Every media group picks up stories from other media groups. Today, Express Tribune picked up a report from Australia about a group of Muslim students who did not participate in singing the Australian national anthem during a school fair. The headline of the article says the students “walked out” during their country’s national anthem. However, the reality is that the school invited Shia students to leave the room before the singing began out of respect for Murrham. The school principal explained this perfectly.
“During the month of Muharram, Shias do not take part in joyous events, such as listening to music or singing, as it was a period of mourning. Muharram is a Shia cultural observation marking the death of Imam Hussain. This year it falls between Tuesday October 13 and Thursday November 12,” Principal Irving said.
“Prior to last week’s years 2-6 assembly, in respect of this religious observance, students were given the opportunity to leave the hall before music was played. The students then rejoined the assembly at the conclusion of the music,” the principal added.
Despite the reality, Express Tribune published a sensational headline along with a photo of school children with their backs turned which gives the impression that Muslim students showed disrespect for their country rather than the reality which is that the school was showing respect for the Muslim students.
It is clear from the report that some non-Muslims are very upset because they incorrectly believe that the students were turning their backs on their country and saying that the national anthem is against their culture. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth and the entire incident is due to ignorance of the facts. As a respected media group in a Muslim country, Express Tribune should know better than to feed Islamophobic ignorance and by repeating the incorrect view that the students “walked out” and “turned their backs” on their country. Instead, Express Tribune could have used the story to report about how a secular country like Australia is showing respect for Muslims. This would not only correct the false impressions that are being spread but it would also serve as a model for our own schools about respect for religious minorities does not mean disrespect for the nation.
Pakistanis are known as the most charitable people of the world. We contribute more troops to UN peacekeeping missions than any other country. We have been outspoken leaders on issues of human rights. Despite all of these undeniable facts, there is still an undeniable problem. Hyperopia is the medical term for farsighted, the condition in which a person can see things clearly when they are at a distance, but those same things fall out of focus when they are close up. Therefore our commitment to human rights is undeniable, but I believe it also suffers from this condition hyperopia.
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.
The scene is a familiar one. Enraged youths take to the streets in response to a brutal attack that leaves over a dozen in their community dead. They are throwing rocks at armed security forces sent to contain them. Media terms the attack as regrettable but reserves harsher condemnation for the protestors whose response they say cannot be justified. Only, this scene is not taking place in Gaza, it is taking place in Lahore.
When my mother heard that three Muslim doctors had been shot in North Carolina, she immediately called me. She was upset and scared for my cousin who is studying in Chicago. Is he safe? Will he be targeted? Why doesn’t he come home? I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to comfort her, to reassure her that nothing like that could ever happen, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have similar fears for friends and family living overseas. Any time there is a news report about a shooting or a bomb or something I get a familiar feeling of dread. This time, though, there was another feeling that was causing tears to well up in my eyes while talking to my mother. It was due to the last of my mother’s questions: “Why doesnt’ he come home?”