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COMMENT: Last Friday — Munir Attaullah
Is there any doubt that the Ahmedi community is the victim of state discrimination through specific legislation, and active persecution by fanatic religious elements that the authorities turn a blind eye to?
Last Friday’s horrible act of senseless terrorism conveyed more than one message to this allegedly basha’oor nation. How many of us have understood it, given the powerful hold of right wing and religious ideologies on our minds? Weighing up the media coverage, is it worth my discussing the matter also?
The answer to the latter question is a resounding “Yes”. It is the duty of every right-minded person to strengthen and amplify that barely audible collective voice of reason of the precious few courageous people in our midst, struggling to be heard over the cacophony of bigotry and hate. I take my cue from Shakespeare: “From that it is disposed: therefore it is meet. That noble minds keep ever with their likes; for who is so firm that cannot be seduced?”
Or, browbeaten into terrified silence, he might have added. The motto of my college (now GCU) is ‘Courage to Know’, a translation of the Latin phrase Sapre Aude that Kant used to symbolise the birth of the Age of Reason in Europe. Our problem (and that of the Islamic world) is not that we lack people who have ‘the courage to know’. We have our share of such people. The problem is, rather, the extreme paucity of people having ‘the courage to speak’.
Put that down to the battle that was lost in the Islamic world centuries ago, when Imam Ghazali’s philosophical views prevailed. Since then, the ulema-e-karam, often in connivance with the ruler of the day, have granted themselves a lucrative monopoly: that of being the sole guardians and interpreters of the authentic word of God. When debates on social issues are diverted on to the slippery slope of religion, sooner or later one will invariably crash into the barrier labelled ‘The word of God’. Then try countering the blackmail implicit in the threat, “Are you challenging the Word of God?” Ask Fouzia Wahab what happens when your words are deliberately misinterpreted in a twisted way to suit convenient ends.
And then there is the fact of life, which is social apathy and indifference to most problems and unjust laws that do not touch us directly. Why get involved when there is little to gain and possibly much to lose? I confess this conundrum is a hard nut to crack. So, without adducing lengthy theoretical reasons or justifications, I am simply going to state my bias: my overwhelming preference (as that of many others) is for a concerned, caring and tolerant society where we do whatever we can for the disadvantaged, the deprived and the ill-treated. And I infinitely prefer tolerance and compassion over hate.
Let us, therefore, look at Friday’s tragedy in the context of the above preamble. Is there any doubt that the Ahmedi community is the victim of state discrimination through specific legislation, and active persecution by fanatic religious elements that the authorities turn a blind eye to? Ask the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), or any of the numerous international agencies concerned with human rights issues, who are unanimous in their opinion. But, of course, all such people and agencies are Israeli stooges and the enemies of Islam. Are they not? And have not the legal challenges mounted by the Ahmedis (admittedly a long time ago) against the offending legislation all been summarily dismissed by our judicature using convoluted and disingenuous arguments?
I have a question for those of our constitutional law activists who are ever ready to challenge the constitutional validity of this or that ordinance, or constitutional amendment. Mr Roedad Khan claimed the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) violated his human rights; and on a recent talk show, I heard Barrister Akram Shaikh claim that the imposition of value-added tax (VAT), by sending millions below the poverty line, would amount to a violation of the basic human right to live, against which he would certainly file a petition. Would it be too much to publicly ask them and their likes if they think the anti-Ahmedi laws are, or are not, a violation of the human rights of millions of Pakistanis? And if they are, will they please stand up and file a petition in this regard also?
Which question naturally leads on to what we might expect from our newly independent judiciary, committed to the laudable aim of fearlessly doing justice to one and all, regardless of whether the heavens should fall or not. In this new era, will their lordships look favourably upon a petition, filed, say, by the HRCP, to review these vicious laws that are a blight upon our name in the international community and leave many of us hanging our head in shame?
Do you want my guess what our basha’oor nation will do? Nothing. It will be back to business as usual after a few days of ritual hand wringing and speech making. Incidentally, in many, if not all, such acts of terrorism, high functionaries of state have been quick to condole with the grieved and promise compensation. Yes, our tireless interior minister, and the Punjab law minister, did what they had to do. But where were the Sharifs? And, while Mr Rehman Malik was admirably blunt and typically fearless in what he said, why was Rana sahib keen to downplay the obviously sectarian dimension of the incident?
Above all, why did no one offer a thimble of compensation in this case? I suppose it was not politic to be seen as being supportive of the untouchables. Hunza is more important than the Ahmedi community.
The role of the media was broadly encouraging, though not without its moments of macabre humour that can result from silly laws. In the first flush of reporting, some media people, wholly innocently, used illegal words such as, attacks on Ahmedi ‘masajid’ where people were offering ‘namaaz’, without realising they were thereby committing an offence. But quite quickly, they learnt the politically correct language of ‘ibadatgahs’ and ‘prayers’.
“Are Ahmedis really wajib-al-qatl?” I was looking forward to the answer to this question an anchorperson promised to ask, after a routine commercial break, of a leader of the JI. Mysteriously, this explosive question was never posed or answered. Just as well.
I cannot end this column without saluting again those courageous few amongst us who make us proud by their fearless and outspoken public rejection of black laws and hate mongers. Taking names would be invidious — and unnecessary — but the usual suspects were not found wanting in coming to the fore once again.
Nor must I — or others — forget the Ahmedi community itself. It has borne all its suffering, humiliation, and provocation with immense fortitude and patience, and remains peaceful, model citizens in every way. I, and many, many others are with you in your hour of trial.
The writer is a businessman. A selection of his columns is now available in book form. Visit munirattaullah.com