By Raza Habib Raja
February 25, 2017
Not every Muslim is a terrorist but a significant number of terrorist incidents are conducted by Muslims. This statement is controversial and yet, deep down we all know that there is some sort of evidence for it. At least the terrorist incidents which are indiscriminate and use suicide bombings are overwhelmingly committed by Muslims.
Of course, as already mentioned, this does not mean that every Muslim is a terrorist and in fact thinking in such terms would be overstretching and overgeneralisation, resulting in bigotry if endorsed by the general populace and institutionalised discrimination if incorporated into laws by the state.
Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban got so much criticism mainly because of the very same reason. The argument presented against it is that individual Muslims cannot be punished or barred because few of their coreligionists are terrorists. Eventually, no matter which group we belong to, we are individuals and deserve to be treated with respect and equality. This argument will still hold even if a large majority of an ethnic or religious group to which an individual belongs to is indulging in extremism. Every person needs to be ultimately judged on his/her individual merit. Even if the group influence is strong, we should be judged on our individual merit. This principle is the foundation of liberalism which ultimately places individual rights over group rights or the state.
When Trump’s ban was announced, there was a huge hue and cry in Pakistan, and ironically even from the right-wing circles. Many who have shown even the worst kind of bigotry against some minority sect (particularly Ahmadis) or an ethnic group were crying over “discrimination” against Muslims.
Was Trump’s ban discriminatory? Yes it was and there is absolutely no doubt about it. However, I wish that my fellow Pakistanis and our government would also consider our own bigoted and discriminatory behaviour before crying about unfairness of Trump’s ban.
The very fact is that as a society, we reek of bigotry and are guilty of stereotyping groups and sects we don’t like. We continuously violate the same fundamental principle of liberalism and yet cry when we find ourselves a victim.
Furthermore, examples of our third-class mentality are abound. For example, many of us think that Pakhtuns, particularly Afghans, are all terrorists. This mind-set right here is responsible for the calls behind deporting all Afghans refugees. Many hypocritical Pakistanis, who feel the “pain” of Syrian refugees (particularly of those who have been denied asylum), are extremely vocal in saying that Afghans are a nation of ingratitude people whenever a terrorist attack happens on Pakistani soil. The fact that Afghanistan’s present anarchy has a lot to do with us is something that escapes our otherwise rich imagination.
Every time there is a blast in the country, the ethnicity which gets the spotlight is the Pakhtuns, along with the Afghans. Over the years, the Pakistani public has developed kneejerk hatred against the Afghan Pakhtuns, which has permeated our cultural zeitgeist. There are news of incidents where even ordinary warnings issued by normal law and enforcement agencies openly draw the focus towards them, and reinforce the prevalent stereotypical views. Below is an example:
The said “notice” making rounds on social media is ill worded and simply frames all Pakhtuns as potential terrorists. In my opinion, this is exactly the kind of offensive racial profiling which Muslims living in western countries have at times complained against. In fact, it is even worse because it is blatant.
I do admit that the number of suicide bombers who are Pakhtuns, particularly Afghans, is higher. However, this does not mean that we must start looking at every person of this group with a suspicious eye. As already mentioned, this severely violates the liberal principle. An overwhelming number of them are peaceful people.
Moreover, the apparent higher frequency of suicide bombers from this group also has a strong historical basis behind it, as after all it is their land which has been the playing ground for various powers. During the British Raj, it was the great game between Russia and Britain and the Pakhtuns were caught in the middle of it. Subsequently, it was them who had to bear the brunt of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. After that, it was again the Pakhtuns who suffered when the Taliban regime propped up in the 90s. They again bore the brunt when the US invaded it on the pretext of catching Osama Bin Laden. Their misery has not ended as literally every operation against militants has disproportionately targeted the entire group.
The Pakistani government and the establishment also bear a lot of responsibility for whatever has happened so far, but in our collective imagination, the Pakhtuns somehow are responsible. This belief is now resulting in racial profiling and offensive stereotyping, particularly by the Punjabis.
I think we need to change our pattern of thinking and start understanding that people need to be treated on individual merit, and racial profiling and stereotyping creates hatred and complicates our fight against extremism.
Raza Habib Raja is a recent Cornell graduate and currently a PhD student at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House.