By Jalees Hazir
September 30, 2013
Using the terrorist attack on Peshawar’s All Saints church to discuss the issue of minorities in Pakistan has its problems. It could be done in a positive way, like PTI legislators in the national assembly did, making it an occasion to call for reforming the Blasphemy law. Conversely, many commentators in the media chose to wrongly paint it as an indicator of growing intolerance in the society, aiding the work only half-done by the terrorists.
Despite the fact that Pakistanis from across the political and religious divides expressed solidarity with the victims, why would these prophets of doom with dark clouds always hanging over their heads read religious discrimination into a terrorist attack? Was it an act of the government? Did the Muslim community of Peshawar decide to attack the church?
Regardless of how good or bad Pakistan’s record is on minorities as compared to other countries, the knee-jerk response of liberals to use every event, even a terrorist act, to reinforce their divisive narrative hovering around fragmented identities needs closer examination. The narrative, of course, is not original. It is but a leaf out of the narrative of the empire that our liberals believe in like a holy book.
The recent example of turning a terrorist act into an indictment against the Pakistani society is perhaps the most glaring example of this tendency, but it is not the only one. Whether it is targeting of Christian Bastis like Joseph Colony or the victimisation of an individual belonging to a minority community, the criminal acts are instantly wrapped in the convenient covers of inter-communal hatred. There is no attempt to scratch the surface a little, which is all you need to uncover the petty and personal secular motives behind these crimes engineered by vested interests in the name of religion.
It is interesting that the same liberal commentators engaged in this sweeping vilification of the Pakistani society have traditionally subscribed to the correct view that acts of violence against individuals and groups perpetrated in the name of religion are motivated and engineered by interests that have little to do with religion or the society in general, and that the Blasphemy law has provided a ready tool to facilitate these criminal machinations. Yet, as soon as another such incident takes place, these liberals start beating their breasts about the death of tolerance as if on cue.
This is not to suggest that all is well on the minorities’ front in Pakistan. Steps for the protection of minorities from discrimination and violence are urgently needed. The government and the opposition, the social activists and the media, must take it up as a priority. At the same time, in order to set things right, it is important to understand where the problem lies rather than using the crimes of some to slap abuse on the entire society. What purpose does such misleading commentary serve other than promoting despondency?
Accusations of blasphemy are used as a rule to perpetrate violence against minorities. Where the media has bothered to investigate such incidents even cursorily, it is easy to see how personal enmities and lust for land motivate certain devious individuals to bring false and trumped up charges of blasphemy against their targets, charges that are then used to rile up mobs and instigate violence against households and entire communities, turning peaceful neighbours against each other.
To portray these incidents as spontaneous outbursts of hatred harboured by the majority community against the targeted minority group is not only inaccurate it is also devious. Despite deep-seated prejudices against minorities in certain sections, such incidents of violence are not a norm in our society. Generally, there is tolerance and harmony, even cordiality, among members of different religious groups. The problem is that those employing the Blasphemy law to spread mischief and sow hatred between communities are never punished. And this must be the first concern of those concerned by increasing acts of violence against minorities.
The debate on reforming the Blasphemy law has been a victim of unnecessary controversy. Actually, the history of how it has been used as a cover to perpetrate violence on innocent citizens and communities should not leave any room for debate on introducing in the law the same punishment for false accusers as is prescribed for the blasphemer. Besides, existing laws against incitement to hatred and violence should be strictly applied to those using the charges of blasphemy, real or false, to rile up mobs and to attack not only the accused but entire communities.
Despite the abhorrence felt by most Pakistanis every time such incidents occur, these gory episodes consistently push the targeted community in a cacoon of alienation. And while the resulting alienation might be an unintended consequence of such personal vendettas and lust for another man’s property, it is the prime motive for the terrorists who are out to polarise the society and push citizens into blind alleys of mutually exclusive identities; Christians are only Christians not Pakistanis, Shias are only Shias not Muslims.
In this unholy exercise, the liberals are partners of terrorists. They amplify the divisive message of terrorists by interpreting incidents of violence against minority groups without context and portraying these incidents as a proof of growing intolerance in our society. They accentuate the feelings of alienation among the targeted communities, pitting them against the rest of the society through tear-filled rhetoric flowing from their bleeding hearts. Even when the minority groups are hit by terrorists that are hitting everyone else, they make them feel exclusively targeted for their beliefs.
Rather than feeding the discourse on Pakistan as a society that has descended into intolerance and bigotry, a discourse that is constantly fed by acts of terrorists and is readily promoted by the western media, our liberals would do well to put things in their proper perspective instead of fitting them conveniently in pre-determined themes tailored for them by the empire. Rather than just wailing about the plight of minorities and blaming the society for it, they should work towards dismantling the structures of violence erected against them in the constitution.
Jalees Hazir is a freelance columnist.