The Lesson of Sadiq Khan

Sadiq KhanHistory is made and celebrated accordingly as the citizens of London, the capital of the British Empire, elected a Pakistani Muslim as Mayor. It was a triumph over the forces of Islamophobia and, for many, another step towards ultimate Islamic rule over the world. However, for others the blatant hypocrisy of such celebrations were too obvious to ignore. We celebrate the acceptance of a religious minority in England while hatred against religious minorities reaches a fever pitch here. The truth is that election of Sadiq Khan raises questions that deserve to be given due reflection and not just emotional reactions.

First let use clear up some important points.

Number one: Sadiq Khan is not Pakistani. His parents immigrated to Pakistan during partition, but left before he was born in 1970. He was born in London. He is an Englishman of Pakistani heritage, but let’s be honest please…he is an Englishman.

Number two: Sadiq Khan is secular. Much of the celebration of his election in Pakistan centres on his religion as he is personally a Muslim, but he just like he is not a Pakistani, also he is not a Muslim politician. He is a secular politician who just happens to be Muslim. As a politician, Sadiq Khan has supported gay rights and Jews. In 2013, he was declared wajib-ul-qatal and faced threats from jihadi extremists. He will be a Muslim Mayor of London, but he will not be Mayor of Muslim London.

Number three: Sadiq Khan showed what the son of a bus driver can achieve…if he is not in Pakistan. The third thing we are told after we hear about this “Pakistani” “Muslim” is that he is the son of a bus driver. This is supposed to be the lesson that all of us can achieve greatness, but it is missing a key component. Does anyone honestly believe that the son of a bus driver will be CM Punjab? Son of a sabji wala will be PM? No. What we quietly ignore is that Sadiq Khan has achieved greatness because he lives in a secular democracy.

This is the lesson of Sadiq Khan. You can be from humble beginnings, and you can be a devout Muslim, and you can achieve greatness under a secular democracy that rewards people for their hard work and tolerance of those who are different. If we want this for our children, we have the choice: Leave Pakistan…or change it.

What do you choose?

Pakistan Day 2015: Another Missed Opportunity

Pakistan Day Parade

According to the old joke, “all countries have armies, but here, Army has a country”. This was on full display as the nation’s capital came to a full halt for “Pakistan Day Parade” that consisted of little more than a celebration of Army. There was always something that bothered me a little about this, but I couldn’t really say what it was until I read this Tweet.

It’s amazing how something so profound can be captured in so few words, but there it is. I realised what was bothering me wasn’t that the Army was featured in the celebration, but that it felt like Army was the only thing featured. As if Pakistan were an Army, and not a diverse nation of millions.

With the alienation of so many communities, Pakistan Day could have been an opportunity to put on display the various cultures and languages that make up our country. I am imagining a parade in which everyone was not dressed in a uniform, but in the different traditional dress of their community.

I am imagining a parade in which religions were represented: Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Ahmedi, Christian, Hindu…all marching together as a demonstration that even though in some ways we are different, at the end of the day we are all Pakistanis.

I am imagining a parade in which, instead of weapons, there were displayed representations from Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtuns, Baloch, Hazaras, Saraikis, Kashmiris, Chitralis, Mohajirs. Where everyone is cheering and appreciating each others cultures, and remembering that it is from this combination that Pakistan is made.

Instead we were shown troops. Officers. Missiles. Fighter jets. Drones.

Pakistan Day 2015 was a proud day, but it was also a missed opportunity. We were reminded of the strength of our armed forces, but we once again ignored the essence of what it is that’s worth defending.

Killing Malala Softly

Malala bookLast week, All Pakistan Private Schools Federation President Mirza Kashif announced that Malala Yousafzai’s book was to be banned in private schools across the country due to concerns that the contents could ‘challenge the ideological foundations of our next generation’. What is worrying, however, is not the ban but the public’s response.

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Zardari scores a sixer in New York

Pakistan shined in the international spotlight today. While our boys were scoring boundaries at Pallekele, President Zardari was hitting sixes at the UN General Assembly in New York City. His speech, delivered early this morning, presented an image of Pakistan as a global leader – one that seeks to bridge the cultural and political divides that agents provocateurs are actively trying to widen. Most importantly, he represented Pakistan on the world stage by directly answering misleading information and offering an authentic message from the Pakistani people.

President Zardari began his speech by getting straight to the heart of recent events and expressing the strongest condemnation of acts of incitement of hate against the faith of billions of Muslims of the world and our beloved prophet, Mohammad (PBUH).

Actually, President Zardari had already conveyed Pakistan’s concerns over the anti-Islam film that sparked protests around the world. But it was before the gathering of world leaders that the president made a difference. After registering Pakistan’s official protest and condemnation of the offensive act, President Zardari did not take a confrontational tone, but a tone of reconciliation.

Pakistan moves the United Nations to immediately address this alarming concern and bridge the widening rift to enable the comity of nations to be one again.

In this statement, President Zardari exemplified the mercy and forgiveness inherent to Islam. He did not condone the offensive act, and neither did he shrink from addressing it directly. But once the issue was addressed, he pointed to a path that could bring the world’s nations back together, defeating the wicked intentions of the filmmaker and the cynical opportunists who sought to profit from it.

While the offensive film has dominated headlines, it is hardly the only issue to be addressed. President Zardari addressed the plight of the Palestinians, the right of the people of Jammu & Kashmir to choose their own destiny. He spoke out about drone strikes and the sacrifices that Pakistan has made in the epic struggle against terrorism.

While doing so, President Zardari gave a full and unapologetic defence of Pakistan, decaring to the gathered world leaders, “I am not here to answer questions about Pakistan.”

The people of Pakistan have already answered them.

The politicians of Pakistan have answered them.

The soldiers of Pakistan have answered them.

We have lost over seven thousand Pakistani soldiers and policemen, and over 37,000 civilians.

We have lost our Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti and my friend Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of our most populous province of Punjab, to the mindset of extremism.

And I need not remind my friends here today, that I bear a personal scar.

On December 27, 2007 knowing her life was under threat from the mindset she had warned the world against, Pakistan’s first elected woman leader and my wife Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was martyred through the bullets and bombs of terrorists.

Terrorism and extremism have destroyed human lives, torn social fabric, and devastated the economy.

Our economy, our lives, our ability to live in the shadow of our Sufi saints and our freedom-loving forefathers have been challenged.

We have responded.

Our soldiers have responded.

So I am not here to answer questions about Pakistan.

The room was stunned by such a powerful address, and many could not help but be reminded of the famous speech delivered by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1971 when President Zardari spoke these words:

To those who say we have not done enough, I say in all humility:

Please do not insult the memory of our dead, and the pain of our living.

Do not ask of my people, what no one has ever asked of any other peoples.

Do not demonize the innocent women, and children of Pakistan.

And please, stop this refrain to do more.

But here was the most amazing part of his speech. As the room filled with the most powerful men and women in the world was finally awoken from their slumber, President Zardari did not take the familiar path of defiance and isolation. He did not repeat George Bush’s mistake of isolating and alienating the nation by blaming and villanising others. Instead, once again, he showed the world that cooperation, connectivity, and mutual respect could find win-win solutions that ‘make us stakeholders in each other’s futures’.

In Pakistan, the lesson we learned, from the last thirty years, is that history cannot be changed.

But the future can — a future that is brighter, more prosperous and more secure, not only for Pakistanis, but for all people of the region, and indeed the world.

Standing before the entire United Nations, President Zardari was the leader showing the world the way to peace.

Tahir Ashrafi’s Clever Defence of Blasphemy Law

Right-wing groups have taken a turn in defence of Rimsha in what appears to be little more than a desperate attempt to defend the blasphemy law in the face of public outcry. Realising that the Rimsha case has exposed the blasphemy law for what it is – a colonial-era law used as a weapon against personal or political enemies – these groups have crafted a careful response that calls for ‘fairness’ for Rimsha, but ultimately keeping the status quo.

PTI central spokesman issued a statement terming the man-made law as ‘necessary’, “adding that if someone indeed commits blasphemy he or she should be proceeded against under the law”. Naturally, Ansar Abbasi claims that the public outcry is part of a conspiracy, writing that the Rimsha case can help “pave the way to devise a foolproof procedure for registration of FIR under this law” and saying:

There is no reason to support the west-led campaign to quash the blasphemy law. Certain NGOs and some voices in the media, it is expected, would try to fuel the Rimsha case to target the blasphemy law as per the western agenda.

The heaviest defender of the blasphemy law, though, has been Maulana Tahir Ashrafi who has been making a weighty media push in defence of the law, telling reporters that “Strict action should be taken against all those accusing the girl if she is found innocent”. According to Ashrafi, “It is just like the law of jungle that 500 people approached a police station and got a report forcibly lodged with the police.” This has been widely reported in the foreign media.

Make no mistake, Tahir Ashrafi is no liberal preacher of peace and tolerance. He is not even a moderate like Javed Ghamidi. Tahir Ashrafi’s only purpose in the Rimsha case is to defend the blasphemy law. Remember the warning of Javed Ghamidi after Mumtaz Qadri murdered Salmaan Taseer:

“The blasphemy laws have no justification in Islam. These ulema [council of clerics] are just telling lies to the people,” said Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a reformist scholar and popular television preacher.

“But they have become stronger, because they have street power behind them, and the liberal forces are weak and divided. If it continues like this it could result in the destruction of Pakistan.”

Compare this to the argument of Tahir Ashrafi:

Blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal vendettas. And so, we demand a thorough and fair probe into the case involving Rimsha.

Tahir Ashrafi is careful to repeat in his English columns and statements to the foreign media lines like, “Pakistan belongs as much to the non-Muslims as to the Muslims,” but let’s take his newfound tolerance with a pinch of reality. Here’s how Tahir Ashraf spends his time when he’s not playing the part of tolerant cleric for the foreigners.

Tahir Ashrafi with Malik Ishaq and Ahmed Ludhianvi


Tahir Ashrafi with DPC

This raises serious questions. Does Tahir Ashrafi agree with his good friend Malik Ishaq and Ahmed Ludhianvi that Shia are blasphemers and should be murdered in cold blood?

Does he agree with his good friend Hafiz Saeed that Sufism is conspiracy of Hindus and Christians against jihad?

Maybe we should just consider Tahir Ashrafi’s own words warning violence against minorities:

I have heard people calling Tahir Ashrafi’s piece in Express Tribune as bravery. I might be more willing to believe that if Ashrafi didn’t have such a long record of supporting hate and intolerance. Don’t be fooled by this campaign of deception. They are not defending Rimsha because of a sudden change of heart. They are scared that Rimsha’s case has exposed the truth.