Hate and horror in Lahore – by Irfan Hussain

Source: Dawn, 05 Jun, 2010

A day after the slaughter of nearly 100 Ahmadis in Lahore last week, Britain’s Channel 4 aired a programme on Iraq in its ‘Unreported World’ series.

The narrator described the plight of the Christians and other minorities in the north who were being regularly targeted by Sunni militias.

One ancient community that had been living there for the last 4,000 years was being especially persecuted. Out of the million Christians who lived in Iraq as equal citizens before the war began, half have now fled the country.

If such a concerted pogrom had been launched against Muslims anywhere in the world by non-Muslims, we would have been up in arms. Russia’s brutal treatment of Muslim Chechens and the Serbian ethnic cleansing of Muslim Bosnians have been widely condemned. So how is Pakistan’s treatment of its minorities any different?

I was sent a video clip of the reaction of a senior Ahmadi cleric to the Lahore massacre in which he was asked what his demand to the government was in the wake of the terrorist attacks. He replied: “We demand nothing and expect nothing but what is our due as citizens of Pakistan.” I was deeply moved by the stark simplicity of his answer.

That Ahmadis are at risk in the Islamic Republic is hardly a secret: they have been attacked, killed and harassed without any protection from the state for years. Surely the Punjab government should have posted policemen to protect their houses of prayer especially on Friday.

However, this is expecting too much from a government that did not take down hoardings on the streets of Lahore bearing the message “Friends of Ahmadis are enemies of Islam”. When its law minister Rana Sanaullah consorts openly with leaders of banned terrorist organisations, and its chief minister pleads with jihadi groups not to attack targets in Punjab — implying they are free to murder people in other provinces — little good can be expected of such a government.

Currently, instead of providing security for his beleaguered people, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is engaging in a war of words over the fact that a large number of extremist terrorists are now active in Punjab. He objects to the term ‘Punjabi Taliban’ as though their ethnic origin is of any concern to the victims: the fact that they are terrorists who are killing mostly fellow Muslims in the name of Islam seems to mean little to him.

For several years now, the presence and proliferation of militant groups in southern Punjab has been common knowledge. The emergence of Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist found guilty of his role in the attacks on Mumbai in 2008, from the same area is not without significance.

Two days after the Lahore massacre, a man in Narowal entered a house, stabbed an Ahmadi to death and wounded another, shouting that he would kill every Ahmadi he could find before he escaped. The fact is that the police do not bother to investigate crimes against Ahmadis seriously, and to my knowledge, hardly anyone has been prosecuted for attacks against any minority community.

This callous attitude in officialdom can be expected in a country where popular TV anchors openly profess their anti-Ahmadi bias. One of them was allegedly caught on tape urging a terrorist to ‘interrogate’ a hostage because he was supposed to be ‘an agent of the Ahmadis’, although the newsman in question later denied it. The prisoner was found executed a few days later. Another famous anchor on a religious talk show encouraged a guest to declare Ahmadis ‘wajib-ul-qatal’, or deserving of murder. A few days later, two Ahmadis were duly killed. No action or public outcry followed either event.

At the heart of this indifference to the fate of our fellow citizens is a deeply rooted intolerance. Somehow, the fact that they follow beliefs other than the majority faith makes them unworthy of full and equal citizenship. Many mullahs fulminate regularly and openly against Ahmadis from the pulpit after Friday prayers. Many have called for their expulsion from the country. One has even demanded that they be given the choice between conversion or death.

And yet these very people hold forth incessantly about the injustice Muslims supposedly face in non-Muslim countries, denouncing perceived Islamophobia in the West. Were Muslims to face even a small fraction of the prejudice in non-Muslim countries that Pakistani minorities do every day of their lives, I cannot begin to imagine the hysteria on our streets, our mosques and — most of all — our TV channels.

So why is our sympathy and our humanity reserved only for those who follow the same beliefs we do? Surely there is no contradiction between faith and compassion for all people everywhere? I can understand an ignorant young jihadi, brainwashed by cynical, cruel clerics and terrorists into turning himself into a human bomb, and blowing up whoever they designate as a target. But how to explain the hard-hearted attitude of millions of Muslims who form the majority in Pakistan, many of them educated and sensible in other matters?

Contributing to a New York Times blog, Samra Habib writes after the Lahore massacre: “In 1991, I left Pakistan with my family and moved to Canada. We feared attacks by Muslim extremists and packed our bags in the middle of the night and managed to leave. Hiding our religion from non-Ahmadis had become part of our daily lives….

“I’ve spent most of my life here in Toronto and have become accustomed to being accepted by my friends and peers and sharing my thoughts and beliefs without fear of repercussion. I often forget that years ago, things were different for me and I, too, feared identifying myself as an Ahmadi. People I love in Pakistan still don’t have the luxury to celebrate their religious differences or even publicly greet friends in a traditional Arabic greeting….”

In the West, religious differences are accepted in a way that few Muslims are capable of doing. For us, faith is the defining element in our identity. Over the years, I have met many fine people who happened to be Ahmadis. Many of them have become friends, and I value these friendships. I suppose this makes me ‘an enemy of Islam’ in the eyes of those whose hoardings were not taken down by the Punjab government.




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