By Dr. Mohammad Taqi
The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as ‘only’ Muslim. There are schools upon schools of Islamic jurisprudence that have significant doctrinal differences
“Genocide is any act that puts the very existence of a group in jeopardy” — Professor Henry Huttenbach.
When Winston Churchill in his August 24, 1941 speech described the extermination of the Jews and Jewish Bolshevists by the Nazis in the occupied Soviet territories, his vivid depiction of the “methodical, merciless butchery” was quite accurate. Still, even the eloquent Churchill had no specific term for the atrocities going on and had to conclude, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” It would be over a year before the Jewish lawyer Professor Raphael Lemkin coined the word genocide for the crimes against humanity that Churchill was alluding to.
The Shias of Pakistan, along with scores of other vulnerable groups, have been under an unrelenting systematic assault since the height of the Pak-Saudi-US jihad against the erstwhile Soviet Union. But over the last several years the methodical, merciless butchery has reached a point that is gruesome even by Pakistani standards of viciousness and yet the slaughter of the Shias in Quetta, Kurram, Gilgit-Baltistan, Karachi and Peshawar has remained a nameless crime. It is a media norm to use euphemisms and sanitised phraseology to describe the mass murder of a beleaguered community.
But not identifying the crime is not the only thing happening. There is a systematic effort by the mainstream media to obfuscate the religious — and in some cases ethnic — identity of the victims. In a recent Twitter exchange with a young Hazara boy, a top Pakistani television anchor wrote, “Hazaras should not call them Shias; they are Pakistani Muslims and their blood is equal to all the other Pakistanis [sic].” It appears to be a pretty benign comment unless one considers the implications of reporting a nameless crime, now with nameless and faceless victims.
However, before I proceed further, let there be no doubt that those massacred recently in Quetta used to identify themselves as Shia Muslims and belonged to the ethnic Hazara community. Their names are: Ms Bakht Jamal, Zafar, Alam Khan, Ghulam Sakhi, Hafizullah, Nazir Hussain, Mubarak Shah (Spini Road attack March 29, 2012), Ejaz Hussain and Ali Asghar (Kirani Road attack April 2, 2012), Qurban Ali, Muhammad Zia, Muhammad Hussain, Shabir, Nadir Ali, Saeed Ahmad (Prince Road attack April 9, 2012); Muhammad and Ms. Fatima (Sattar Road and Kasi Road respectively, April 13, 2012), Abdullah, Juma Ali, Muhammad Ali, Syed Asghar Shah, Eid Muhammad (Brewery Road April 14, 2012), and Suleiman Ali (Kawari Road April 16, 2012). This list is neither exhaustive nor includes the injured.
This same anchor in a subsequent tweet laid the blame for the massacre of the Hazara Shias on the presumed enemies of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. So now one does not know the crime, the victim or the perpetrator — without which little, if any, meaningful remedial, preventive or punitive intervention can take place. What Professor Roger Smith et al had written about the genocide-denying scholars is also apt for such media obfuscation: “Where scholars (in the present case the media) deny genocide in the face of decisive evidence that it has occurred, they contribute to a false consciousness that can have most dire reverberations. Their message in effect is: murderers did not really murder; victims were not really killed; mass murder requires no confrontation, no reflection, but should be ignored, glossed over ... (they) contribute to the deadly psychohistorical dynamic in which unopposed genocide begets new genocides.”
Why does the media not identify the victims — and the perpetrators — for who they are? The answer is not simple and has its roots in the media persons being poorly informed, fearful of the perpetrators, or downright complicit. Many well-meaning people are genuinely unaware of who some of the victims are. A leading editor, in an otherwise balanced editorial, had called the victims of the Quetta violence as ‘Hazarajat’, a term for the traditional geographic homeland in Afghanistan of the Hazara tribes but never used for the people. Also most Pakistanis have had little or no direct interaction with the small closely-knit Hazara community of Quetta and find them to be some sort of curiosity. But the foregoing remark by the anchorperson is also ominous in that it dispenses with any acknowledgment of diversity and upholds boilerplate conformity that the Pakistani state has been perpetuating almost since its inception.
The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as ‘only’ Muslim. There are schools upon schools of Islamic jurisprudence that have significant doctrinal differences. Setting some sort of benchmark to qualify for the state’s protection spells disaster for the groups that are numerically and logistically handicapped. More importantly, the Islamisation of Pakistan and indoctrination of the armed forces under General Ziaul Haq has made Wahhabism and its certain variants as the de facto state creed. The inherent problem in using religion as the pivot of the national polity is that the adherents of the myriad interpretations of religion compete with each other and with everyone else — by armed means eventually — to assure that their model prevails. While the Shiite and others were only outnumbered before, after the Wahhabist militants became the veritable arm of the Pakistani security establishment, they were outgunned too. When the Pakistani state consummated its compact with the jihadists, neither party signed a ‘for external use only’ clause. By virtually sharing the right to use violence with the non-state actors, the Pakistani state empowered them to define — and enforce — what the good ‘Pakistani Muslim’ should be.
Before discussing the role of deep state-supported militants in silencing the media, activists and politicians, it is pertinent to mention another deflection tactic used by genocide deniers, i.e. the use of terms like sectarian warfare. When the former French president Francois Mitterrand was asked about the genocide in Rwanda, his infamous response was, “Genocide or genocides? I don’t know what one should say!” Mitterrand was effectively laying the groundwork for defending the French-supported Hutus through ‘double genocide theory’, implying that violence was mutual. Similar false narratives that allege Iranian support for the Shias and present the Shias’ genocide in Pakistan as a proxy battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia are rife.
The false narratives notwithstanding, we are not in the presence of an unnamed crime. As this newspaper of record wrote in its April 16, 2012 editorial: “Quetta in particular has become the theatre of this sectarian genocide.” The genocide of the Shias has put their very existence in jeopardy throughout Pakistan.