By Saroop Ijaz
March 16, 2013
The local police told the inhabitants of Joseph Colony, Badami Bagh, to evacuate their houses as they were going to be attacked the next day. This is shocking incompetence or perhaps complicity, even by our standards. However, if one absorbs the full implication of this warning, it seems to point to the major crisis we face. There is no “State” in Pakistan. It has withered away, and not in the Marxist sense but in the Weberian one. The monopoly over violence has been lost; violence has been privatised and has been sold cheap. The failure to honour Salmaan Taseer, the forgetting of Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti, the intent to surrender to the TTP, the failure to crackdown on sectarian murderous outfits and now this. To be told officially that you are on your own.
Joseph Colony was not in Pakistan to begin with. A “Christian” housing society, separate housing communities, fenced and isolated, like Hazara town in Quetta, ghettos, perhaps in some way also like DHA on the other side of town. The Christians in Joseph Colony still love Pakistan. Why they do beats me, because this country surely does not love them back. It is not enough that they live in abject poverty in separate settlements. The faithful citizens of Pakistan proper have also the liberty to set fire to their houses and lives when fragile sentiments are hurt. The sentiments in front of which no other or no one else’s sentiments have any value — churches, crosses and Bibles will be burnt. How arrogant a person or a group has to be to believe that their sentiments triumph everyone else’s, also law and common decency. The minorities in Pakistan are guilty unless proven innocent, and then guilty still.
There will be multiple inquiries and findings, just like Shantinagar, like Gojra and then we will wait for the next incident and then another round of inquiries. It will happen again, because the Blasphemy Law provisions will remain on the books and we will keep on talking gibberish about correct interpretations and applications, silent peace-loving majority, etc. Does no one realise that all religions stand naturally and unequivocally in blasphemy to all other religions? There can hardly be sacrilege to a thing that you, in the first place, do not believe exists or is true. When the Ahmadi places of worship were attacked in Lahore, condemnation was hard to find; everyone in power wanted to change the topic. If the Muslims were required to sign a statement similar to the Ahmadi declaration on the passport in any part of the world, what do you think the reaction would be? Thermonuclear war, perhaps. Similar to this is the case of the members of the Tableeghi Jamaat. They attempt to save the infidels by inviting them to the truth but at the same time believe that once in if you want out, you are to be killed. They just do not notice the minor contradiction in their sales pitch.
How would it feel to lose everything and then hear that the real tragedy is that the image of this country has been tarnished? Your suffering and loss do not matter; you are just a marketing prop. You should, perhaps, be ashamed for having your houses burnt and bringing embarrassment to the Fatherland. Pakistan does not have an “image” problem. The gap in the conveyed image and reality is there, but it is the other way around. Pakistan should be thankful that most of the world does not read or hear the Urdu press, the local Friday Khutba, banners on Hall Road, Lahore, or pamphlets in the Civil Courts. Pakistan has an image that is softer than it deserves.
Most of this happening in Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s tenure should not come as a surprise. It was, after all, his political mentor Ziaul Haq who brought us most of these gifts. The elder Mian tried to become the “Amir-ul-Momineen”. The younger Mian is just keeping the torch blazing, in Shantinagar, Gojra and Joseph Colony. Zia made the “Objective Resolution” an operative part of the Constitution as Article 2A. Hence, very early in the Constitution all non-Muslims are told this country thinks that their beliefs are false and will be treated with little regard. Mr Bhutto had already extended the non-Muslim category in his attempt to appease the religious element; the appeasement did not work, and nevertheless, we were left with discriminatory laws. The non-Muslim category has for all practical purposes seen another increment; this time, the Shias are moving from the green to the white. Despite new entrants, the white portion seems to be diminishing in size and will soon disappear at the present rate. It will be painted red in the meantime.
Pakistan is hostile to all non-Muslims. That is a simple, cold truth. The laws are discriminatory and the pious population does not like the non-believers either. The size of the processions in favour of the killer Qadri as compared to the vigils for Salmaan Taseer was enough evidence of the violent majority. It is not only madrasa-trained Jihadis either. Mumtaz Qadri was garlanded by lawyers and is represented by a former chief justice; the mastermind of the attack on Ahmadis in Lahore apparently is a doctor.
There has never been much of an argument for blasphemy laws. Yet, a lazy one was that it was there so that people do not take the “law” into their own hands when religious sensibilities are hurt. The suspect, Savan Masih, was already under custody when Joseph Colony was assaulted. That is all there is to this argument.
The scenes of Joseph Colony are the real “image” of Pakistan. That image is Pakistan going to hell on a metro bus. The rest, the cultural and literary festivals, the song and dance it seems are diversions, marketing ploys. The Blasphemy Law and Objectives Resolutions will have to be repealed, not amended or implementation ensured, etc; Repealed. Religion will have to be taken out of all public life and statutes books before we can legitimately complain about our “image”. That day will not be tomorrow, or the day after, or next year or perhaps decade. Till that day, if it ever comes, the least we can do is to be honest as we remain bystanders to slaughter and await our turn. Honestly, Pakistan does not welcome the non-Muslims or the “wrong” Muslims and encourages their murder and pillage.
Saroop Ijaz is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore.