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PENSIEVE: Our tolerant society — Farrukh Khan Pitafi
Many of us journalists were continuously receiving e-mails from the Taliban and the Asian Tigers. One such e-mail congratulated Muslims on the Friday attacks on the Ahmedis and invited them to kill more Ahmedis and even Shias
Last week I expressed my concern over the rising intolerance in our society and how the antics of the powers that be would essentially add to the general disquiet. But today I need not press that point again. The very same week, terrorists attacked Lahore again and ruthlessly killed nearly 100 Ahmedis during their prayers or Friday congregation. The misery of the situation was that we could not even call their worship place a mosque, nor their worship, prayers. This is because a law forbids us to say any such thing. I would have been complacent but when everyone can pour out venom on the tube against the 18th Amendment despite its being a part of the constitution, I think I am entitled to challenge a law that is an absolute negation of basic rights.
Let me make it clear that I am not a judge of any creed’s philosophy, but I was raised in a fashion to express wariness of the Ahmedi ideology. Old habits, they say, die hard and I think I am still not mature enough to actually fight for the rights of the Ahmediyya community. What I am about to say is purely based on selfish reasons and the instinct of self-preservation. I honestly believe that a state should have nothing to do with any faith at all. When a state is allowed to judge your faith and impose restrictions on your freedom owing to some preconceived notions, a dangerous precedent is created, which can be used against any faith, creed or school of thought. Verily, a country that has witnessed the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, Zia’s shariah laws and Pervez Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’ can definitely attack any point of view and try to ban it. If the state were to choose my faith for me, even the concept of freedom of choice in any religion would be compromised. This is only one important point. There are umpteen others.
I am sure you are not new to our sectarian history. If the Sipah-e-Sahaba had its way, all Shias would have been declared non-Muslims. Had the Taliban held sway, we all would have been declared infidels. The point is that the precedent that was created through constitutionally excommunicating the Ahmedis from Islam can be invoked again and again and, perhaps, yet again. There comes a time when you have to stand up and stop the appeasement of the irrational few. That time, for me, has come.
Even if your constitution, undermining its own commitment to basic rights and religious freedoms, decides to exclude a group from the majority religion of the country, that should not make the members of that group lesser citizens. I have grown up listening to theories about the alleged conspiracies of this community but, with due respect, what I have witnessed thus far is exactly the opposite. I have seen how conspiratorially a loyal, patriotic community of taxpayers and law-abiding citizens is being ostracised in our society. And how we are taught, albeit between the lines, that the Ahmedis are virtually untouchables. This is quite heartrending to tell you the truth and can just as easily happen to you. The sooner we wake up the better it is for all of us. We should do every bit to reintegrate this segment back into society, even though it now seems impossible to reintegrate them into the faith. And for that we will have to, at least, throw all the restrictions imposed during the time of Ziaul Haq out the window.
Let us now come back to the issue at hand, that of the rise of intolerance. I firmly believe that the recent debate about Facebook and blasphemy has a lot to do with the incident in Lahore. Believe me I have no intention of questioning a court’s decision to ban a social networking site in the country, even though it was really an unpleasant experience for me. However, once the ban was imposed, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) went on an unrestricted witch-hunt, banning a number of other sites including YouTube (which was mercifully restored last week). And when some of us tried to protest against the ban, we had to endure the wrath of the great defenders of the faith. I could feel it coming already. When there is so much anger in society and the real offender is out of your reach, you try to find an easy scapegoat in the same society. This publicised and even glorified outrage at things that took place beyond our borders, gave the terrorists the courage to attack yet again. And what more convenient target can you find than the Ahmediyya community. I say this because, despite repeated assaults by the terrorists thus far, this community had managed to stay away from the main conflict between the Taliban and the state. Then you are bound to ask yourself: why this community and why now?
Ironically, when the PTA was busy banning foreign sites, many of us journalists were continuously receiving e-mails from the Taliban and the Asian Tigers. One such e-mail congratulated Muslims on the Friday attacks on the Ahmedis and invited them to kill more Ahmedis and even Shias. If you cannot see any double standards here, then you will probably never see them.
And while I was in pain thinking about this state of affairs, something equally troubling came to my notice. Those who had seized control of a children’s library in Islamabad in the wake of the Red Mosque fiasco were exonerated by the court on the basis of lack of evidence. Is it only me who remembers that Ghazi Abdur Rashid and Um-e-Hassan both used to address the media from the very same place? What other evidence could there be? Somehow I fear that our state, which was supposed to be the custodian of our rights and property, is once again desirous of bringing us back to General Zia’s dark ages and hence consciously appeasing the extremists even when their brethren are butchering our soldiers and citizens alike.
The writer is an independent columnist and a talk show host. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org