By Hussain Nadim
November 21, 2014
Punishment against those involved in vigilantism and mob behaviour against minorities has to be in place. Today, if minorities are being targeted, tomorrow there will be targeting based on political beliefs or financial status
“I went to the west and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I went back to the East and saw Muslims but no Islam.” The unfortunate part of Muhammad Abduh’s 18th century observation of the Islamic world is that it holds the exact (if not more) value today in the Muslim world than it did when he first felt such a dichotomy. The curse of colonisation or the abuse of religion by its guardians— depending upon whom you talk to— is something for which the answer varies. The fact, however, does not change that every day, more minority members suffer and even more minority members take asylum in foreign countries.
To deal with the minority issue we have to anchor our efforts in the community that suffers the worst form of persecution so that there is a bottom up rights movement. We may refer to the African-American community that faced the worst kind of discrimination in the US but became a domino that brought the civil rights movement to other marginalised groups.
The general public in Pakistan may have sympathy for minorities but when it comes to the Ahmedi community; our human sympathy tends to fizzle out. It does not matter what level of education or profession one may belong to, the rights of Ahmedis is an issue that even military dictators and so-called revolutionary leaders who talk about “change” and “Insaaf” (justice) fall short of discussing. Recently in parliament the question of Ahmedis popped up in relation to the religion section in the passport. The newer and younger parliamentarians, it is reported, tried to argue on the purpose of this section in the passport but were told by the senior lot to remain silent on the subject because “nothing” could be done. As one of the senior MNAs suggested, “While we might not be able to change the status of Ahmedis or other minorities in Pakistan and stop the persecution, we do silently safeguard in our capacity their rights.”
What may surprise many readers is that whatever little rights Ahmedis or other minorities do have at the moment in Pakistan is because within the upper echelons of the political leadership, civil bureaucracy and the military establishment, sectarianism and anti-Ahmedi sentiment do not wholly prevail. Barely, if ever, have Ahmedis in the police force or bureaucracy faced religious discrimination. Understanding of the Ahmedi question and minority rights is well grounded and debated by intellectuals but what really is the way forward?
Unfortunately, we have two Pakistans here when it comes to the minority issue: a passive Pakistan that silently observes persecution against minorities and does not do anything, and then there is the active Pakistan that will take the law into its own hands against minorities.
A two-pronged strategy is thus needed to counter both the passive and active persecution of minorities in the country. As a starter, given the repeated attacks on minorities in Pakistan, a strong and continuous internal (within the party, government and parliament) and external (public at large) communication against minority persecution from a political leader like Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has the muscle within the right conservative block, can be extremely effective.
Secondly, punishment against those involved in vigilantism and mob behaviour against minorities has to be in place. Today, if minorities are being targeted, tomorrow there will be targeting based on political beliefs or financial status. It does not end anywhere and has to be stopped in its initial stages.
Third, and most important, is to reform and centralise Friday sermons in mosques. While most of the mosques may not preach hate, there are several that do openly call for the extinction of minorities from Pakistan. Friday sermons must be regulated and monitored, the way it is done in the Middle East. This move will serve to empower the government and it can use the Friday sermons for the purpose of extending its development discourse.
Lastly, strong legislation and action against any sort of hate speech — political, religious or whatever — must be in place. The recent wave of Dharnas (sit-ins) in Pakistan has set a wrong precedent that anyone can defame or malign anyone else using hate speech, and in the process radicalise our massive youth. We must realise that this persecution will not end at minorities. We will be the next targets when there will be no more minorities left. Better end it now or fight against it in our streets and colonies in years to come.
Delivering on minority rights is not rocket science. What is needed is a strong leader who has clarity on the significance of this issue for the survival of Pakistan. A third world middle-income country that can develop a nuclear bomb, I am certain, has the capacity to protect its own citizens.
Hussain Nadim is a freelance columnist