By Saima Baig
Blasphemy is a crime in Pakistan, the punishment for which can be death. The law is a left-over of the Indian Penal Code that the British had introduced, and which was later expanded upon by the military dictator Zia ul Haq. More often than not, it is used to target minority communities, especially the Ahmadiyya, who were declared non-Muslims in 1974, through a constitutional amendment. Under this amendment, the community is banned from using Islamic terms, using Islamic texts to pray or even calling their places of worship 'masjid'.
In October 2015, the Council of Islamic Ideology, took the persecution of this blighted community a step further, when its Chairman announced that he was going to call a meeting to discuss -- among other things -- whether Ahmadis are non-Muslims or apostates. The Council does not make laws for Pakistan, and its position is advisory, however, making statements like these only adds to the bigotry against the Ahmadi. If the Council does decide that Ahmadis are, in fact, apostates, this is potentially putting their lives further in danger. Because the punishment for apostasy is death. And vigilante justice is very popular in Pakistan.
Once again, on November 20, 2015, adherents of this generally peaceful sect weretargeted when some people in Jhelum, a city in Punjab, alleged that someone at an Ahmadi-owned factory had committed blasphemy by burning the Quran. The result was the arrival of an enraged mob that proceeded to set fire to the factory, which still had some workers inside. In the presence of the police. Subsequently this mob blocked the main road in the city and continued with its violent protests; and as their final act, they burned an Ahmadi mosque. The police did arrest someone though: the people who had been accused of blasphemy. Later some people from the mob were also arrested but in my opinion, it is more likely that they will be set free and the Ahmadis will be prosecuted.
I want to however highlight the most recent incident that took place a few days ago, in December 2015 that seems to have Trumpesque connotations. A customer posted a picture, on social media, of a sign on a shop door at a cell phone market, called Hafeez Center, in Lahore. The sign basically said, "Qadiyani dogs are not allowed in this shop". Qadiyani is a pejorative term for the Ahmadi community. As often happens nowadays, a social media campaign asking for a boycott of the center finally resulted in the signs being removed and two shop keepers were arrested for hate speech.
This is not the shocking bit though. What comes next is the shocking bit. The shopkeepers of that market and the Center's Traders' Association called for a rally toprotest against the arrest. Please note, they were protesting the arrest of the shopkeeper NOT the hateful sign outside his door. Hundreds of people gathered outside the Center holding up placards and a demand that was the most jarring, was the one that asked for special identity tags for Ahmadis so that they can be easily identified by those who do not want to do business with them. Sound familiar?
When the shopkeeper was released on bail he was covered in garlands.
Pakistani Muslims are the first in line to protest atrocities against Muslims elsewhere, whether it is for the real issues faced by the Rohingya in Burma and by the Muslims in Gaza, or seriously minor and probably imagined problems such as the diet coke issue. They are right in supporting those that are being persecuted. The problem arises however, when all they can give to the world is a sense of victimhood for themselves but are in absolute denial about the rights of others in their own country. To the few hundred shopkeepers that came out to demand that it is their religious right to not serve Ahmadis and that the people of this community should be made to wear visible identity tags, this was not bigotry. The Government of Pakistan has agreed that a certain group of people is not Muslim, so this means they have a right to bar such people from their establishments. In their minds they are not doing anything wrong but just following their religion. And therein lies the problem.
Pakistan will not be able to get rid of any of its issues, especially those related to terrorism, if the mindsets of its people does not see an absolute overhaul. This kind of thinking will continue to breed those who think it is okay to persecute or even kill people for religion. Unless this is changed, nothing else will. So we can bomb all the militants we want, change will only come through a concerted effort to change national and religious ideology.
Long before we hated Malala, we hated a physicist. A man named Abdus Salam, who was an Ahmadi, won the Nobel prize in Physics in 1979. The anti-Ahmadi sentiment is so inherent that Pakistan even refuses to acknowledge its only other Nobel Laureate. His persecution led to him leaving the country. And we rewarded him by desecrating his grave.
Saima Baig is a Consultant for Environmental Management, Environmental Economics and Climate Change.