Suicidal Silence

silenceProtests are breaking out over killing of Muslims in Myanmar, not just on social media but on the streets. International human rights groups like Amnesty International are taking notice, and even the United Nations has sent an envoy to investigate. Meanwhile, another group of Muslims is being systematically slaughtered, and their plight is being met with silence. I am speaking, obviously, of Pakistani Muslims killed by none other than other Pakistani Muslims.

The most obvious case are the ongoing attacks against Shia. Newspapers in Pakistan carry headlines that read ‘Burmese Muslim losing hope’ and also ‘Hope fades away for Hazaras of Pakistan’. But you will find no protest marches here. Instead, you will find Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief Malik Ishaq sitting on a stage next to Hamid Gul and Hafiz Saeed spreading messages of militancy and intolerance.

It is not just militants, though, who are preaching these messages. Our electronic media too is a teaching these lessons to the point that none other than al Arabiya is asking ‘is Pakistan’s TV evangelism sprouting a dangerous creed of intolerance’? Even the national heroes among us are erased from history if their personal religious beliefs do not conform to someone else’s standard.

Yesterday, media reported a pair of journalists were beaten for having soft drinks in their car during daytime. According to the reports, the policemen accused them of committing sin by not fasting during Ramazan.

Since when did we have religious police to enforce Sharia? Actually, we don’t. What we have are self-appointed religious police. They aren’t ghazis, they are narcissistic psychopaths whose murderous rampages are given sanction by a public that is too scared, too apathetic, or too complicit. How else does a guard turn his gun on his own ward only to find himself showered with petals by the very people who claim to be guardians of rule of law?

Supreme Court Advocate Feisal Naqvi warns that we are slipping down a dangerous slope, where atrocities are committed, and nobody cares.

We are headed for a stage where even the people who attend fashion shows and rock concerts are becoming increasingly comfortable with the fact that it is okay to kill people either for being non-Muslim or for being the wrong sort of Muslim.

Think I’m wrong? If so, think again. In the last six months alone, we have seen multiple incidents in which people have been killed, in the most brutal of ways, for belonging to the wrong religion or the wrong sect. The one act of terror I have been unable to wipe out from my memory is that of the Balochi Shia pilgrims on their way to Iran. Their bus was stopped at a deserted spot and each of the Shias was then shot at close range and their bodies heaved out of the bus like so many sacks of grain. Of course, we know all of this because one of the murdering bastards used his cellphone to record the massacre and then uploaded the video on YouTube.

And yet, where is the outrage?

Outrage is there, but it is pointed outward. We are outraged by human rights violations in other countries, but not our own. We support ‘self defense’ for occupied people, but we are unwilling to defend ourselves against the occupation of extremism. We brave the hot sun to march against ‘hidden hands’, but we don’t lift a finger against the grip of intolerance that is strangling our culture and society. In our silence, we are dying by our own hand.

PTI-DPC Alliance No Surprise

The first piece of news I came across Monday morning was an article in Express Tribune about the Difa-e-Pakistan rally in Karachi. What stood out to be was the fact that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) senior vice-president Ejaz Chaudhry was also present at the rally.

I will admit, it came as no surprise to me, and neither should it come as a surprise to anybody that a senior Tehreek-e-Insaaf representative was present at a rally that had leaders from banned organizations mustering up jingoism and hyper nationalist sentiments in the awam as PTI has been traditionally more aligned with right-wing religious organizations. According to the article:

He has voted with the MMA, a coalition of hardline Islamic parties, in the national assembly. He has also followed the mullahs’ lead on several policy issues – opposing operations against al-Qaida militants in the tribal areas, railing against madrassa reform, and criticising women who participate in mixed-sex road races. But his most famous stand came last May when, brandishing a story in Newsweek magazine about the desecration of the Qur’an at Guantánamo Bay, Khan declared to journalists that Islam was “under attack” – a widely publicised gesture that inflamed sentiment across the Muslim world and sparked a week of riots in neighbouring Afghanistan that killed at least 16 people.

There are also a bunch of other things that Shibil Siddiqi in his article published in November last year talks about with regards to Imran Khan and his deep ties with such right-wing ideology. For example, Khan opposed the Womens’ Protection Bill in 2006 just like MMA and even though he cites the real problem to be in Hudood Ordinance laws, he did not “introduce any amendments to the Bill, sponsor any separate legislation, or even propose a Parliamentary resolution to deal with the Hudood Ordinance”. What is interesting to note is that he has not talked about it since then.

The above cited article also mentions that the same Ejaz Chaudhry present at the Difa-e-Pakistan rally last Sunday was kicked out of Jamat-e-Islami for facing corruption allegations and now in addition to being the senior vice-president of Tehreek-e-Insaf. He is also PTI’s advisor on religious affairs and Imran Khan’s point person in the Punjab along with being in charge of PTI’s youth wing, the Insaf Students Federation. Another article tells us that these activists wear ‘Al-Jihad’ head bands to PTI events which should clearly tell us about the mind set being fed into the youth by PTI attitudes.

Moreover, this is not the first time PTI’s religious advisor has visited or has been linked with banned outfits/personnel. Ejaz Chaudhry was also rumored to be in attendance of SSP (Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan) conference on 15th November last year at Shahadat anniversary of Hazrat Usman Ghani (R.A) at Press Club Lahore.

SSP Tweet

Add that to dozens of SSP flags regularly seen at PTI rallies and one can see the dots connecting.

Sipah-e-Sahaba flag flying at PTI dharna Karachi

Ejaz Chaudhry was also present at the Istehkaam-e-Pakistan rally in May of last year along with Hafiz Saeed, head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)and founder of the banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) praising Osama Bin Laden calling him a ‘martyr of Islam’ and offering his Namaz-e-Janaaza.

Same Ejaz Chaudhry is a regular visitor and speaker at the ‘Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwat’ conference, representing PTI. This is the same conference that haunts the Ahmedia community for their beliefs, and has later also celebrated the murder of Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer.

Coming to blasphemy laws, less than a month after Salman Taseer’s murder, Ejaz Chaudhry along with party activists attended a large rally at The Mall in Lahore on January 30th saying that PTI will stand behind the archaic laws and would not allow any changes to it. The blasphemy laws have not been discussed in either the Lahore jalsa on 30th October 2011, or the 25th December 2011 Karachi jalsa of PTI.

Not only that, Imran Khan personally visited Darul-Aloom-Haqqania, the alma mater of Jalal-ud-Din Haqqani and the university nickname ‘University of Jihad’ before his Peshawar Dharna. This is also the same university that the FIA has charged with hatching the Benazir Bhutto assassination plot. Imran Khan also opposed military operations against militant insurgents and al-Qaeda-linked foreign fighters, even in Swat after the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) took over the region back in 2009.

What is irrefutable is that Imran Khan rarely condemns the hateful activities of right-wing extremist groups that are consistently linked with him and his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. Shibil Siddiqi in his piece actually mentions that:

“From the bombing of Benzir Bhutto’s reception procession, to the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, the bombings on Ahmadi congregations or Salman Taseer’s and Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassinations, Imran Khan blames the victims, the government or “foreign elements” only, never the terrorists”.

When asked about PTI’s representation at Difa-e-Pakistan Karachi rally, Imran Khan gave another of the ambiguous answers that he has become famous for: “We did attend the rally and presented our own point of view as it was purely the issue of the defence of Pakistan.” Enough beating around the bush. Its about time Imran Khan and PTI make an explicit distinction as to what is tolerable or not and their stance on religious fundamentalism and/or having chai samosa, halwa pooori or jalebis with representatives of extremist organizations.

No Terrorism In Pakistan Before 2001? Think Again.

America top terroristA discussion on Twitter the other day brought up a dusty old Ghairat Brigade talking point – there was no terrorism in Pakistan before 2001. Actually, I find that even among my friends and family it’s widely believed that terrorism was brought by the Americans as part of their ‘War on Terror’, and it will leave with the Americans. If it wasn’t for ‘America’s war’, Pakistan would still be as peaceful and tolerant as it was before. This is a great talking point that provides an easy solution to one of the most grave problems facing the nation. Too bad it’s utter non sense.

1986: Pan Am Flight 73 highjacked in Karachi, innocent passengers killed

1987: Bombs kill 72 and wound 250 in Pakistani city.

The bombs exploded half an hour apart amid crowds of rush-hour shoppers in the heart of Karachi, the country’s biggest city.

1995: 2 Americans shot to death in Pakistan.

Gunmen shot and killed two United States diplomats and wounded a third this morning as they were driven to work in Karachi, a sprawling port city that has long been ravaged by violence…

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Karachi since January 1994 in a wave of ethnic, sectarian and factional violence. Of these, more than 275 have been killed this year, including 13 Shiite Muslim men and boys who died last week in a massacre in a Karachi mosque. The victims, who had gone to the mosque for prayers celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan, were lined up against a wall in the mosque and gunned down.

1995: Widespread damage: 40 die in Peshawar car-bomb blast.

PESHAWAR, Dec. 21: At least 40 people were killed and nearly 120 injured when a powerful explosion rocked the central part of the city, blowing up a number of shops and setting others on fire. The blast was said to have been caused by a car bomb.

1995: Suicide bomber attacks Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, kills 15 and wounds 59.

A suicide bomber rammed a pickup truck packed with explosives into the gate of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad today, killing 15 people and wounding 59 others. Islamic militants claimed responsibility.

Most of the dead were Pakistani security guards and people applying for visas. One Egyptian diplomat was also killed, hospital officials said.

1997: Retribution?

The four Americans were killed this morning when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their station wagon. The vehicle’s Pakistani driver was also killed in what police described as a deliberate attack. According to police reports the car carrying the Americans was forced off a road in Central Karachi, then riddled with bullets at close range. The driver and the four passengers died instantly, according to the police. The four Americans worked for the Union Texas Petroleum Company–the largest international oil firm in Pakistan. Today, at Union Texas headquarters in Houston, John Whitmire, the company’s CEO, said he and his colleagues were stunned…

Pakistan was a long-time Cold War ally of the United States and a partner in the decade-long fight to oust the Russians from Afghanistan in the 1980’s. In recent years the country has suffered from political turmoil, ethnic violence, and economic stagnation. So far, no one has taken responsibility for today’s attack. But both Pakistani and U.S. officials speculated that it could be linked to the case of Mir Aimal Kasi–a Pakistani national charged with the murders of two men, both CIA employees.

1999: Explosions rock Islamabad

Several explosions hit Pakistan’s capital today. Rockets struck near the US Embassy, the UN office, an American cultural center and other buildings, rocking Islamabad with at least seven explosions, officials and witnesses said.

These are just a few examples of terrorist incidents that occurred before 2001, putting to rest the false claim that we can sit and do nothing and the problem of terrorism will magically disappear when American troops leave Afghanistan. Also, do you notice how many incidents involved the killing of Americans? These incidents also disprove the false claim that anti-Americanism is a result of drone strikes or American troops in Afghanistan. The fact is that authoritarian tyrants have used the bogey of America to exploit sentiments and manipulate the people for decades. It’s nothing new, and we should stop being fooled by the same old tricks.

These are just a few examples that I was able to easily find news articles about doing some basic research, but it’s just a drop in the bucket. Terrorism in Pakistan was not imported by Americans, and it’s not going to leave when they go home in 2014. We will never be free of this menace until we face the uncomfortable truth that we are allowing the problem to grow as poisonous ideologies fueled by hatred and violence are allowed to spread unchecked. Until we are willing to face the internal threat head on, we are going to continue to suffer. That’s not a talking point, that’s reality.

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.

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).