, jobs, justice, and even life. These are the Gazans of Pakistan, victims of economic and political discrimination and even genocide. I am talking about the Ahmedis of course.

In the most recent incident, a mob of 250 so-called men has murdered innocent children in Gujranwala. Are the lives of these innocent children worth less than the innocent children of Gaza? Where is the outrage? Where are the street protests? Where are the tweets of Maleeha Lodhi and others condemning the world’s Muslim leaders for their silence on this barbarity?

Maleeha Lodhi can Tweet and Moeen Ali can wear wristbands for Gaza, but who is the celebrity that make a public statement apartheid in this country? That is who will show true courage.

Du’a

tears

When my mother heard the news of Farzana’s brutal killing, she didn’t shake her head or cluck her tongue (two of her usual ways of reacting to sensational news). She took on a stoney silence and went about her work without making eye contact or speaking to anyone for the rest of the day. My father tried to distract her with his bad jokes, but when he couldn’t even get her glance, he began to look worried and left the house on some invented errand. I endured her silence alone, feeling more alone than ever in a house that is always vibrating with energy, even at all hours.

I could overhear their muffled voices late that night from the kitchen, my mothers sanctuary. I crept to see what was happening and I saw my mother standing by the window with her head down, muttering softly. She was making du’a, her soft voice carrying a list of names: Farzana Iqbal, Dr. Mehdi Ali QamarKhalil AhmadSalmaan Taseer, and countless other names I couldn’t recognise.My father sitting on a chair with his eyes closed, tears streaming down his face in silence.

I haven’t been able to sleep since that night. My father has always been a giant to me, a man whose strength could not be tested. Yet what I saw in that kitchen was a man who appeared on the verge of defeat, my mother praying off in the distance as if making du’a for her own husband’s funeral. More than that. For her entire family. But it was even more than that. My mother was not praying for her husband, or her family, she was praying for her country.

It was shocking. My parents have always been patriots of the highest degree. Growing up, my father loved to quote Iqbal any time he had a lesson to impart. My parents defended their country, right or wrong, and always believed that even during the darkness of Zia, that light was breaking through the cracks. They watched their friends leave for the UK or America, and they shook their heads and said, “just wait, they will come running home soon enough.”

Since that night, though, our house has lacked that sense of hope. My parents are quiet and slow, they seem to have aged decades over just a few short days. My father’s face is worried and stern, my mother appears in mourning. Each morning I look through the news papers for some story that I can use to reignite my parent’s natural optimism, but each day I am greeted instead with new horrors. Police chopping up bodies. Sectarian killers opening fire on innocents. And almost every day another bomb.

And yet life goes on. We close our eyes and ears. We hold onto hope, even if it is a hope that only exists in our imaginations. Like a man ignoring the cancer that is eating away at his body, we tell ourselves that we’re fine, we’re not dead yet. But unless we are willing to face the reality and take the harsh treatment needed to remove the cancer, our fate will be unavoidable. And my mother will continue to make du’a for her dying country.

The Unintentional Shaheed

We as a nation are facing a crisis in thought. The level of critical thinking that drives the major discussions of the day is not only dismal, but also useless to informing and educating our public.

I was struck by the misuse of the hallowed title of shaheed in our national discourse. In Pakistan, the word “shaheed” is employed by extremists to justify and defend their horrific agenda to the country, the world, and most importantly, to the young children – their recruits – whom they convince of the Islamic merits of cold-blooded murder. Progressives use the word shaheed as well, but there is a stark difference: the extremist wants to die and wants to kill, and the progressive is the one who loses his life in the fight for bettering the lives of others. For us progressives, we never intend to be martyrs, but we simply become shaheed.

To the extremists, a martyr is one who straps bombs to his body, waiting for when the bazaars are full and lively, before gleefully detonating. To the extremists, the gunmen who kill UN workers, the suicide bombers who kill men and women at a bus stop,those who consider Shias and Ahmedis to be Wajib-ul-Qatl do so as “proper Muslims.” And should they die in the process, they are to be considered the holy shaheed, forever sanctified in the twisted minds of the terrorists.

What can be as heartbreaking as the deafening silence of my compatriots when innocent people are slaughtered by the thousands, and they refuse to unite and push back against evil?

When there are voices for change, and people calling for reform, they are violently silenced. Governor Salmaan Taseer Shaheed was assassinated for stating the cruel blasphemy laws needed to be reformed, for making the very valid point that the law has been misused and innocent people have died because of it. But who in Pakistan has the time for contemplating valid points, for looking at history to see Zia made this draconian law, not our Prophet (pbuh)? Not media pundits. Not the maulvis on every street corner. His murderer, his own bodyguard, feels no remorse because he is comforted by the ideological monsters who continue to praise him. The Minister of Minority Affairs, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated because he was a Christian minister in the President’s Cabinet. In the eyes of his killers, that was his only crime and more than enough reason to damn him.

They did not know they would be shaheed that day, while the terrorists plan for months. The Governor stood up for the principle of justice for all, and it cost him his life. Our people die in the streets daily, but the stories disappear as the next news cycle begins. We as a society should never stand for the killers being called “shaheed.” It goes against the very heart and soul of Islam, and it ought to go against our own humanity.

We are in a miserable time indeed; the jahalat runs as profusely as the blood of innocent Pakistanis. It is time we stood up against it, and stopping the misuse of “shaheed” is just one way to begin.