Last time it happened they called it the Holocaust. The Nazis did not annihilate the Jews for what they had done or for what they had not done for that matter. They exterminated millions of Jewish men, women and children for what they were – the Jews.
That was the identity of those unfortunate souls that led them to ghastly ghettos and horrific concentration camps set up by the Third Reich across Europe. The holocaust was the genocide of one of its own kind, where no territory dispute or any material stakes were involved, but simply the hatred for a specific race that instigated one of the most horrendous mass killing events of hitherto history.
More recently, on September 20, 2011, an incident took place in Ganjidori area of Mastung, about 30 kilometers southeast of Quetta when a group of armed men attacked a passenger bus carrying Shia pilgrims from Quetta to Iran. The passengers were identified, offloaded and shot dead – 26 of them bore the brunt of being Shia.
This came as a shock to many, who were largely unaware of faith based killings owing to the dominant public narrative in Pakistan that barely allows anyone to think or analyse critically out of their respective comfort zones.
Not many lovers of Mohsin Naqvi’s poetry are aware of the fact that he was murdered by fanatics because of being an adherent to Shia faith. There are only few out there who know that eminent scholar and Urdu poet Rais Amrohvi, brother of Jaun Elia, was assassinated in 1988 by the virtue of his faith.
There is a complete blackout in mainstream media about those 85 Shia doctors who have been killed in Karachi since 1990. Very little coverage, if any, has been given to the plight of Hazara Shias in Quetta who are being targeted for nearly a decade now. Parachinar is probably too far to get attention where Turi and Bangash Shias are under siege and assault of extremists, and scores have been killed since 2007. The only thing that binds all these sufferers together and distinguishes them is their faith based identity.
As the state has miserably failed to protect its citizens, the intelligentsia and journalists – with few exceptions – share the proportionate blame for misrepresenting the spate of violence against Shias, that has come to be a systematic phenomenon. Deafening silence and misrepresentation of these inhumane killings have added to the miseries of the Shia community. Already indoctrinated by the state propagated narrative, the urban middle class of Pakistan barely gets the chance to come across anything objective coming from the mainstream media that further obfuscates already perplexed and macabre state of affairs. The identity of victims is usually missed out on purpose making it more difficult for common viewers / readers to comprehend the situation which is getting wretched with each passing day.
Why call them Shia?
A fundamental question comes to the fore. Why is it requisite to bring up the specific identity of the victims? Why doesn’t the simple appellation of Muslim or Pakistani suffice?
Gunmen flagged down the buses, climbed on board and asked passengers for identification. They then proceeded to drag a group of men off the bus, stood them in a line by the roadside, and mercilessly sprayed them with bullets….They checked the identity of the passengers, got the Shias off the vehicles and shot them dead.
It’s evident like the shining sun from the above extract what got the unfortunate souls killed. Ruthless killers did not identify and segregate the passengers by their Muslim or Pakistani identity, but otherwise. What bars us from calling it as it is? The most commonplace answer is:
Again, this is by and large a shallow perspective. This justification can only be vindicated if we maintain that the ongoing killings of Shias across the country is the inevitable result of sectarian violence – when, by any standard, this is not sectarian violence but faith based mass killings of a particular group. Sectarian violence is necessarily a two-way phenomenon based on quid pro quo principle, while looking into the statistics of those killed during last few years the fact comes to the fore that killings of any other group does not even come near the Shias killed for their faith.
This is not to play down historical disputes that persist between different sects and have always been there, but in fact to put the blame only on dogmatic issues that are tantamount to the elimination of the sinister elements perpetrating these killings. Masses have nothing to do with sectarian issues rather they have their own problems to deal with.
Taking into account the subcontinent, the Muslims had been living peacefully not only with the adherents to different religions but also there was peaceful harmony between different Muslim sects. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb ruled the same society that once was governed by his predecessor Akbar. Shias were killed en masse during Aurangzeb’s era while Akbar’s rule was peaceful for them. That was a mindset, not society or Sunni sect for that matter, which led to the systematic persecution of Shias who had been peacefully living in the same society for centuries. The mindset is still operative that emanates from the courtyard of ignorance and nourishes in the power corridors of tyranny and oppression.
The problem at hand is not that who are the killers wreaking havoc across the country, but at first the question that our collective consciousness as a nation still ought to ask and reflect upon is that who are the people getting killed.
Once this question, which has been buried under the debris of lies and misconceptions, is addressed and well conceived, the truth immersed in the mist will start to emerge. Once we comprehend why a community persecuted and mass murdered during WWII is remembered as the Jews and not as Germans, Polish or Netherlanders despite being the residents of all these countries, we will start conceptualizing the reality.