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COMMENT: Looking for justice — Syed Mansoor Hussain
The ultimate conundrum is that if a Christian is asked the question, do you believe that the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) was a Prophet and the Quran is the word of God, the believing Christians must say no, and if they say that, under the law are they not guilty of blasphemy and have committed a capital offence
Last week I had hinted that I might write about how Muslim Americans have become discriminated pariahs in the US after 9/11. But then something at home forced me to concentrate on what is happening to minorities in Pakistan. Indeed in comparison it almost made me feel better about how we as Muslims are being treated in the US.
The Gojra carnage that has mysteriously disappeared from public perception and our news channels and newspapers is just one thing. More recently, a young Christian boy arrested for blasphemy died in jail, the ‘authorities’ insisting that it was a suicide. Sure!
And then the story broke about the case of a ‘mentally retarded’ woman who has languished in custody for thirteen years after being accused of blasphemy but was never presented in court. This woman has been officially declared as somebody probably incapable of even understanding the meaning of blasphemy and yet remained incarcerated for all this time without judicial review.
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan.” That is what Jinnah said sixty-two years ago to the people of Pakistan but today the very same people who shout the loudest about Jinnah and his legacy are the ones that ignore his words.
Almost two decades ago when democracy had just returned to Pakistan after a rather egregious military dictatorship, Pakistani Americans had a series of seminars in New York City to discuss what needed to be done in Pakistan to strengthen democracy. Platitudes galore! However, one almost offhand remark about the state of minorities in Pakistan during one such ‘seminar’ remains stuck in my mind.
Somebody brought up the fact that the Pakistani flag has a white part representing minorities and therefore minorities are an important and protected part of our national heritage. But then an obviously ‘liberal’ cynic pointed out that after all Pakistanis needed some part of the flag to drive the pole through. Of course what he said sounds a lot more ‘descriptive’ in Punjabi.
As I sit here today thinking about how our minorities, especially the Christians are being treated in ‘modern’ Pakistan, that remark reverberates ever so much in my mind. However, historically the Pakistani establishment has never been kind to minorities.
The Ahmadiyya community was targeted during the agitation in 1953 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the secularist declared them non-Muslims twenty years later under religious pressure. Even the Shia have been, and still are, under threat. Fortunately for the Shia they are much too large a community and too integrated to be easily separated and targeted except in discrete areas of the country.
Perhaps some of my readers might even remember a time not too long ago when Shia doctors were being killed just because they were Shia. Interestingly, some of them were killed just because they had Shia-sounding names, so much so that Shia doctors and even some with Shia-sounding names began to leave Pakistan.
Of the minorities, most of the Sikhs left Pakistan at the time of partition as did most Hindus with a few staying behind, mostly in Sindh. During the first few decades of Pakistan, the Christian community was an important and fully integrated part of the national fabric. There was a thriving ‘Anglo’ community in Lahore that I remember well and many Christians held important positions as educators, civil servants and members of the armed forces.
But everything started to change after the “enlightened” days of Islamisation. Most, if not all, of those that could afford it among the Christians, the Ahmadis and even the Parsees left Pakistan for western countries. Sadly, of the Christians left behind the majority now belongs to the poorer classes and therefore is most vulnerable.
The recent spate of violence against the Christian community is not entirely about religious extremism and an excess of ‘Islamist’ zeal. I personally believe that after the Taliban and their supporters became isolated and unpopular due to attacks on other Muslims, they have changed tactics. Any radical organisation needs to keep its base involved and fired up and since attacks that killed other Muslims became undesirable, the Christian community has become an easy and obvious target.
Considering the political and bureaucratic indifference to these attacks, this strategy of attacking Christians seems to be paying off. It provides the Taliban types with enough ‘face time’ on TV and in newspapers and keeps their radical base involved and active. Unfortunately many in our bureaucracy, among the politicians as well as in our lower judiciary are either entirely intimidated by, or else agree with, the Islamist types and therefore do not pursue cases against them to bring them to justice.
The ‘apologists’ for the Taliban types keep repeating the mantra that Islam is a tolerant religion and as such the violence aimed at Christians or even against Muslims could not possibly be the work of real Muslims. Who then were the people that burned houses and residents in Gojra or recently blew up a hotel in Kohat? Are they not Muslims and are they not doing whatever they are doing in the name of Islam?
The ultimate conundrum is that if a Christian is asked the question, do you believe that the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) was a Prophet and the Quran is the word of God, the believing Christians must say no, and if they say that, under the law are they not guilty of blasphemy and have committed a capital offence?
And that is my question to the powers that be. What is more important when it comes to the survival of the federation, the price of sugar or the legally sanctioned killing of non-Muslims just because they believe in their faith as we do in ours?
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at email@example.com