Tolerance Matters

In my last article I asked the readers if it is justified to have Anti-American sentiments after I had come across an article talking about Farah Ahmed, A Pakistani American woman standing for city council elections and how the US state of Texas had denounced all personal propaganda created against her for being of Pakistani origins. I came across another piece yesterday of similar nature and I find myself asking readers the same question once again.

As mentioned in this post, at a Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, local republican blogger John Hugh Gilmore was harassing Muslim women before he got arrested for disorderly conduct.

According to witnesses, Gilmore saw the women wearing hijabs, or headscarves, traditional to more conservative Muslim women and started asking them questions, confronting them and taking their pictures without their consent. Fortunately dozens of other Americans saw what was happening and jumped in to defend and protect the two women. Here is a what one eye witness had to say about the whole incident.

I also want to mention here that in last weeks Sunday Washington Post there was an article on front page that talked about how Muslims are adapting to US after the terror attacks of 9-11 and also gives a great insight on how an average American is so tolerant of Muslims living in US.

Of course, one will find all kinds of people globally as bigotry isn’t confined to geographical boundaries but I find it extremely interesting to see that people in America still stand up and defend our culture and religion, yet we fail to defend non-Muslims in our own country. A prime example is this article where a prominent media celebrity lashed out at an American USAID (ironically an organization that provides aid to our social sector) employee for accidentally brushing his chair against hers at an Islamabad restaurant.

It should come as a no surprise to anyone that we have high levels of intolerance in Pakistan, religious or otherwise. Our religion teaches us the value of Haqooq-ul-Ibad and yet we fail to see. In order to prove that our religion is superior, we deprive religious minorities of equal justice and alienate them. Extremists and Islamic fundamentalists vandalize churches and loot and burn small Christian villages. We manipulate the law in any way possible to give us the upper edge, the exact same thing our religion teaches us not to.

Not just Christians, but other religious groups face cruel and inhumane treatment in Pakistan as well. We treat all of the religious minorities as second-class citizens and use the Blasphemy laws as a tool for oppressing the small and weak. As far as intolerance goes, women have particularly suffered as well, under the controversial Hudood Ordinances and with recent case of Aasia Bibi, the Christian women accused of blasphemy under the blasphemy law.

In his address to the constituent assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 Quaid-e-Azam rooted for a state in which every citizen would be free to follow his own religion and that the State shall make no distinction between the citizens on the grounds of faith. Here is an excerpt from the speech

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”.

Our religion also teaches us the same virtues of patience and tolerance and justice. I understand that a common Pakistani has become so frustrated with social problems, energy crisis, rising inflation, crime, terrorism and uncertainty that we do not care about coping with these issue while at the same time keeping in consideration the convenience of others. The everyday grind is tiresome no doubt, but venting frustrations at someone without reason is no answer. If the local Americans can stand up for foreigners amongst them and stop injustice wherever they see it taking place, I’m sure we can do the same too.

Shehrbano Taseer: Hatred that killed my father hurts all Pakistan

Shehrbano TaseerFive months ago, my father Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his security guard Mumtaz Qadri for opposing misuse of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. During the investigation, we were shown a video that made my blood freeze. In a tiny madrassa in Rawalpindi, the chief cleric of a little known Sunni religious group, Shabab-e-Islami, was frothing at the mouth, screeching to 150 swaying men inciting them to kill my father, “the blasphemer”.

Qadri was in the audience, nodding and listening intently. A few days later, on January 4, he casually strolled up behind my father and shot him 27 times. As was reported this week, the blasphemy laws are still being used to persecute Christians, while Qadri, who has still not stood trial, is treated as a hero.

How did it come to this? In the 1979 Soviet-Afghan war, the intelligence agencies of the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia joined together to fight a covert operation against the Soviet Union. The US offered huge amounts of aid as Pakistan became a conduit for assistance to the Mujahidin. About 20,000 to 30,000 fighters from 20 Muslim countries joined the battle, including Osama bin Laden. In local madrassas they were taught to hate and kill, and indoctrinated with extremist Wahhabi ideology. We thought the nightmare would end when Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. But it’s thriving and has come back to haunt us.

Madrassas are still the breeding ground of Islamic radicalism. More than 15,000 have mushroomed all over the country and 80 per cent teach militant Islam. Clerics can preach whatever they please, and are raising a generation of children to be merchants of hatred, who believe that their only contribution to Islam is jihad and that the only way to achieve it is violence.

Not all madrassas are evil. My grandfather was educated in one and he was a poet, the first South Asian to receive a doctorate in literature from Cambridge. But nowadays rabid clerics hijack the minds of young children, denying them contact with the outside world and teaching them to be bitterly antagonistic to non-Muslims and other sects of Islam alike.

A boy of 8 or 9 in a madrassa will not know much about history, maths or science but will know how to fire a Kalashnikov and strap on a suicide bomb vest. These children are being trained not how to live, but how to die. My father’s murder is the perfect example of the hatred and violence spewed daily to children who go out into the world deluded in this warped piety where murder and violence are legitimised in the name of Islam.

The weak Pakistani Government appeases extremist demands and allows these hate-mongers a platform. The ruthless military and intelligence agencies play a double game, dividing terrorists into good and bad, funding and arming those deemed “good”.

But Pakistan too is a victim of the ideology. We have lost an estimated 3,000 soldiers and 35,000 civilians in the War on Terror. Our mosques and market places are bombed every month. Police and military bases and training academies are attacked weekly. As a people, we are exhausted with the bombings, violence and assassinations. We are suffering because of an extremist ideology exported from Saudi Arabia.

The role of wealthy Saudi families in funding al-Qaeda and other terrorists has been kept in the background. But according to a US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, $100 million a year makes its way from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to extremist recruitment networks in Punjab. Given Saudi Arabia’s importance as an oil producer, the presence of Saudi financial support is, perhaps, a big complication for the UK and US anti-terror effort. But it has reached the point of passive sponsorship.

An international effort to cut off the financial tentacles of the Islamist terrorist apparatus is needed urgently. No other family should have to suffer what mine have had to. No other nation should lose its brave heart because of this madness in the name of religion.

The writer, the daughter of the assassinated governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, is a journalist with Newsweek Pakistan. This piece was originally published in The Times (UK).

 

Will The Political Establishment Wake Up?

This post by Agha Haider Raza was originally published at his blog on 12 January 2011.

Our country is at a crossroad.  Pakistan has come to a point where thousands believe they are righteous and have divine authority to carry out God’s acts on this earth.  The repugnant response by the supporters of Salman Taseer’s alleged killer has truly been mesmerizing.  Qadri’s fan base has distorted Islam to such an extent that it has become laughable to comprehend how they perceive themselves to be protecting the sanctity of Islam.  Are they protecting the very Islam, which teaches that murder of one human is the equivalent of killing mankind? Are they protecting the very Islam, which allows for questions over ambiguity? Are they protecting the very Islam that believes in modernity and equality for all? The unfortunate reality today is the religious parties although do not have the political capital; they have influence over our society.  These parties need to be exposed to the Pakistani public through education and the media.  Their dangerous interpretation of Islam needs to be questioned and highlighted.  Many in our country have been manipulated through religion and this should not be tolerated anymore.  This twisted ideology has taken too many innocent lives in our country.  Surely this madness needs to come to an end?

Mumtaz QadriMuch has been discussed, gossiped and publicized on Governor Salmaan Taseer’s inhumane assassination a week ago.  Above the chorus about the Governors personality, character and political viewpoint, what I find completely baffling is the absence of condemning cold-blooded murder.  I am not talking about the monotonous paragraph that has appeared on behalf of our government officials denouncing the murder, “we condemn the killing…will investigate”.  What we need from our ‘democratically elected’ leaders is, showcase to Pakistani’s around the country the draconian way of life many of our ‘religious scholars’ have adopted.

I find it highly unfortunate that the President of Pakistan and co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Asif Zardari, has not used stronger words to deplore the heinous act.  Furthermore, only two politicians, Imran Khan and Shujaat Hussain have linked Taseer’s murder to the growing extremism that many of the political establishment enjoys turning a blind eye towards.  Murder is not justified – under any circumstances.

Those who argue that Islam has no place for modernity are incorrect.  The Prophet (PBUH) was a 7th century Arab who married an older businesswoman.  He broke with tradition.  The Prophet broke idols that were in the Kaa’ba.  He broke with tradition.  The Prophet stopped female infanticide during his time.  He broke with tradition.  Islam was introduced at a time of jahaliyat and it was Prophet Muhammad who brought about a social change, expanding the concept of modernity.  Why have we been estranged from the very foundation of Islam?

What is the purpose of believing in the Day of Judgment if we are judging people and deciding their fate in this world? Is it not blasphemous for Qadri to be carrying out God’s work? If Taseer was wrong in what he said or did, why was Qadri allowed to take away the Governor’s opportunity of repentance?  Is it not blasphemous of Qadri to kill a human being when (in Islam) only God is the decider of our destiny?

The clergy has always been a powerful institution throughout history.  One cannot deny the power and sway they maintain, but in a religion where we believe that God has the divine authority, I find it hard to believe how a moderate country like Pakistan has allowed the ‘right Ummah’ to become the ‘righteous Ummah’.

It also seems very hypocritical that we seem to merrily criticize any other religion on this earth.  We mock the Jews, pass judgment on the concept of the Holy Trinity and laugh at believers who worship their own deities.  And yet, when it comes to Islam, we don’t stand for any religious tolerance.  How does one expect others to respect our religion when we don’t return the favour?  What right do we have in condemning Aasia Bibi (who is a Christian) for blasphemy, when we are guilty of the same charge when it comes to her religion?  Have we forgotten what the white stripe represents on our national flag?

The rising bourgeoisie in Pakistan needs to be exposed to heinous crimes that are being committed at the beck and call of the religious right.  Such parties are entitled to voice their opinions and sentiment, but they are not allowed to instigate violence.  The religious party (JuI) has been active prior to partition (1947).  They have never been able to secure the Federal Government.  If Pakistan believed in the ideology the religious parties put forward, we would have been a very different country today.  It is in fact, the Pakistan Peoples Party, a grassroots, liberal, secular party that is not surprisingly, the largest political party as well.

The Establishment needs to wake up and smell the putrid air that has encompassed Pakistan.  Pakistan no longer believes in their concept of ‘strategic depth’, Pakistani’s don’t want any further deaths in Kashmir, Pakistani’s don’t want to fund madrassah’s that mass produce suicide bombers.  It is the very seed that was planted decades ago, which we reap today.  It is the very ideology that was preached during the 1980s, which convinced the alleged assassin Mumtaz Qadri to empty two magazines on Governor Taseer.

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are no doubt a very sensitive issue.  But so was the Hudood Ordinance, which was rectified by Parliament.  Pakistan went through a very turbulent period under General Zia-ul-Haq.  Laws were incorporated that reeked of a very conservative and distorted form of Islam.  But as the Governor rightly said, these are ‘man-made laws, not God-made laws’.  They can and should be amended.  The Political Establishment needs to challenge and enlighten those parties, groups and individuals who believe in suicide bombings, murder and religious intolerance.

Governor Taseer was murdered for what he rightly believed in a law that is dangerous to a prosperous society.  This law has been interpreted to a point where a citizen believes it is lawful to murder another citizen.  The blasphemy laws have been interpreted in a manner, where a citizen believes he does not need to respect the law enforcement agencies, the judicial courts or the legislative authority of Parliament.  Max Weber famously articulated that a state solely possesses a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.  When the power of violence shifts from the state to the people, we also see a shift from a state to anarchy.

Maybe this is what President Zardari meant when he awkwardly stated, Mumtaz Qadri threatened democratic institutions.  The only logical explanation would be that if the blasphemy laws can be interpreted in a manner that threatens institutions, would it not be appropriate to repeal or amend such a law?

Bilawal Removes All Ambiguity In PPP Stance On Blasphemy and Obscurantism

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari spoke in London taking a strong public stand on the assassination of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, the issue of religious freedom, and a promise to defend the minorities of Pakistan against threat from extremists. In doing so he has removed all ambiguity in PPP stance on blasphemy and obscurantism. A full transcript of his speech is provided below.

“Beware! If anyone dare oppress a member of a minority or has usurped his or her rights, or tortured, or took away something forcibly, I will fight on behalf of the minority against the Muslim on the day of Judgment”. These are the words of my beloved Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

No one should ever imagine that any Muslim would ever allow our Holy Prophet or our religion to be insulted or blasphemed. My mother embraced martyrdom while defending our faith. She was martyred during her jihad against those who had hijacked our religion. Her’s was a peaceful jihad. She did not resort to violence. She was martyred because she spoke against the oppressors both those who ran our state and those who exploited Islam.

On January 4th Shaheed Salmaan Taseer was assassinated because he too refused to be silenced. He too insisted on defending our religion, he died defending the message of Islam, he died defending the words and actions of our beloved Prophet. He stood against those who claim to oppose blasphemy but in fact bring disrepute to Islam by allowing usurpation of people’s rights.

Shaheed Salmaan Taseer was the real Lion of Punjab. He was one of the few heroic politicians left in the ever-depleting pool of brave Pakistani politicians. At a time when evil masquerades as people of faith terrorizing all those who oppose or disagree with them, Shaheed Salmaan Taseer fought back. He spoke without fear. He defended those who could not defend themselves despite threats of violent retribution.

His murder is more than a political assassination. Like the assassination of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto it is a message. It is a message to all of us who believe in the peaceful teachings of our beloved prophet. It is a message to all of us who believe in democracy, justice and humanity, that the dark forces of violent extremism, intolerance and bigotry are intent on devouring our country and our faith. It is a message for us to remain silent and frightened in the face of terror and injustice. We have been threatened to either bow before this evil or be killed. But, in the tradition of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto we refuse to bow down.

I speak not as a politician for I am still a student. I am a student of the teachings of my Prophet and the words of Allah. I am a Pakistani student who still believes we can resurrect Jinnah’s Pakistan. I may be a student but I am also the son of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and the Grandson of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. I will not be silenced by fear.

To those who dare attack my religion, especially those who corrupt its peaceful message, you are what I call covert blasphemers and you will be defeated. This shall be our jihad. Jihad against those who use our religion as a tool to justify their violence, suicide attacks and mass murder. They believe erroneously that their crimes will take them to heaven. Allah has promised them hell and we shall send them there.

To those who are praising or justifying these crimes, I say: you along with the killers of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer are the real blasphemers. Because of you the message of Islam is distorted in the eyes of the world.

Those who masquerade as people of faith but dare to threaten my fellow Muslims if they pray or grieve for Shaheed Salmaan Taseer, you are not serving Islam by any stretch of the imagination. No Muslim has the right to stop anyone from praying to Almighty Allah or from invoking praise upon His Holy Prophet (PBUH). You are suppressors of religious freedom, your façade shall be exposed, you have committed grave crimes against Islam, you too shall be defeated.

To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you. Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.

The only way to rid our country of all its ills is to ensure that democracy prevails. Thus I still stand by the slogan I raised after my mother was assassinated; Democracy is and always will be the best revenge. Anyone can hold rallies in support of Islam in a country dominated by Muslims and people will take part. Those who preach hatred in the name of Islam have never and will never enjoy the electoral support of the people of Pakistan.

The people of Pakistan yearn for peace, security and prosperity. They do not vote for violence and bloodshed.

The only way these beasts gain power is through dictatorship. We will never again let our country suffer as it did under the dark reign of Dictator General Zia-ul Haq. The children of Zia will continue to throw tantrums as we, the children of Bhutto continue to work for the resurrection of Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan.

We will not rest until we rid our constitution, our country and our way of life from the black stains Zia left behind.

The assassination of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer is not about the liberals vs conservatives or moderate Islam vs. radical Islam. It is about right and wrong. It is about the real Islam and a fictional Islam funded from abroad and espoused by violent extremists.

Shaheed Salmaan Taseer’s bravery will never be forgotten, his legacy as a defender of Islam, democracy and social justice will live forever.

His murderers will not be allowed to succeed in disrupting or destroying the democratic setup and the democratic principles we live by. Shaheed Salmaan Taseer will live on just as Shaheed Benazir Bhutto lives on in the hearts of every peace loving Pakistani.

Pakistan Zindabad

This address was given by Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in London on 10 January 2011.

A Modest Proposal

You shoot me, I shoot you right back. I have been thinking about the blasphemy laws and the veneration of Mumtaz Qadri, and I must admit that it has taken me a while to understand what is going on. But now that I have finally wrapped my brain around it, I wanted to be sure to share with my moderate and liberal friends who I fear are still trying to makes heads or tails of the situation.

Let’s start with a review of the facts:

First, Asia Bibi was convicted of blasphemy for allegedly saying that Jesus was equal to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Or something. Nobody really seems to be certain what she said. But we’re certain that it was insulting, whatever it was. After all, she’s a Christian, and that’s insulting enough.

When people began investigating the background of the case, though, they discovered that actually it all seems to have started because of an argument over a goat. Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer took up the case saying that he wanted to make certain that the woman was not punished if she did not commit any crime.

Sahibzada Fazal Kareem, head of Sunni Ittehad Council, told AFP that a pardon of Asia Bibi “would lead to anarchy in the country”. Asia Bibi still sits in prison with no pardon.

Second, Mumtaz Qadri of the Elite Police Force turned his gun on the man he was sworn to protect and shot him the back. For this, he is being termed ‘Ghazi’. Lawyers showered the confessed killer with flowers, and Jamat Ahle Sunnat clerics threatened politicians and journalists with death if they do not support Qadri’s act.

Why did Mumtaz Qadri commit this act? The man he was sworn to protect, Salmaan Taseer, had termed the blasphemy laws ‘man-made law’ and said that it should be reviewed. Mumtaz Qadri disagreed with him.

Some have mistakenly said that Qadri killed Salmaan Taseer because of blasphemy, but this is not correct because Salmaan Taseer never committed any blasphemy.

Actually, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi also agrees that the law is man-made law and not divine law. Dr. Khalid Masood also has noted that the blasphemy laws are mis-used to promote injustice and that justification for these laws is questionable based on Quran. This is something that has been discussed and debated and there are differing positions even between respected scholars.

Salmaan Taseer, even if you disagree with his position, was not convicted of blasphemy. He was tried by no court and no sentence was handed down. His killer was not authorized to commit this act by any judge. Qadri was not even authorized by any fatwa. We know this because Mumtaz Qadri has said it himself. He simply woke up one morning and decided to shoot a man in the back because he disagreed with him.

Therefore we have now shown that Mumtaz Qadri shot a man in the back because he disagreed with him on an issue. So, we must ask, if shooting a man in the back because you disagree with him makes you a Ghazi, shouldn’t we all shoot in the back those who we disagree with? After all, don’t we all want to be Ghazis?

Think about the lawyers who are cheering their new hero. It makes perfect sense why they would idolize him. Everytime they go into a courtroom it is because there is a disagreement. And resolving these cases takes countless hours of preparation and sometimes years of making motions and giving evidence. Cases could be closed much more quickly if they just shot each other in the back.

For a similar reason, it is obvious why the Mullahs are supporting Qadri. Think of the theological disagreements that they have been studying and debating and arguing over for a thousand years or more. So much time could be saved and used for more important tasks like beard conditioning and turban folding if a cleric could just shoot the scholars he disagrees with in the back.

Or how about politics? Think of all the energy that is spend on campaigns and rallies and voting. It would be so much simpler if we should we all just go out and shoot supporters of the other political parties.

How about cricket? With today’s fast-paced society, test matches are nearly impossible to watch. Even ODIs are too long for many people. We’ve already created 20/20 to move things along more quickly, but imagine how soon a match would be completed if we just did away with bowling and batting and fielding and simply went straight to shooting everyone in the back.

As you can see, it makes perfect sense. This would surely increase our GDP also as we would create a booming new industry for guns, ammunition, and funerals. If we put a tax on bullets, we could raise enough money to close the tax-to-GDP gap that has the IMF so concerned. Plus, we would never have to listen to anyone we don’t agree with. What an incredibly wonderful world. So it’s settled from now on, there is only one rule – if you don’t like what someone says, shoot them in the back.

Let me know if you disagree. I’ll be happy to shoot you in the back.

Editor’s Note: This piece is satire only. Please do not shoot anyone in the back, front, or anywhere else. If you disagree, please simply leave a comment instead.