A stark contrast in words and actions – by Shabber Abbas

It took a mini-long march from Ancholi all the way to the Sindh Governor’s house and then an all-night sit in to convince the authorities to do their job.

On 31 December 2011, as the rest of the world was anxiously awaiting the midnight bell to toll, to celebrate with magnificent multi-million dollar elaborately orchestrated fireworks and other musical and cultural programs manifesting peace, harmony, and tranquility, the people of Karachi especially the Shia Muslim inhabitants of the metropolis, were seeking to solace themselves and the family of Askari Raza who was gunned down just hours before midnight.

As I first heard this news, it came to me as no surprise, given the backdrop of recent target-killings in Karachi. The year 2011 was indeed costly with rival ethnicities, political parties, criminal mafias, and sectarian groups exchanging gifts of bullets with each other. For the most part, sectarian violence has been a one-sided affair with extremist Deobandi-Wahhabi groups targeting innocent Shia Muslims all across the country. Shias are not only ill-equipped in terms of numbers and resources to counter such attacks in the same manner, but are also constantly counseled by elders and the religious establishment of the community to avoid any violent retaliation and pursue legal and nonviolent means to seek justice. In short this was the approach taken by Askari Raza, Secretary General of Pasban-e-Jafari, himself who was also head of the Shia Legal Action Committee. He had dedicated his life towards seeking legal recourse for the vast numbers of victims of sectarian terrorism.

Although his killing came as no surprise to me, the reluctance of the local law establishment authorities to register an FIR (First Investigation Report) really intrigued me. It took a mini-long march from Ancholi all the way to the Sindh Governor’s house and then an all-night sit in, to convince the authorities to do their job. With the Shia population in Pakistan constituting a significant minority between 15-20% by most estimates, one fails to understand the lack of sensitivity on behalf of the authorities in this matter especially given the involvement of a major leader of the said community. The Shia community of Pakistan as do all other ethnic and religious minorities deserve better than this.

The Shia community in particular contributes a great deal to the fabric and texture of our nation. A recent report aired in the media claimed that Shia religious practices in Pakistan between 1st of Muharram and Arbaaen of Imam Hussain on the 20th of Safar, collectively contribute roughly 120 billion rupees to the Pakistani economy. On top of that, most of the religious sermons delivered in the Majalises not only profess interfaith and intersectarian harmony, but also address and highlight many social, economical, and political challenges of our day and age that we as a whole nation face together irrespective of our religious background.

A few days ago, on the night of January 1st, someone petrol-bombed the largest Shia Imambargah in the US, Al-Khoie Islamic Center in Queens, New York. The damage to the building was luckily superficial as only one door was burnt and no one was hurt. Muslims as a whole in the US are a minority, and the Shia Muslim community is a minority within that minority. Nevertheless, no long march to City Hall was needed to engage the law enforcers to do their job. No sit in, the likes of the Occupy Movement, were required. In fact, most of the community just stayed at home, stating their full confidence in their locally elected politicians and government officials to deliver them in their time of need. Within a few days of the incident not only was a suspect arrested but the Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg himself, along with other senior city officials paid a visit to the Islamic Center and reassured the people of the community of their presence. This for a community which numbers only a few thousand in New York unlike a few million in Karachi. This for a community whose monetary contribution to the city’s economy is practically insignificant. This for a community which has over the years, for reasons of lack of awareness, predominantly refrained from actively partaking in local elections and therefore is political irrelevant in terms of domestic American politics is concerned.

As Pakistani Muslims we openly criticize and rightfully so America’s foreign policies esp vs a vs Islamic countries. But we also conveniently fail to acknowledge the civil liberties that the US constitution and the US government confers on its own citizens, liberties that were historically initially championed by Islam, and enshrined not only in the Quran, but also in the constitution of Pakistan.

Imam Ali has so eloquently stated that governance under kufr is acceptable whereas governance under zulm is not. In all respects this quote is directly applicable to our situation today as well. All functions of the governing machinery of our nation have become themselves zalim. Any institution that fails to perform, that fails to respond to its citizenry, that oversteps its bounds, is in effect doing zulm.

I think it is time for the people of Pakistan, irrespective of their ethnic, religious, cultural, or economic background to demand a better Pakistan. A Pakistan where the rule of law is paramount to the rule of desire. A Pakistan where every citizen receives full due process under every court of law. A Pakistan where every man, woman, and child is treated equally in all areas of society regardless of their background.

Imran Khan and PTI supporters consistently argue that change on the top, accountability on the top, good governance on the top will automatically have a trickle-down effect and translate into a change at the lower strata of governance as well. I respectfully disagree. As a student of medicine, it is prudent for me to share that a localized non-malignant tumour may be resected and completely eliminated from the patient, leading to complete recovery. But a metastatic tumor that spreads throughout the body requires multiple rounds of difficult systemic treatment just to bring the cancer under control; elimination is often impossible. Our structural problems in society of corruption, mismanagement, bad governance, and the lack of respect for the law is a metastatic disease that requires a systemic solution, one that none-of the parties till date has to offer.



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